Sunday 27 May 2012

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

"I was walking along a path with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature."

Munch's The Scream.
The poem was on the frame of one of the pastel versions of the painting
If someone'd told me that the scenario quoted above had been the inspiration for Edvard Much's The Scream, I'd have thought my interlocutor was talking cobblers. And yet, it's true.

I only found this out recently when a pastel version of said work was auctioned off at Sotheby's to an unnamed buyer for $120m (£74m). Which made ME want to scream, too. But let me deal first with the reason, or reasons, for my incredulousness.

I'd always thought that The Scream had been born out of horror, not amazement at nature. I'd always been under the impression that the figure holding his (I've also always believed it was a bloke, right? Unless early 90s Sinead O' Connor had a doppelganger in Norway in the 1800s) face on that bridge had just seen his worst nightmare walking towards him at a Usain Bolt-like pace. Never did it cross my mind that a "sky turned blood red" and "tongues of fire" could inspire terror. Unless one was to find onself on top of a volcano, of course.

However, a couple of days after I'd read the news about the auction in the paper, I happened to be at home listening to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata whilst looking out of the windows in my lounge. The sun was setting down and it'd been raining quite a lot before. I was just noticing how tall the grass had grown on account of the endless showers we'd just had recently when all of a sudden the sky became a dark, threatening red. The type that presages storms. Or Armageddon, if I were to get really biblical. And yet, I couldn't take my eyes off it. For the next few minutes, nature turned into a Jackson Pollock and threw as many colours as it could at this hitherto grey, grim, vast canvas. Violets mixed with purples, auburns danced with bronzes and crimsons flirted with pinks. It didn't rain. At least, insofar as water falling from the sky, but colours did pour down.

Beethoven's masterpiece was still playing when this polychromatic invasion finished. What I'd just experienced helped me understand what Munch had tried to say with The Scream. On that bridge that evening he'd been witness to one of those rare "eureka moments" nature comes up with every now and then.

You can watch a sunset everyday of your life and appreciate the beauty of it, but not be completely bowled over by it. What I mean is that you're full aware that the twilight will always be there because night follows day. Nature cannot conjure up a magical sunset everyday, and it's aware of it. Pretty ones, yes, but otherworldly? That's a tall order.

However, once in a while, it has a creative moment. And this moment usually follows an impasse. A lull, a period of inactivity or "normality". And then, this revelatory instant catches you unawares. It could be a majestic rainbow after heavy rain, the bluest of blue whilst on a trip to the ocean or a birds chorus waking you up at dawn in the middle of London (it does happen, you know). Whatever the situation, nature has treated you to a special occasion.

Munch grabbed that occasion and regurgitated it in The Scream. And that's what art is sometimes, an act of regurgitation, of giving something back, not just to nature but also to the people by whom we're surrounded. Munch's The Scream was his way of shouting: "I know you won't be able to see this sun setting and these tongues of fire, but I can and I'm telling you that right now, this minute, there's nothing more beautiful on earth". That night I finally got it and it made me want to scream, too. But first I needed to finish listening to Beethoven.

© 2012

Next Post: “Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music… Ad Infinitum”, to be published on Wednesday 30th May at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. hola Cubano,

    i'd recently visited London (Chelsea) for a few days and a poster entitled REVOLUCION that shows a dancer jumping out of the frame made me think not a little of paying your blog a visit. life, of course, got in the way and it took me until now to stop by.

    this is as it should be, my favorite visits have always been on your Sunday Java Jives . . .

    today is no exception. as always you provide much fodder for thought, though i fully expected you to link the SCREAM with the going bid, . . . , but that would be too obvious.

    instead your insight into that special moment, well, yes, i too have experienced that special AHA! syndrome but i'm embarrassed to say that it was not nature that elicited my personal scream.

    t'was a coin in the palm of my hand one special dawn after a long colorful (very) night that startled me into a series of screams when the coin crowed like a rooster unexpectedly . . .

    in retrospect, i believe someone spiked the tab with rat poison, but i digress . . .

    its always a surety, Cubano, Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music => 10Q and kudos.

  2. That blood-red sky filled him with terror because he sensed that nature was impersonal, all powerful, and in that vision he himself was nothing.

    Your vision is quite beautiful.

  3. You are right about the special moment, but it is not Munch screaming. He has just passed the slaughterhouse and it is nature that is screaming. He in fact is covering his ears so as not to hear the screams. It was indeed a special moment in which Munch was at one with nature, one might say, for they were both at odds with man. This is not to gainsay anything you have said regarding the sunset and so forth (I'm sure Munch would have agreed with it), merely to add an extra dimension to it. The link with Beethoven's Moonlight is interesting - a fav. piece of music of mine with a fav. painting (or in this version, Pastel drawing) of mine. Thanks for.

  4. Many, many thanks for your comments. Yes, you're right, Dave that The Scream came from nature. I wasn't aware of that fact until I read the poem that appears on the frame of one of the pastel versions. It's extraordinary where inspiration comes from and where it leads people to. Thanks a lot for your feedback.

    Greetings from London.

  5. Actually, reading your piece again, I see that the error was mine, a mis-read. My apologies. A great post at all events.

  6. Those are really interesting points. I think I like your interpretation better than my own, which is terror at what the world has become.

  7. I totally understand that moment of being stupefied by nature. But I'm not sure if the painting gets that across. Like you I've always thought it was about horror, not amazement. It gives the feeling or horror alright.

    But it's so interesting to find out that the poem was the inspiration behind the painting.


  8. Ditto, Cuban! Even I thought that the Scream had been born out of horror. I agree with Jai.. the painting gives a feeling of horror.

  9. what a brilliant vision, cuban!
    i love this post.

    and i agree with you that 'the scream" had been born out of horror.

    i really like the last poetic lines of your post.
    truly gorgeous!

    hope you have a great remainder of the week.

  10. We had alfresco salad with friends last night - and very nice it was too! But today is grey and miserable...

  11. Many thanks for your kind words.

    Greetings from London.



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