by Philippe Junod. Reaktion Books, February 2018. 320 p. ill. ISBN 9781780238111 (h/c), $50.00.
Reviewed July 2018
An astonishing number of books have been written to propose or define various practical and theoretical harmonies of music and art. This is not another one of those books. This work expertly synthesizes the key issues, debates, and voices in the connections (or, just as importantly, disconnects) between music and the visual arts that have been ongoing for hundreds of years. Counterpoints accomplishes this by drawing on a remarkable array of primary and secondary sources from Pythagoras, “Modern Variations on an Ancient Theme: The Music of the Spheres” to “Bach Through the Prism of Painting” and Corbusier and Xenakis, “A Survey of Architecture and Music.”
As the author shows, these dialogues between disciplines were not always seeking commonality or harmony. The practical and theoretical examples featured vividly illustrate that there were movements, Impressionism and Neo Classicism in particular, where the purity of the distinct art form required guarding barriers between forms. The voices in this deep and rewarding discussion are not limited to musicians, composers, and visual artists. Many of the movements discussed had deep philosophical underpinnings reflected in quotations and references ranging from Ausonius to Umberto Ecco.
Phillipe Junod, retired professor of art history at the University of Lausanne, has published prolifically on art theory. This work reflects the author’s scholarly rigor but also his passionate interest in music. Appropriately, many of the composers, painters, sculptors, architects, and other creators discussed in this book shared a similar cross-disciplinary ardor. Each chapter is thorough and articulate, rewarding both to the scholar and the patient enthusiast. To give the reader some idea of what to prepare for, the body of the work, prelude, nine chapters, and coda cover 184 pages. The index ends on page 317. In between are six fascinating appendices (for example, appendix three, “Audio-Visual Installations, Utopian Projects and Machines” is a chronological list from 1591-2005), sixty-plus pages of notes, and nearly forty pages of primary and secondary sources. This book is a delight, whether you start at the table of contents or from the index or appendices.
Junod’s cyclopedic knowledge and scholarly acumen, clever, playful style, and passion for music combine to make this a rare scholarly work that deserves readership beyond academia. The illustrations, ranging from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries, illuminate the discussion and will intrigue the reader. This book is a polymath’s Kircherian exploration. Highly recommended for libraries supporting art, music, and architecture.