Philip Dukes

The Frequent Juxtapositions of Beauty and Terror by Jeannine Cook

The adage about beautiful art being created against a backdrop of terror and upheavals has always fascinated me. I was thinking of its ironies recently as I sat listening to utterly lovely chamber music, of the most civilised and uplifting, and realised that I was facing a huge and dramatic Julian Story 1888 painting of "The Black Prince at the Battle of Crecy" hanging on the wall of the Telfair Museum of Art Rotunda Gallery. I looked further around the walls and there was another savage battle scene, also painted in 1888 by Josef Brandt, simply entitled "A Battle".

The Battle of Crecy, Julian Russell Story, oil on canvas, 1888, (Image courtesy of the Telfair Museums, Savannah, GA)

The Battle of Crecy, Julian Russell Story, oil on canvas, 1888, (Image courtesy of the Telfair Museums, Savannah, GA)

Granted that the chronologies of all these contexts were totally unrelated. The Savannah Music Festival concert featured a wonderful Mozart 1785 Piano Quartet in G minor and Dvorak's 1878 String Sextet in A Major being played by violinist Daniel Hope, pianist Sebastian Knauer, violists Philip Dukes and Carla Maria Rodrigues and friends. The subject of Story's monumental painting was the 1346 Battle of Crecy, a pivotal battle during the Hundred Year War when the Black Prince Edward of Wales killed King John of Bohemia. The 1656 battle depicted in the other painting recorded a skirmish between Swedes and Polish troops. Nonetheless, the juxtaposition for me, during that concert, reminded me that innumerable musical masterpieces, so much visual art, so many other kinds of artistic creation, are produced at periods of huge strife and stress, whether of war, economic distress or personal illness and suffering. To me, the capacity to create beauty and uplifting art at such times is one of mankind's most admirable characteristics.

Daniel Hope has programmed a very special concert on April 1st, in Savannah's Temple Mickve Israel, which perfectly illustrates this capacity to create beauty in the face of unspeakable suffering. Called "Forbidden Music", the programme features music created in the Theresienstadt concentration camp north of Prague by young Jewish musicians before they met their death. Daniel Hope and his wonderful musician friends will be playing a String Trio composed in 1944 by Gideon Klein. Klein was born in the present-day Czech Republic, deported to Theresienstadt (where he organised concerts with his fellow prisoners) and thence to Auschwitz before meeting his death in Furstengrube concentration camp in January, 1945. Another work featured in this programme again underlines this juxtaposition of beauty and terror: Siegmund Schul's Two Chassidic Dances, Opus 15. Schul, a young German composer, was deported to Theresienstadt with his wife in 1941. Whilst there, he composed this and other compositions, testaments to his strength and resiliency. He died in Theresienstadt in 1944, victim of tuberculosis.

The list of works of art of all description that we inherit from men and women of enormous talent and courage is huge. I think it is good to remind ourselves always that whatever our personal travails, we can find inspiration and encouragement from others that - yes, despite everything, we can still be artists and produce work that can be of value to others.

Art and the Mystery of Personal Taste by Jeannine Cook

I am always fascinated by the mysterious forces that impel each of us to make choices, in all sorts of realms, but especially in music and visual arts. For instance, you arrive as a visitor in a new city, and in deciding what to do and what to see, there is frequently the choice first of which museum to visit, and then, within that museum, which type of art to see. It is often an easy series of decisions if you are used to doing it, but even then, the way one chooses is often a subliminal, almost instinctive affair.

Experience helps. The more one visits museums and other places where art, two or three-dimensional, is displayed, the more one refines one's choices. The decisions often boil down to seeking to widen one's knowledge or wanting to see types of art which are already generally known and appreciated. I personally find that I will always head for an exhibition of drawings, if possible, because I am utterly enthralled by the directness of the dialogue with an artist who uses a drawing medium. There is nowhere to hide when you draw - you show yourself as an artist, warts and all, particularly when you are using a medium like silverpoint which precludes any erasures. Most drawing media - graphite, charcoal, ink, silverpoint, etc. - allow a subtlety of expression and depiction that one seldom finds in painting. There is also a wonderful expansion of the definition of drawing today, with many novel uses of paper, media, even attitude. The result is a continuous challenge to any preconceived notions of what one personally likes or even defines in terms of draughtsmanship. These are just a small smaple of drawings that I consider totally sublime and memorable.

Head of a Young Man (?)   by Michelangelo , ca. 1516, red chalk, 8 x 6 1/2. Collection Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England.

Head of a Young Man (?) by Michelangelo, ca. 1516, red chalk, 8 x 6 1/2. Collection Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, England.

Young Woman Looking Down (Study for the Head of St. Apollonia)   by Peter Paul Rubens , 1628, black and red chalk heightened with white, retouched with pen and brown ink, 16 5/16 x 11 1/4. Collection Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

Young Woman Looking Down (Study for the Head of St. Apollonia) by Peter Paul Rubens, 1628, black and red chalk heightened with white, retouched with pen and brown ink, 16 5/16 x 11 1/4. Collection Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

Woman Carrying a Child Down Stairs by Rembrandt , ca. 1636, pen and brown ink with brown wash, 7 3/8 x 5 3/16. Collection Morgan Library, New York, New York. “

Woman Carrying a Child Down Stairs by Rembrandt, ca. 1636, pen and brown ink with brown wash, 7 3/8 x 5 3/16. Collection Morgan Library, New York, New York. “

Yesterday I was marvelling at the mysterious delights of personal taste in music as well. It was during another of the wonderful Savannah Music Festival concerts, the second in the Sensations series of chamber music recitals held in the acoustic delight of the Telfair Museum of Art's main gallery. The programme was again the result of skilled personal tastes in selecting the concert's music and then my personal choice of that particular performance versus another being offered last night. Violinist Daniel Hope , violist Philip Dukes , pianist Gabriel Montero and friends played Dvorak's Piano Quartet in E-flat Major,Opus 87, in the first half of the concert. Brahms' String Sextet No. 2 in G Major Opus 36 was played after the intermission. Both pieces were ineffably beautiful and wonderfully played. I personally preferred - if one could prefer one or the other in truth - the Dvorak because I loved the lilting melodies that he had incorporated from Bohemian folk songs and the wonderful subtle treatment of strings and piano dialogues. Yet all around me, I heard differing opinions - some loved the first piece, others preferred the Brahms. As in art, every person brought their own experiences to the choice of music.

In the end, it is a miracle that so many of us like the same music, the same art. It underlines that there are universal attributes to works of art that resonate with most people, often subtle, mysterious attributes, but nonetheless very powerful ones.