For my part I know nothing with any certainty,
but the sight of the stars makes me dream…
... Vincent Van Gogh
In a small gallery on the fifth floor of the Museum of Modern Art in New York hangs one of the most famous paintings in Western culture; Vincent Van Gogh's 'The Starry Night' (1889). Tourists flock to have their photograph taken next to the painting, marching past Cubist masterpieces by Picasso, Braque and others without a second glance. Perhaps the Cubists do not have the same immediate allure, perhaps they are harder to understand, or perhaps Van Gogh's masterpiece is simply more famous, but these small galleries house some of the most iconic images in Western culture.
I have always been interested in the links between art and music, and conceived this recording along the lines of a Cubist painting, considering nocturnes and night music from multiple angles, but having the intention to create a complete picture through the album as a whole. There are contrasting areas of light and darkness, achieved by grouping pieces together according to different themes or criteria; sometimes by the composers' nationality, sometimes by the key or intensity of the music, and still further groupings with particular themes. Thus there are pieces where suggestions of the nightmarish supernatural are never far away, a group in which depictions of the natural world are explicit, and by contrast another suggesting the edginess of the urban night.
Avoiding a chronological survey, nearly two hundred years' worth of music is represented from the earliest example by John Field to works composed in this millennium. The works by Lowell Liebermann, Antonio Bibalo, Dave Brubeck and Leonid Desyatnikov serve as reminders that the nocturne has developed considerably from the earliest model of a pretty Romantic piece with a repeated left hand figure supporting a decorated right hand melody, and yet has retained the intense distillation of emotion.
Works of art served to further illuminate my thoughts as the album progressed, and the links between composers and artists became more apparent. Ivan Shishkin's 'In the Wild North', painted in the same year (1891) as Grieg's popular piece, seemed to illustrate the Norwegian sound world perfectly. Grieg and Edvard Munch were friends, and the artist's series of paintings entitled 'Separation' (1896) seemed an apt companion to Glinka's piece of the same title. James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s numerous ‘Nocturnes’ were constant points of reference, whilst John Atkinson Grimshaw's 'Under the Harvest Moon' (1872) seemed to suggest something similar to Alec Rowley's pastoral idyll, and Edward Hopper's 'Nighthawks' (1942) brought some illumination to Dave Brubeck's 'Audrey', even though the piece was originally homage to the film star Audrey Hepburn. Leonid Desyatnikov's intoxicating music was conceived with the moving image in mind, and Fabian Perez's sensual paintings seemed the perfect embodiment of Piazzolla's music, but perhaps the most obvious link belongs to that between Selim Palmgren's nocturne 'The Stars are Twinkling', and the famous painting on the fifth floor of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.