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Painting Inspired by Music and Music Inspired by Painting Peter Medhurst Wednesday 30 May 2018

Overview of the study day

It has long been acknowledged that the worlds of the visual and aural arts link with extraordinary power when one medium inspires the other.  This study day, which spans over 600 years of the arts, analyses and discusses a range of related works, bringing together the music of Martinů with the frescoes of Piero della Francesca, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus with Respighi’s Trittico botticelliano, Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead with Rachmaninoff’s symphonic poem, and Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie with the piano playing of Albert Ammons.

The study day is presented with digital images, video, recorded music and live examples sung and played at the piano.


Sample timetable with content
10.30-11.30 – Session 1

After a brief introduction to the subject of ‘music inspired by paintings’, three paintings are discussed that have produced direct musical responses in famous composers.  The couplings are these:

Music: M Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition (1874)

Painting: V Hartman – various paintings displayed in an exhibition in St Petersburg (1874)

Music: S Rachmaninov – Isle of the Dead, tone poem for orchestra (1908)

Painting: A Böcklin – Isle of the Dead (5 known versions of the painting 1880-6)

Music: O Respighi – Trittico Botticelliano (1927)

Paintings: S Botticelli – La Primavera (1482), Adoration of the Magi (1475), The Birth of Venus (1486)

11.30-11.45 – Break

11.45-1.00 – Session 2

The theme of music drawing inspiration from identifiable paintings continues with the following material:

Music: B Martinů – The Frescoes of Piero della Francesca (1955)

Painting: Piero della Francesca – Frescoes in Arezzo, Italy of The History of the True Cross (before 1466)

Music: F Liszt – Hunnenschlacht, tone poem for orchestra (1857)

Painting: W von Kaulbach – Hunnenschlacht (c1850)

Half way through this second session, the theme is reversed and before the lunch break, the subject of ‘paintings inspired by music’ is introduced.  Peter Medhurst plays John Field’s Nocturne No 5 and Chopin’s Nocturne in Em Op 72 No 1 on the piano and discusses the use of the word ‘nocturne’ in the works of James Whistler.

1.00-2.15 – Lunch

2.15-3.30 – Session 3

The last session of the day explores the wealth of 19th and 20th century paintings that connect with specific musical works and musical genres.  The following connections are made:

Painting: M von Schwind – Symphony (1852)

Music: L van Beethoven – Fantasia in C for Piano, Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra (1808)

Painting: F Leighton: Lieder ohne Worte (exhibited 1861)
Music: F Mendelssohn – Lieder ohne Worte (1829-45) Leighton borrowed the title

Painting: W Kandinsky – Impression III – Concert (1911)

Music: A Schoenberg – Three Piano Pieces Op 11 (1909)

Painting: P Mondrian – Broadway Boogie Woogie(1942-3)
Music: Selection of Boogie Woogie music from the late 1930s and early 1940s


Peter Medhurst’s work as singer, pianist and lecturer-recitalist has taken him all over the world, and in the last few years he has toured New Zealand, Australia (twice) and South Africa (four times), and made frequent tours in Europe, giving performances in Berlin, Hamburg, Vienna, Salzburg, Brussels, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Paris and Spain.  Closer to home, he has presented events at the Barbican, St John’s Smith Square, and the Royal Festival Hall on The Beethoven String Quartets, Mozart Operas, Vermeer’s Music Lesson, The Twelve Days of Christmas, The Golden Age of Vienna, and 18th Century Venetian Art and Music.  He has also directed presentations at the Wallace Collection, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the V&A, linking the visual arts with the world of 17th & 18th century music making.

He is a familiar face to audiences of music societies, regional theatres and British festivals (Henley, Isle of Man, Rye, Amersham, Stevenage, Chichester, Leith Hill, The Three Choirs etc) as well as to those of arts based organisations such as The Art Fund, The National Trust and the Arts Society (formally known as NADFAS).  On the radio, his appearances have included Classic FM’s Susanna Simons’ Show, Radio 3’s In Tune, Radio 4’s Arts Programme, and Midweek with Libby Purves.  His recordings number For Two to Play, Schubert Songs, Handel and His Satellites and a CD of 16th and 17th century keyboard music entitled Tyme at the Virginalls.  A new recording with pianist Jeremy Limb has been released entitled On Christmas Night on which he sings a range of Christmas carols and seasonal songs.