Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sound and Vision - Fra Angelico and Britten

The Annunciation, Fra Angelico (1437-1446)

It's nice to have such a cultured family. My mom loves medieval and early Renaissance painting, especially Fra Angelico, and she passed a lot of that appreciation on to me and my sister, who got her BA in art history. One of my favorite trips we've ever taken together was to the Cloisters in NYC. Not only do my mom and sister love art, but my brother is a music professor, and every once in a while he sends me some of the music he's working on, like the Faure songs I've posted here. He's currently coaching the second of five canticles Benjamin Britten wrote for tenor, countertenor, and piano. The original text for this piece is taken directly from Chester's mystery plays, a cycle of 15th century plays based on biblical texts.

The connection between the Britten piece and the Fra Angelico painting isn't just the concurrence of the art and the text, it's their shared depiction of contact with the supernatural. Everything about the Fra Angelico painting is otherworldly, from the over-sized figures and Gabriel's rainbow wings to the beauty of the painting itself (and, you know, the whole idea of the annunciation to begin with), and Britten's portrayal of the voice of God at the beginning of this piece is almost scarily awe-inspiring.

Britten's Canticle II - Abraham and Issac