Colouring the Sound

Tommaso De Meo's Visual Interpretations of Beethoven's Nine Symphonies

The Eighth Symphony

Eighth Symphony, First Movement

The defining theme of the works dealing with the Eighth Symphony is the stage: all four paintings show some kind of mise-en-scène, in which the human condition is understood primarily within the context of a performance - including the rendering of the first movement, of which De Meo said, "see how the tiny firefly is able to charm the dancer". A vague female form in a wide skirt is standing at the centre of a reflecting sheet of water; she raises up her arms in an attempt to catch the minuscule firefly with her bare hands. The reeds growing out of the water all around her frame the scene like a stage setting, while giving off an air of menace, like the fangs in the mouth of a monster.

Eighth Symphony, Second Movement

The threat the audience poses to the creative artist, previously just implied, is now fully realised in the portrayal of the second movement: of the dancer, only the feet in the distinctive ballet shoes remain, forever frozen in a pointe, bathed in the blood red glow of the limelight. Meanwhile, the stands of the amphitheatre - whose ghastly, clawed dreadfulness may point to the historical consciousness of the Roman De Meo - are about to grab, seize, pillage whatever is left.

Eighth Symphony, Third Movement

In a reversal of Moses' parting of the Red Sea, a lone figure - its attire reminiscent of Beethoven's era - walks on a red, soaked path. In this case, it is the cloven land and its claw-like, bony trees that portend doom rather than salvation. The figure at the vanishing point of the painting is also at the centre of the four elements: framed by the stage of a natural spectacle, it is unclear whether the elements emanate from that form or are drawn towards it; whether man rules over nature, or nature commands him. De Meo perceives the third movement as an awakening from a dream. Man is no longer caught in his own musings and flees this imaginary place by shedding himself of the dreams' bonds.

Eighth Symphony, Fourth Movement

In the final picture of the eighth cycle, the image of the stage is blurred once more - if anything, it is implied in the shapes of the trees which frame the scene like wooden worshippers. Beneath the sky of a wrathful Jupiter, men pursue the most elementary of cultural endeavours, tilling the poor soil, subduing the earth: whether the trees' pose is a sign of adoration or lamentation is left uncertain, as is the question of whether it is directed at the old pagan gods or the new rulers.