SYMPHONY No 2 Opus 16 “The four temperaments”
Feeling and Synaesthesia.
On “Theme and Variations”
In 2010, when the Vendsyssel Museum of Art commissioned me to paint a self portrait to add to their self portrait collection, I realised that, to date, I had only made public a single self-portrait. That was a small pencil drawing, with an ink wash in black-and-white, made in 1986, with which I had presented myself in the Danish translation of Tree and Leafby J.R.R. Tolkien, for which I had produced thirty-seven illustrations. So, this task was new and intriguing and I threw myself into it with great intensity.
I have often commented that a fundamental aspect of my work is “looking at that which looks”. Or as Per Højholt puts it: “perceiving the sense of sight”. I have also frequently commented, with respect to the concept of “introspective naturalism“, that that which is seen, the external motif, “the object”is used as a kind of contemplative mirror for the “introspective gaze”. Given that, what would happen if the external object were a mirror? Since my first portrait, executed when I was thirteen, in all of the portraits I have created over the years, no matter how different the model was physically from me, I felt that it allstarts like a self-portrait. Then, at some point, something clicks and the work changes. The face of the model begins to dominate the paper or the canvas. That for me is a happy experience; it makes me feel less alone. (This later convinced me of the correctness of Jacques Lacan’s ideas on the “mirror stage” in the development of personality).
For this latest task, I began to make various studies in pencil, based on the image in the mirror. This was, as I have often said about portraits, “to get to know the face and its proportions, above all the eyes, and to get some idea of what is hiding behind them”. Drawing by drawing, it was becoming more and more difficult for me to fix on one single face and on one single expression. On the other hand, I often felt that the essential was to be found in the relationship between the many and very diverse expressions.
It was then that Carl Nielsen and Paul Hindemith came to mind. What if I used their musical vision of the four classic temperaments as a mirror into my own feelings and the way in which they marked my face in the mirror? The idea of classifying human emotions into the four humours of choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic and sanguine goes back to Hippocrates “the Father of Medicine” (c. 460 BC to 370 BC). Whatever we may think about this, from a scientific viewpoint today, this classification did mark an early attempt to delineate the cardinal points on a map of human emotional behaviour; a guide to our humours and feelings. It was an endeavour to put words into a wordless emotional world.
Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No 2 (1902) and Paul Hindemith’s “Tema e 4 Variazioni per pianoforte e orchestra d’archi” (1940) are, for me, two marvellous compositions; both having the subtitle “The Four Temperaments”. Conceptually, the essential difference between them is that the temperaments of Hindemith are four variations on an original theme presented at the beginning; while Nielsen’s work has four movements, each corresponding to a different temperament. This led to the symphony being criticised after its opening night for not being a “symphony” at all, but rather “a suite of moods for orchestra”. However, after hearing it in its entirety about fifty times (and each movement more times than that, individually) I came to the complete opposite conclusion. The four movements represent a dramatic emotional discourse, almost “narrative” in approach that reaches redemption and a liberating conclusion in the final sanguine movement. I chose to follow Nielsen’s four movements for this synaesthetic experiment precisely because there is no central theme. EdwardElgar’s Enigma Variations comprising 14 variations on an original theme that is never exposed also inspired me. From a metaphorical point of view, we could imagine that the 16 faces making up this self-portrait are complementary variations on the idea of the SELF-PORTRAIT, the FACE or the TRUTH of that face, which in this way we can (possibly) come closerto…
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