Seeing Voices: Kandinsky and Schoenberg


After creating an imaginary emotion and thought that a person has experienced in oneself, the need to express the same emotions in certain ways with motion, sound, line, color or words, in order for other people to feel the same emotions, has revealed art.


At the end of the 19th century, at the beginning of the 20th century, a new page was about to turn. The beginning of the modern period caused changes in many areas from economy to production, from social life to art. The reason for the change; As a result of the industrial economic development and the problems it brought in Europe, the rapid development of the industry and increasing mechanization, people became unemployed.

The new order created by the machines brought anxiety, insecurity about the future and mental depression in the workers. The new individual of the changing society was opening a door where emotions and inner world came to the fore, not the most perfect appearances of what should be. The rapid development of Germany's industrial process caused the population to be concentrated in the cities.

The mechanized conditions of urban life massified the individual, ignored and removed them from the metropolis. “People were suffering from the consequences of the development of the industrialization of Germany, whose foundations were shaken. Broken human relations were other measures of life in the cities, all kinds of insanely fast slavery."(Richard, 1991:19).

All this resulted in something new;

“…this was an artistic revolt, and this revolt had neither a theory nor a defined purpose. For the Germans, Expressionism was more of a way, a tool, and a content for expression, rather than a passing style.

-BAYL, Friedrich; “Expressionism in Painting” The Adventure of Modernism, Haz.Enis Batur, Istanbul, 1997, p. 266


In the new world established, the artist; it showed a development against the suffocating atmosphere of the crowd, the lonely person and the new hopelessness brought by the new order. Artists' understanding of art was no longer their own choice, it was now a necessity. In the same years, developments such as Einstein's 'Theory of Relativity', Sigmund Freud's 'Psychoanalysis', the discovery of the atom had a great impact on human life and social life. They were trying to adapt to the new order in the face of rapid developments in science and science.

Expressionism was born as a result of these pains. The movement, which meant that emotions and the inner world came to the fore instead of the representation of nature as it was, expressed an unrestricted space that people could use to show what they lived in their inner world.

The creator of this expression in the field of painting was Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky. For Kandinsky, art had a spiritual side despite the imposed reality. In his theoretical work titled “On the Spiritual in Art” of 1911, he stated that the materialist way of thinking is dominant in society and that the spiritual potential of humanity is under threat.

The rebellion against nature is just beginning, says Kandinsky in his essay "On Spirituality in Art." In this revolt against "realism, which aims to produce everything as it is, without imagination", the art of painting should try to approach music, which is the most immaterial art branch, as much as possible. Because music has not limited itself to the representation of natural events for centuries, but has tried to express the artist's soul. Therefore, the artist who longs to express his inner life, his "inner need" should give importance to the rhythm in painting, the harmony of abstract forms and most importantly the use of colors, because while each form is an "external expression of inner meaning", each color creates a unique "spiritual vibration". .

Thus, based on his own experiences, Kandinsky attempts to theorize the effects, "vibrations" of the combination of different forms and different colors on the soul. These attempts of Kandinsky led towards a musical language applied to colors.

Put your ears to the music, open your eyes to the painting and… Stop thinking!

Ask yourself if your work can 'roam' you in an unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want?

W. Kandinsky


Arnold Schoenberg

As in the case of Debbusy and Impressionism, where visual and musical boundaries collide, Kandinsky's expressionism would of course be contaminated with music. Another artist of the period was the composer Arnold Schoenberg, known for his life trying to arrange the notes of colors with the symphonic principles of music. (1874-1951).

He was the composer of Arnold Schoenberg's musical innovations that started the atonal period in 1908-1912. This was a period of intense activity for Schoenberg, both as a composer and a painter. 

The compositions and paintings he created during these years emerged from the same inner need for expression. Both musicologists and art historians have described Schoenberg's work as 'expressionist'.

Schoenberg was more than just a musical artist. He preferred to express his inner feelings with colors as well as transferring them to notes.

It was thought that the portraits he made in these years (1907) contributed to the development of the atonal style, especially in the field of music.

We can understand the common points he shared with expressionist painters such as Schoenberg, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoscha and Kandinsky by looking at his own works.

In his portrait, he worked like an expressionist painter; presents sections with his inner world, dull gazes and ambiguous backgrounds.

We see the elements of self-focus and alienation in his work named "Die Glückliche Hand". The work is depicted as the voice of indescribable pain, and the intonations it uses give the sounds of infidelity, loss and death.

Listeners to this piece often use the term "nightmare" to describe its effect. Musically, the dissonance and the use of unconventional techniques create the very gloom the artist wants to impart.

This explanation is suitable for the paintings made by the composer. The scraped, incongruous and distorted image of the portraits he made creates a nightmare effect on the viewer.

When we look at the artist's paintings, the complexity and attention to detail do not characterize the paintings. Usually, there is only one dominant focus that strikes the viewer immediately, and the work does not seem to require a long study to decipher its meaning. In his portraits, the emphasis is on the face or eyes. In describing Schoenberg's paintings, Kandinsky admired the artist for "giving up the unnecessary" and avoiding ornamentation and detail. Kandinsky saw Schoenberg's focus on the subject as a valuable expression of subjective feeling.

Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky

The paths of the two crossed in 1911, when they met at a concert given by Schoenberg in Munich. The music Kandinsky heard that night is Schoenberg's second string quartet. (String Quartet No.2, Op.10, l. Allegro) Looking for a way out of the traditional figures of painting, Kandinsky is full of brand new ideas from the concert in which Schoenberg reflects on the possibilities of tonality and atonality (which he calls pantonality) and starts a new series. as separated.

The paintings he made after the concert reflect the feelings he got from this concert. Kandinsky sketched the performance, among which Impression III, (The Concert), is considered one of the most striking examples of modern art, fusing color and sound in a synaesthetic experience.

Kandinsky: Impression III (Concert) (1911)

In this painting, which was made in the same year as the concert, the crowd of people, a war strengthened with spears, were used, and the violence of cold colors was used.

One of Schoenberg's most extraordinary works is String Quartet No. It is adapted to vocal from the poet Stefan George's poem in his work. In this new work that has emerged, the voice of a lost and isolated soul and the instruments wander aimlessly on the notes in accordance with the poem. The climax of the piece opens with 'Tief ist die trauer die mich umdüstert' in the part called Liebe (love), and it represents the speaker's thirst, fatigue, hunger and weakness very well.

Yet from the depths of his heart comes a cry:

Kill the longing, close the wound!

Take my love, give me your joy!

Schoenberg divides the word according to the circulation of sound and produces music that is extraterrestrial, groundless, transcendent, and constantly fragmented. The final movement, Entrückung (Rapture), begins with a sublime statement:

I feel air from another planet

If we look at the dramatic memory that Schoenberg lived in 1908 when he wrote this quartet, we can understand what a difficult year he had. He had learned that his wife, Mathilde, was having an affair with his friend, Richard Gerstl. This deception was devastating for Schoenberg, but it also enabled him to produce works at the transformation point of modern music and played a triggering role for the expressionist influences in his music. Kandinsky was impressed by this work and responded with the painting "The Great Resurrection". Kandinsky transferred artistic creativity to the subjective field by saying "Art is the expression of inner world phenomena". But his inner world is not the emotional world of romantics. He opens to the "higher truths" that are purified from emotions such as fear and joy with inner necessity and attains freedom.

W. Kandinsky: The Great Resurrection

The discovery of the unspoken and invisible part of the individual about himself in life found a response in the art world. In Kandinsky's paintings, the dark sides of the soul were scrutinized by color, and in Schoenberg by notes. Kandinsky,On Spirituality in ArtHe says in his book :

Beauty arises from spiritual need... The soul is a piano, the colors are the keys of this piano, and the eyes are the hammers hitting its strings. The artist, on the other hand, is the hand that makes the human soul tremble by pressing different keys.

Like the artists of every period, the expressionist artists of this period were not understood, surprised and criticized in the time period they lived. They tried to express the 'expression' of the inner world in the most natural way by going beyond the traditional.

When we look at the whole period, the words of Norbert Lynton come to mind:

"Every human action is expression; art as a whole is expressive''


ERTAN, Deniz; “Internality, Intuition and Synesthetics in Schönberg and Kandinsky”, Journal of Music, Research and Interpretation, Issue 3, Doruk Publishing House, Ankara, 1998:19-23

İPŞİROĞLU, Nazan; The Effect of Music in Painting, Istanbul, Remzi Bookstore, February, 1994

KANDISKY, “Schoenberg's Paintings”, ibid. Fence. , NS. 184.

KANDINSKY, Wassily; On Spirituality in Art, Istanbul, Altıkırkbeş Publications, October 2001 p.72

AYDIN,Uraz, The Violence of Colors, The Scream of the Spirit: The Revolt of Expressionism Yeniyol Magazine May-June 2013


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