Friday, November 19, 2010

The Linchpin of the Arts - 'Atmosphere'...

The other day I was mulling over the powerful and riveting "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by the Irish genius, Oscar Wilde, whom I have already written about (isn't this work his only published novel?), and the dark, truly low-key tactics Wilde employed in producing the specter of dread throughout this unique work, and how the essences of pure malevolence and ultimate horror emerge so efficiently. No hyper - dramatic exclamations or overt violence, except for that one blow to the back of Basil with Dorian's knife. This novel demonstrates wonderfully well the development of and ultimate magnificence of atmosphere, as the primary vehicle of communication, no matter the art form.
This work by Wilde led me to consider the ways, in terms of technique, the artist in question instigates and molds 'atmosphere' into the total work; for instance, the two, arguably, most illustrious British authoresses of the mystery novel, P.D. James and Agatha Christie, especially Christie, by way of the center of many "who dunnits," Miss Jane Marple, the wisp of a woman in her later years, who acts as a detective with an answer to the identity of the culprit in every novel this dovish little spinster appears in. Without exception, the sense of what is so uniquely English saturates the works of these two renowned writers, and forms the catalyst through and by which the story is always so clearly projected. When I read a "Miss Marple," I almost always see the typical little village, the church, the flowers, the townsfolk chattering, etc, as clearly as I perceive the line of the story.
Composers like Chopin and Liszt give us the same gifts in, say, the Nocturnes and the Consolations, respectively. Even though this kind of music is Absolute; that is, without a specific story line, the wondrous "settings" these composers produce in order to put their singular melodies and harmonies on pedestals for us to more easily absorb, is what I mean as 'atmosphere' - The graceful line of notes in the left hand in many of the Nocturnes of Chopin and the way Liszt introduces the transcendent beauty of his third Consolation IS 'atmosphere.'
I have a video of Artur Rubinstein playing a Chopin Nocturne (around 1944) in the living room of his Hollywood home before a group of his friends and his wife. As the music begins, the lighting is normal; however, as this wonderful music continues, the lights gradually dim as the music delivers its message, leaving those viewing this performance with just enough light for Rubinstein to continue. The overall effect lends even more 'atmosphere' to the already defining beauty of the music. After a while, as the Nocturne approaches its end, the lights, very gently, increase until the music ends. A solid piece of "Hollywood," but a brilliant foray by some creative film-makers to demonstrate the elemental nature of atmosphere as an intrinsic vehicle of communication.
Oscar Wilde, P.D. James, Agatha Christie, Franz Liszt and Frederick Chopin are but a handful of great artists I have in mind; however, be assured that, in my mind, I leave no one out!

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