Musical Pictures

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Explore the connection between music and visual art, and create your own musical pictures.

In the performance (with help from THE PIANO), SAM discovers how to express his own feelings through the music. He ends with a passionate and heartfelt interpretation of Rachmaninoff’s Études-Tableaux, Op. 33, No. 7 in E-flat Major.

Études-Tableaux is French for “study pictures.” Rachmaninoff intended for his piece to be a musical interpretation of a visual image. He said, “I do not believe in the artist that discloses too much of his images. Let [the listener] paint for themselves what it most suggests.”

1. Listen to Rachmaninoff’s Études-Tableaux and discuss these questions as a class. Have students document their thoughts.

  • When you listen to this piece, what images come to mind?
  • What colors, shapes, or movements do you think about?
  • What feelings or mood do you think the music is communicating?

2. Play Rachmaninoff’s Études-Tableaux again, another piece from the performance, or a song of your choosing. Have students create their own visual interpretation or musical picture. Use paper and crayons or markers, or have students create a 3D collage using found materials.

Further Exploration

Musicians are often inspired by visual images and the world around them as they write or play music. Similarly, many visual artists are inspired by music as they create works of art. Explore these artists and how music inspired their art.

Wassily Kandinsky Swinging 1925

Wassily Kandinsky: Swinging (1925)

Wassily Kandinsky believed that colors, lines and shapes affect our feelings and emotions in the same way that music can.

Bring Kandinsky’s Swinging to life with this musical game from The Tate Museum.

Piet Mondrian Broadway Boogie Woogie 1942

Piet Mondrian: Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942)

After WWII, Piet Mondrian was living in New York City and was inspired by the jazz music and ‘boogie-woogie’ style of dancing.

Learn more about Mondrian’s painting in this short audio guide from New York City’s MoMA.

Watch composer and pianist Jason Moran explain how he believes that Mondrian’s painting is actually a jazz music score.

Marc Chagall: The Triumph of Music (1967)

Marc Chagall spent much of his time working with musicians and performers. In fact, his style came from years of creating sets and costumes for ballet and opera companies in Russian, Paris, and New York. His large-scale paintings, The Triumph of Music and The Source of Music, hang in the lobby of the Metropolitan Opera House.

See more of Chagall’s musically inspired works.

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