Colouring the Sound

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

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No other composer has been represented as often in the visual arts as Beethoven. Ever since the first half of the 19th Century, both his likeness and his works have enjoyed great popularity among artists of every kind.

That very popularity has endured to this day, even though the representation of Beethoven has been subject to constant change throughout the ages. Until the mid-20th Century, portraits of the composer were the prevalent form of representation. Since 1945 however, one can notice an increasing number of painters, graphic artists and sculptors who have taken up an interest in representing Beethoven's musical work, an interest which is visible both throughout Europe as well as outside.

Besides De Meo, in Italy one might find the painter Radu Dragomir, a teacher at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ravenna, or the Piemontese painter and composer Carlos Sismonda, both of whom created series of paintings dealing with Beethoven's music in the second half of the 20th Century.

This internet exhibition is dedicated to the works of the 20th Century Roman artist Tommaso De Meo, to whom Beethoven's life and music played a central role in his own creative work. The artist felt an intimate connection to Beethoven, a result of both having to come to grips with impaired sensory perception: as the musician and composer Beethoven had lost his hearing, so the painter De Meo had lost an eye in an accident and was in danger of losing his eyesight entirely. The fact that both had suffered impairments to the senses most essential to their art served to create a very special bond between De Meo and Beethoven.

De Meo's oeuvre represents a crucial point in the reception of Beethoven in 20th Century Italy. A most extraordinary aspect is the intensity of the painter's dedication to Beethoven's music: for the first time, each movement from all nine symphonies has been captured on canvas.

This series came into being between 1964 and 1966 in the artist's workshop at Via del Corso 12 in Rome. De Meo realises his modern vision of the symphonies in 37 abstract paintings: these paintings, while embodying the pursuit of an "intrinsic nature", are nonetheless far removed from visual realism.  Thus, the creation of new shapes and the autonomy of the colours take centre stage. In fact, the intense hues of De Meo's paintings (in addition to the singularity of the shapes) would seem to be that which first draws the beholder's eye.

Even outside this particular cycle, there are additional pictures and graphics by De Meo centred around the composer from Bonn; in these, one can likewise find evidence of the artist's attempts at creating a symbiotic relationship between music and painting through the emotions inspired by the music.

The painter's interest in transferring Beethoven's music onto canvas is best exemplified by a quote by De Meo himself, who said the following about one of his exhibitions during the 1960s:

"I was indeed convinced that an admiration for Beethoven's music did not need to be limited to the realm of hearing, but could also happen when transposed into the medium of paint; therein, the sublime musical message as well as the epic immensity present in all of Beethoven's works may be recognised […] That is what I tried to express through my pictures."