Colouring the Sound

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

The Ninth Symphony

Ninth Symphony, First Move

In a landscape of grassy fields, a mother - one infant on her shoulder, an older son holding her hand - gazes expectantly at a setting sun, which bathes the ever darkening world in a last blazing red light. The onset of darkness may point to the crescendo in the first movement, whereas the feeling of anxious longing, ever growing within hopeful expectance, would fit well with the powerful, almost martial theme of the movement, underscoring the dramatic nature of the painting. About this work, De Meo himself said: "indeed it is we who appear to wait every day for something, which alas never arrives."

Ninth Symphony, Second Movement

In his artistic interpretation of the second movement, De Meo's subject of choice is the lost city of Atlantis. There is an almost palpable feeling that the city wants to leave the bottom of the ocean behind, to shine in new splendour under the light of the sun. In the painting, this tableau is represented in a rather abstract fashion: one single ray of sunlight is able to pierce the murky depths and reach the indistinct outline of the city. Above the surface, among the clouds ablaze with light, a massive shadowy figure appears to be about to take over the entire scene. There is a vivid energy to this picture, which quite matches the rhythm and the mood of the lively second movement.

Ninth Symphony, Third Movemen

The leisurely, sedate tempo of the third movement's adagio is, as is to be expected of De Meo, rendered as a stark concrete jungle of tall skyscrapers which appear to storm heaven itself. The gentle, natural motions of the sea and the playful movements of the cloud have given way to the inexorable aspirations of mankind. De Meo thus expresses his pessimistic world-view, comparing this concrete city to coffins; 200 years after Beethoven's birth, mankind has lost its capacity to create true art and shall henceforth be reduced to building burial cases. The wistful melancholy of the third movement, to the artist, seems to caution mankind to reflect upon its past.

Ninth Symphony, Fourth Movement

This last painting of the "Symphony Cycle" shows the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in an uncommon light. While other painters often choose to depict human beings, thereby alluding to the human voices of the final chorus, De Meo paints a single flag, fluttering in the wind among the mountains.

The joy of which the chorus sings is expressed through the many vivid colours of the image, while the vivaciousness of the music finds its parallels in the flag's vigorous fluttering and the lively brush-strokes that make up the illustration.

Although generally positive in its imagery, De Meo cannot help but see a stark contrast between the hopeful visions offered by Beethoven's music and the reality of the mid-20th Century. Hence, his image isn't a mere happy idyll; instead, its fierce wind, its harried clouds and the sky's gloomy hues are meant to startle and arouse the beholder, as well.

In closing, we once more yield the floor to the painter himself, who commented on the final painting of the cycle with the following words:

"Indeed it is joy which the chorus expresses when exclaiming, 'onward, brothers, let us unite, for in those lofty heights among the stars, the true human being shall wait for us'

"But you, do you not think that the path on which we have set out shall not lead us upwards, but ever further down? Are we not destroying our world? Shouldn't we find joy in loving each other? ...Alas, we are nowhere near restoring our world to its native bliss - can't you see?

I for my part have now reached the end - now it is upon you to judge and decide."