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A Perfect Pairing: Dvořák’s New World Symphony & Jessica Matier

I have always loved combining different types of art together for maximal enjoyment. Just like a fine wine can pair beautifully with a delicious dish, I love immersing myself in a complete art ‘experience’ by stimulating several senses at once. In theater arts, such as ballet and opera, visual performances are always combined with an auditory experience. However, paintings & sculptures aren’t commonly presented along with a background soundtrack. In many ways, this is a positive because every person gets to build their own interpretation for the meaning of the artwork. The artist has a vision when creating, but each and every person in the public comes with their own acquired experiences and personal tastes and takes away something different from viewing the same piece. But sometimes I just see a canvas and I can imagine how wonderful it would be if a certain musical background was playing as I take in the sights and details of the piece.

Matier, Jessica. The waves that never break. Mixed media 24x30 inches. 2018.

Think about it, some of us play music in the background while we’re working or doing chores, sometimes we play music when having cocktails or as a light background for dinner or even when enjoying a day at the beach. Either way, music has the incredible power to free our minds and change our mood. One thing that I love doing is focusing on what I’m listening to and truly analyzing the way it makes me feel or the imagery that it triggers in my mind. “If I had to draw what I’m listening to, what would it look like? How would I communicate to someone the way this music track made me feel when I listened to it?” Sometimes I can have a very precise scene in mind, but many times the feelings are complex and abstract thus making it very difficult for me to really describe what the music triggers in my brain.

A few months ago, I found a very special artist whose work I thought was asking to be paired with classical music a few months ago. Jessica Matier, a Belford, New Jersey based artist creates beautiful abstract paintings that are very inspiring to me. They’re all telling their own story, which can be read through the emotional brushstrokes of the artist. Fluid lines are mixed with a few hard details and punctuated with watercolor drips, all in colors that are so evocative. It is impossible to look at her art without noticing the flow and feeling the movement that Matier imprinted onto the canvas. I picked some of my favorites amongst her canvases and set out to find music that to me would match up really well with those in terms of expressing similar feelings.

Matier, Jessica. Islands of Eden. Mixed media on canvas. 56.25 x 36 inches. 2017.

This project actually took me much longer than I expected, as I could not seem to make a decision on the musical pieces. So much beautiful music is out there, and since there really is no answer to which is ‘best’ for each painting, I just kept on looking as long as I wasn’t 100% satisfied. I went on for days listening to tracks, one day convinced I should use a nineteenth century romantic concerto, the next obsessing over some twentieth century minimalist compositions. This cycle of back and forth kept on going for quite a while, and I kept getting distracted by new and old musical finds along the way, which did not help speed up the process.

Eventually, I settled on using one entire symphony, with each part corresponding to one of Matier’s paintings. I chose Antonin Dvořák’s (1841-1904) Symphony No.9 “From the New World” also known as the New World Symphony from 1893. Dvořák is a composer I admire very much and his legacy is worth writing a full article about, which I will definitely have to share on this blog at another time. The composer, who was originally from a village in the surrounds of Prague, actually wrote his last symphony while working as the Director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City, a position he held from 1892 to 1895. Dvořák is famous for the folkloric influences he used in all of his compositions and when he moved to America, he was eager to discover the roots of popular American music. He wrote the symphony with the intention of “using characteristic African American and Native American music as the foundation for an American National School of composition”[1].

Oddly enough, as I presented my final draft for this article to painter Jessica Matier, she told me that she had indeed been listening to Dvořák’s Largo movement from the New World Symphony during her painting process! This declaration came as a total surprise to me as I had genuinely been looking around for all types of music to come up with the pairings. I was absolutelythrilled to realize that somehow, through her art, she told a story that I completely connected with. Sharing feelings around an artwork is to me one of the most beautiful things about art!

In order to get an enjoyable listening and viewing experience, there are two ways you can go about. First, you can click on the below Youtube video which will play the full symphony. I have written under each painting a time stamp (which is the number at the beginning of each description, written such as [00:02]) so you can check to know which movement is currently playing. Otherwise, if you click directly onto the pictures, a link will open in a new tab playing just the symphony movement I am referring to.

I hope you enjoy!

I would love to hear what you thought of this selection. Did you think that Dvořák’s masterpiece paired beautifully with Matier’s artwork? Would you have chosen another musical soundtrack?

You can find more of Jessica Matiers’ artwork on her website and if you’d rather obtain one of her smaller pieces, head over to her Little Paper workshop. You can also follow the artist on Instagram to get updates on her newest creations.

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Works Cited

[1] “Symphony No.9 ‘From the New World’”. Antonín Dvořák, www.antonin-dvorak.cz/en/symphony9.