Theology & Art of the Score: An Exhibit Accompanying A Festival of Form

 

THEOLOGY AND ART OF THE SCORE

An Exhibit on Cage’s Musical World

Bridwell Library

Theology and Art of the Score is an exhibit that comes out of various interdisciplinary projects that took place at Bridwell Library over the last year.  During the Dante Festival in late August 2021, the musical work produced by composer Gabrielle Cerberville titled “the sky is falling” blended together elements of literature, history, theology, art, and music in a provocative and unorthodox manner through the production of musical scores without notation or paper, but instead of acrylic paints on plexiglass.  Out of the tradition of John Cage and later Earle Brown (1926-2002) and George Crumb (1929-2022), this form of composition and notation continues to bend historical ideas of form and push the limits of composition and the score.  Brown advocated open form notation and is most known for his work December 1952 (left), a graphic score of image rather than traditional staves and notes, while Crumb split apart and reassembled the notation system into particularly radical representations for interpretation and performance (below right).

During the Fall 2021 semester, Meadows music classes visited Bridwell Library to view various historical and modern representations of musical notation, scores, and metal printing blocks for printing sheet music.  The lectures and discussions with students focused on how industrialization and technology facilitated the evolution of musical instruments (e.g. more metal in pianos), the growth of orchestras, and the experimentation with musical sound, silence, and noise at the same time that developments in printing technology were occurring.  This also prompted us to question how emergent technologies affected what constituted not just experimentation, but a complete dismantling of forms, whereby music, art, literature, history, theology, and the world itself were being restructured down to their subatomic essences.  At the start of the 20th century this included Schoenberg and Stravinsky in music; Matisse and Picasso in art; Joyce and Woolf in literature; Braudel in history and Tillich in theology.  The world that people knew of in the early part of the last century was ruptured on all accounts during the First World War, and the succeeding 1920s onward left open a door to an infinite potential for form.

It is no surprise then that the current Bridwell Symbiosis exhibit begins with works of this period, around the time of the First World War, and that some of the works we will hear at the March 9th evening concert will feature music written between 1910 and 1930.  In the process of working with students and discussing with colleagues these various themes, it became apparent that by contending with ideas of form we were able to be more critically engaged in the the work of a university and its parts.  And this is no more present in Bridwell Library, where the elements of theology on a grand scale transcend any divisional category or discipline.  Theology, therefore, becomes the fluid, organic, and holistic realm of all arts, a category with and without classifications, because it is meant to be the fullness of human expression—at least for those engaged in its systems of belief!

To be clear, many of those composers and writers and artists featured in both the Symbiosis exhibit and the Theology and Art of the Score exhibit were neither religious nor theological.  But their works provide vision and opportunity for the many students, scholars, clergy, and lay people seeking higher meaning in their quotidian practices and spiritual lives.  The Art portion of …Art of the Score signals the variegated creativity that each of these composers has offered, some more modestly than others.  Yet, each enlivens the notion of what constitutes the process of development, writing, and artistic execution in writing music and the score itself.  Overall, Theology and Art of the Score is meant to be an exercise of participation, where people today can come together and experience the notions of form that spread across the narratives of time and space, of color and style, and of context and realities—all of which may give us slight hints or forceful suggestions that the worlds we live in are not always clear and what we expect, but instead full of ambiguity and uncertainty.

 

NOTES ON ITEMS IN EXHIBIT

The works in the exhibit Theology and Art of the Score represent primary sources related to John Cage and his world.  Works include letters and ephemera by some of Cage’s influences and teachers, such as Igor Stravinsky, Henry Cowell, Arnold Schoenberg, and Lazare Lévy, acquired by Bridwell for this event.  Selections of writings and drawings by Cage are on display, as well as a chamber (slide) opera by Dave Jones and William Kent, which is a pivot between the avant-garde notions of early 20th century modernist music and its contemporary movements represented in the artist books found in our major Bridwell exhibit Symbiosis of Script, Font, and Form (in the Prothro Galleries).

*Navigate to our A Festival of Form blog learn more and to RSVP.

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