Until the second half of the mid-19th century, the Asante and related peoples of Ghana and the Ivory Coast used small brass castings made by the lost-wax process as weights for measuring their gold-dust currency.
These weights, made in large numbers by professional metal workers, came in all shapes and sizes. There were two sorts of weights: those which represent miniature objects, creatures, and activities from local life, and those in non-representational, geometrical forms.
Many of the representational weights depicted musical instruments, either on their own or being played, and activities which traditionally took place to the accompaniment of music. The great majority of these weights show only two types of instruments: ivory trumpets, and various types of drums.
This according to “Music and gold-weights in Asante” by Malcolm Donald McLeod (British museum yearbook 1980, pp. 225–42).
Above, a weight depicting a pair of atumpan drums of the Akan people; below, the atumpan in action.
Especially significant are the murals, supervised by Sullivan, which allude to multiple art forms and to the democratic ideal of the opera house as a social institution.
Albert Fleury designed the murals on the side walls using themes drawn from Sullivan’s prose-poem Inspiration: An essay, which is full of musical imagery. The proscenium frieze, designed by Charles Holloway, depicts a central winged figure holding a lyre, flanked by several other figures and by the words “The utterance of life is a song: the symphony of nature”.
This according to “Louis Sullivan, J.S. Dwight, and Wagnerian aesthetics in the Chicago Auditorium Building” by Stephen Thursby, an essay included in Music in architecture, architecture in music (Austin: University of Texas, 2014, pp. 42 –53 ).
Above, the central figures in Holloway’s frieze (click images to enlarge); below, the frieze in the full proscenium; further below, one of Fleury’s murals, with the quotation from Sullivan’s text “O, soft, melodious spring time! First-born of life and love”.
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The series will publish studies on inventory, analysis, and interpretation of art works with musical themes. Its interests include all the traditional areas of musical iconography (depictions of musical instruments, musical scenes, images of musicians, etc.) as well as wider issues of the presence of music in visual arts.
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Performing Arts in America 1875–1923, a website of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, captures a glimpse of the beginning of the modern age, when a combination of technological advances and societal freedoms led the way to a new world where—among other things—entertainment for the masses became a thriving industry. The upbeat mood of America was reflected in its theater, its popular songs, the craze for ballroom dancing, and above all in the newest of popular fads, the motion pictures. At the same time, America was forging its own classical culture worthy of competing with its European forebears.
This searchable database presents some 16,000 archival visual and audio materials from the library’s holdings, including sheet music, newspaper clippings, photographs of theater and dance performances, and publicity posters.
Music philately began with the issuance of some of the very first postage stamps in the mid-nineteenth century: The inaugural issues of several European countries included images of post horns. Purists may argue that post horns were mere signaling devices, but at that time they were already being used in classical compositions, so their depictions may be considered musical images.
Other nineteenth-century stamps featured depictions of prominent political figures who were also musicians—for example, Argentina issued a stamp honoring the statesman and composer Juan Bautista Alberdi in 1888 (left)—but they were concerned with politics rather than music. The first explicitly musical stamp was Poland’s issuance honoring Ignacy Jan Paderewski in 1919.
Through the 1950s countries increasingly celebrated Western classical musicians and composers. In the 1960s all aspects of musical life became potential subjects—institutions, festivals, instruments, dancers, and so on—and non-European countries asserted their national identities with images of their own traditional and historical music cultures. In the later twentieth century images of popular and jazz musicians gained increasing demand .
This according to A checklist of postage stamps about music by Johann A. Norstedt (London: Philatelic Music Circle, 1997), which lists some 14,000 stamps with music-related images.
Above, stamps issued in Northern Cyprus in 1985, which was designated European Music Year by the Europa Federation (click images to enlarge). Below, a curious video about Robert Burns iconography.
These visual depictions of rāgas involve the various extramusical associations that theorists have assigned to them; for example, this visualization of the Hindustani rāg bhairavī from about 1610 depicts women worshiping at a shrine to Śiva, embodying the rāga’s association with both Śiva and feminine energy, and evoking the colors of its traditional early-morning context.
Below, the śahnāī player Bismillāh Khān (1915–2006) renders rāg bhairavī.
Postage stamps are singular sources for music iconography. Since these images comprise officially sanctioned national and international recognition, they provide windows on what governments and constituencies in various cultures and at various times have deemed worthy of celebration.
For example, the South Indian magazine Sruti regularly features philatelic reports on stamps issued by the Indian Department of Posts; these include an impressive number of commemorations of composers and performers from India’s classical Karnatak and Hindustani traditions. The stamp pictured above was issued to honor the śahnāī player Bismillāh Khān (1915–2006) on 21 August 2008.
Below, the music of Ghanaian postal workers canceling stamps.
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