Author Archives: Kim

Live painting with pianist Maureen Galea

2017 Czech Sketches
Live painting with pianist Maureen Galea in a program on Czech composers & exhibition of oilpaintings at Guildford International Music Festival Website , University of Surrey, UK
26 February

Lovesong – based on Píseň lásky by Czech composer Josef Suk.
oil on canvas, 60 x 50 cm, 2017


Trailer ‘The Art of the Symphony’
Coming in 2017 – a new film ‘The Art of the Symphony’ in which we follow the creative voyage of painter Maryleen Schiltkamp, who invites us to experience her work on depicting Shostakovich’s Symphonies on the canvas. The film culminates in the creation of three paintings evoking passages from Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony, created “live” in her Prague studio. Produced by the DSCH Journal affiliate DSCH Films 2016

Shostakovich Symphony No.4 III mov. Allegro/Coda
acryl on canvas, 200 x 120 cm, 2016 – Live Musicpainting for the DSCH film
‘The Art of the Symphony’

Shostakovich Symphony No.4 II mov. Moderato
acryl on canvas, 160 x 120 cm, 2016 – Live Musicpainting for the DSCH film

Shostakovich Symphony No.4 I mov. Presto (Fugato) acryl on canvas, 200 x 100 cm, 2016 – Live Musicpainting for the DSCH film

The score of Shostakovich Symphony No.4 – the first time I studied parts of a symphony for Live Musicpainting …

Alan Mercer, chief-editor of DSCH Journal Website and director of the documentary film ‘The Art of the Symphony’, in Prague Studio observing Maryleen’s oil painting on Shostakovich Symphony No.10. August 2016

‘The Art of the Symphony’; short video-introduction to a film on Maryleen’s paintings on Shostakovich’s Symphonies currently being made by D.S.C.H. Films 2016

Shostakovich’s Symphony No.10

The Musical Painting ‘Shostakovich’s Symphony No.10’, created this year, is one of two paintings inspired by symphonies of Dmitri Shostakovich. My preceding painting, ‘Largo Shostakovich’ (2013) is a visual interpretation based on the Fifth Symphony, the Largo movement.

Both symphonies I heard in concert – a tremendous experience! – the impact of which I brought home to my studio, to immerse myself in studies and reflection. Then followed by a time, that I hear the music in my mind and I am somehow absorbed in the atmosphere and significance of the piece. The painting is not in a descriptive way related to the score, but my own, almost physical, response to the agonising energy it conveys.

As for Musical Paintings, and in particular my paintings on Shostakovich’s symphonies, I wish to say here that it is my intention also to value music as a state of mind, a striking human document of deeply moving content that has the ability to reach audiences, not only contemporaries of the composer, but new generations to come will recognise the theme of oppression and individual freedom. For me it matters in which time the music was composed and what were the circumstances of the composer. I see it as a witness of our humanity and cultural identity through the times.

Shostakovich Symphony 10

Shostakovich’s Symphony No.10, 200 x 100 cm, oil on canvas, 2016

Following the death of Joseph Stalin in March 1953, Shostakovich’s Symphony No.10 (Op.93) was premiered by the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, with Yevgeny Mravinsky conducting, in December of that same year. Sketches for some of the material date from 1946, with most written in 1951 and the final form of the symphony completed between July and October 1953. The length of the Tenth Symphony is 50 minutes, which are 48 minutes of tragedy, despair, terror, and violence and 2 minutes of triumph. The most widely accepted interpretation of the work has seen it as a depiction of the Stalin years in Russia, with the second movement, the Scherzo, as being a musical portrait of Stalin.

Studying the interpretations of Shostakovich’s music, the more you focus on it, the more cautious you prefer to be; interpretations and the purposes they serve, are ours, not necessarily his. In quest of what it all means, perhaps it’s best to say: nothing in Shostakovich’s music can be taken at face value. It is a rough road of codes and quotes, sardonic irony and hollow triumph to keep the State at a distance. The only thing we can say with certainty is Shostakovich’s signature code, DSCH, a musical motif to represent himself. (A cryptogram read in the German musical notation De-Es-Ce-Ha for his name Dmitri SCHostakovich)

During the time of the Great Terror (1936), up to Stalin’s death in 1953 and in later years, Shostakovich has been able to forge a musical language, speaking with stunning emotional power to the Russian people, in a total empathy with their mass suffering; a devastating sound, but in a way of a catharsis. Shostakovich was walking a tightrope, with Stalin watching his every move. Friends and colleagues disappeared or were killed, family imprisoned. Individual lives were suffocated by suspicion, apartments bugged, colleagues and family reporting on each other. After the second denunciation of Shostakovich’s music by the Zhdanov decree in 1948, following his first in 1936,“ [Shostakovich] waited for his arrest at night out on the landing by the lift, so that at least his family wouldn’t be disturbed.” The life-threatening pressure he was under did not keep him from composing. Outwardly conforming to government policies, reading speeches and putting his name to articles he didn’t write, obligatory composing Cantata’s for Stalin like the ‘Song of the Forest’, for which he is, on one hand, severely criticised by those who see him as a coward, an obedient tool of the State, a devoted Soviet citizen; but even so admired on the other hand by others not doubting the inner scars and torment this inflicted on him and who recognise a hidden controversy, the voice of the rebel outwitting censorship, the music of a genius who used his restrictions to create a monumental human document, exactly because it was in the shape of the oppressing form, created by nothing else but his own artistic integrity. The authorities, indeed, grotesquely failed to see the irony and awarded Shostakovich with Stalin prizes, honours and privileges, all at mercy of Stalin’s whims. The musicologist Richard Tarushkin writes in his book On Russian Music (2009): “Yes, forgive the man, by all means. Who are we to judge his deeds? He faced pressures we cannot imagine, and nobody is required to be a hero. But do not list him among the heroes. Going along to be left alone is the response you and I might make to totalitarian pressure, not the response of a ‘moral beacon’.”

Scholars spend a lot of time verifying whether the Fifth Symphony is in fact a dissident statement, a public response to the attack on his music that began with the Pravda article “Muddle instead of Music” followed by his first denunciation in 1936. “ I’ll never believe that a man who understood nothing could feel the Fifth Symphony. Of course they understood, they understood what was happening around them and they understood what the Fifth was about.”, Shostakovich says in Testimony, Solomon Volkov’s controversial, but very influential book (1979) which claims to be ‘The Memoirs of Dmitri Shostakovich’. Others insist Shostakovich used his music as a kind of covert dissidence. Dissidence is public, and the term should be reserved for people who did take the risk, like Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov.

On the Pushkin Poems:

A composition based on a poem is likely to be taken explicit, and the textual content maybe used by de-coders to suggest hidden programs in some of the symphonies.
Several times, Shostakovich was inspired by the early 19th century poet and playwright, Alexander Pushkin, for his compositions. Four Romances on Poems by Pushkin (1937), a serious and highly personal work, is often seen as a key to the Fifth Symphony, which Shostakovich composed a few months later. The first song is a setting of Pushkin’s poem Bозрождение‘Rebirth’ (1819) and contains thematic material that Shostakovich used in the Fifth Symphony’s 4th movement, the finale.

The first movement of the Tenth Symphony Shostakovich quotes from his earlier Four Monologues on Verses by Pushkin (1952) Что в имени тебе моем?‘What is My Name to You?’ (1830), the second song, reflecting on the theme of personal identity. Pushkin contemplates the posthumous oblivion of his name. Here Shostakovich builds in the musical code of his own initials – DSCH – in the piano part. In the Tenth Symphony, the DSCH motif is most prominent in the 3rd movement, and in the Finale when in an fortissimo outburst it hammers out the maniacal Allegro. The music builds to a massive climax , fortified by the DSCH motif as a resolute assertion of the individual’s triumph over a soulless regime.

In my painting Shostakovich’s Symphony No.10, the feather-like structure at the left side of the painting is related to another poem by Pushkin, not found in the symphony but emerging from the depths of my own interpretation; Пророк ‘The Prophet’ of 1826. In this poem, we gaze into a vision of horrifying revelation: The poet meets a Seraphim with six wings at a crossroad, a celestial encounter which leaves the poet violently shattered – the pupils of his eyes are grazed, his tongue is ripped out and replaced with the stinger of a wise serpent, his heart is cut out of his chest and a piece of burning coal with a flame is installed – images to express the spiritual costs of the poet’s lucid state. With “Arise, prophet, and see and understand. […] Scorch the hearts of the people with your tongue” – a warning for the audience – he is set on his way … to create.

I somehow wish to communicate that the force of creation has a destructive side which takes its toll on the poet, the artist, the musician. That the very nature of creative imagination is of the same source as its opposite; that seeking harmony and beauty is like walking alongside an abyss of chaos and dissonance. That the life-affirming creative side is reinforced by the presence of darker elements, by the real threat of annihilation and extinction. A dichotomy we inherited from the cosmos, as we are built from the same elements, although we can be more or less aware of it.

Confronted with Shostakovich’s compositions and, to me, in particular in the symphonies No.5 and No.10, the level of destruction being communicated versus the outburst of creative powers in response to that, is of a magnitude equal to opposing forces on a cosmic scale. We are drawn to beliefs and faiths that see our destiny as a light that will overcome darkness, our lives as the strivings of the soul to overcome forces of destruction.

I wanted to create an image in which the soul is not defeated, in which individual freedom is not crushed by the oppression of a de-humanising, totalitarian regime. Here, to my idea, the wings of the Seraphim represent the inspiration of the soul striving upward, although some of its feathers are burned. The feather-like structure is being pulled down by something bending and stretching to the right. The sharp metallic planes cutting the diagonal across the painting are about to snap, the inner strain is in a torsion, an overpowering strength on the edge of its collaps; it is a moment of triumph, albeit a more exhausted than jubilant one – a break for Shostakovich after Stalin’s death, followed by an uncertain thaw.

As a tribute to Shostakovich’s Symphony No.10, the painting is a visual expression of my affinity with the music. It started with the impact of a concert I heard, and what comes later is an unsettling road of interpretations. That is why I drew the image from a more archaic domain, which is behind the ethical question where to place Shostakovich.
In the end, Shostakovich remains free from our interpretations; he is present, precisely, in paradoxes and cryptograms. The magnificence of his music will continue to reveal what is beyond our direct comprehension.

Maryleen Schiltkamp 2016

Presentation Text ‘Musical Paintings in Process’

Text for the presentation at the Dutch Embassy in Prague (november 2014)

Welcome to the presentation of ‘Musical Paintings in Process’.
I thank the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands for their hospitality to provide the attic space for this event. And a special welcome to Kim Dijkstra, who made the video films and flew over today from Amsterdam to join us.

Dvořák Symphony no.9 ‘From the New World’ Video

I am especially proud of this video because it started by chance, by just taking pictures of the canvasses I was working on, as I always do. Painting in oil on canvas often results in layers of paint which can cover the previous states, and sometimes I like to keep a record of what it looked like before.

The two canvasses presented here are:
„Z nového světa“ – From the New World, based on Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No.9 in E minor, ‘From the New World’ and Largo -Shostakovich, based on Dmitri Shostakovich Symphony No.5 in D minor, Largo movement.

Both Symphonies made a tremendous impact on me when hearing them in concert. I was very much captured by the music and I wanted to paint it. To explain why may not be possible; often this is a sort of mystery. These are life experiences that bring you almost in a trance, take you beyond yourself to a realm which is not from this world.

When an experience is not from this world, perhaps we can say that it comes from another world or From the New World. The New World in this sense can have two meanings:
A New World of a kind that one can point to on a map, and a New World that is a fictional place, or rather: a state of mind.

When in the 16th century, Europeans set foot on land that would later be called ‘America’ (after Amerigo Vespuccci, a Florentine) they called this the ‘New World’.
The Old World was the worldview of the classical geographers with only Africa, Asia and Europe on the map.

The other sense of the New World is more metaphorical; it is a mythical world that is not on any map. A Utopia. A longing – Sehnsucht – which goes along with feelings of Nostalgia. As we have legends of Arcadia, Kitezj, Atlantis, Heavenly Jerusalem: it tells us something about our striving and the human condition.

In Dvořák’s Symphony ‘From the New World’, I feel, both New Worlds are combined, as are the new influences and impressions of America – musically, the encounter with Native Indian songs and Negro-Spirituals, combined with the syncopic rhythms of Bohemian and Moravian folksongs, the melodic lines and the nostalgic mood of Dvorak’s own Slavic soul.

In 1892, Dvorak had left his country to adopt the position of director of the National Conservatory of Music of America in New York until 1895. In 1893 he wrote this Symphony No.9 ‘From the New World’ which premiered in Carnegie Hall, conducted by Anton Seidl, the same year.

Perhaps I should say a little more about the idea that these musical influences were combined. Dvorak’s own words are: I have not actually used any of the [Native American] melodies. I have simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of the Indian music, and, using these themes as subjects, I have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, counterpoint and orchestral colour.

The theme from the Largo – the amazing, almost archetypal melody for solo English Horn – was later transformed into a spiritual-like song, often mistakenly considered a folk song or traditional spiritual, by Dvořák’s pupil, who wrote the lyrics in 1922. So Dvořák’s music inspired a spiritual of later date, instead of the other way around.
Also, Dvořák never directly quotes or uses musical motifs of Native Indian songs or Spirituals, but taking this musical idiom as a point of departure, he writes his own work.

For me, Dvořák’s Symphony of the New World has more of a tragic character than an optimistic one. You can feel the longing, the striving in every phrase; in addition, even when there is a part which is like a joyful dance, you can hear an other element of sadness. People’s interpretation of the New World Symphony can diverge; not everyone agrees with me here, but in my mind, the end is not a triumphant statement, but intertwined with grief and it has an open ending.
In that sense it is Slavic to the core where the experience of intense beauty is accompanied by the atmosphere of nostalgia and longing for transcendence.

Largo, Shostakovich, video

Largo – Shostakovich, based on Dmitri Shostakovich Symphony No.5 – Largo movement.
To me, the Largo is a human document for all times, deeply moving, devastating, and this combined with an unbelievable sense of irony. I don’t have the experience Shostakovich has, but the thought of him is striking, like an immediate affinity, and it gives a value intention to my own life as an artist.
The Symphony No. 5 in D minor was composed in 1937 and first performed the same year in Leningrad with Yevgeny Mravinsky conducting. This was the time of the terror of the Stalin purges. Symphony No.4 was taken out of rehearsal under threat of Shostakovich’s life. Since Stalin banned Shostakovich because of his opera Lady Macbeth of Mtensk District, Shostakovich found a way in the Fifth to turn the simplicity demanded by the socialist-realism of the authorities, into a virtue. Without self-betrayal he appeared to be adjusting, but at the same time he was mocking the exalted rhetoric of socialist optimism. In a hidden way – clear for the public but not for the authorities – turning restrictions into great art.

I hear a strong emotive force of empathy in the Largo movement.
The ability to feel the grief of others at a level that brings people together, moving them as in a wave, all at once without holding back, to surpass it, to transcend it.
If I could make a wish, it is to be instrumental as an artist in this sense.

Now that I live in Prague and identify with and absorb Czech culture, I am even more aware of what has been taking place in the history of the Slavic nations. Western Slavs, Eastern Slavs, Southern Slavs – all belong to the same linguistic family, have overlapping cultural characteristics, have genetic similarities – and from the past to the present day the relations range from a feeling of connectedness to mutual hostility. The poetic soul of Shostakovic’s symphony urges us all not to loose sight of what unites the peoples of Eastern Europe; especially under the present circumstances.
With the Shostakovich painting in this evening, I wish to say there is another side to Russia, the side of the musicians and artists, the writers and thinkers of the 19th- and early 20th century, a side where beauty can still save the world – however much damage has been done by the history of its leaderships.

Maryleen Schiltkamp 2014

Chopin Ballad

MusicPainting: Chopin – Ballade

Baltic Art Form 2015

Our first semi-public MusicpaintingLIVE performance during a creative lab for artists among artists at Baltic Art Form festival, So & So Art Club, London 2015

Video clip: Chopin Ballad, performance with Reinis Zarins at festival Baltic Art Form (2015)

Visual score for the musicpainting

Chopin Ballad Chopin Ballade, performance with Reinis Zarins on Baltic Art Form, London, UK

Quote from the artistic director:
“I’m extremely proud that the very first public performance of music paintings has happened during BAF 2015, the year we were celebrating Latvian Presidency of culture in European Parliament. We had four stages during the festival, and many artists but the most intimate moment was collaboration between Maryleen and Reinis, it felt like a perfect match of art forms creating a very special moment. They both are masters of their chosen “art form” very selective but in the same time are very open minded artists which lead me and other audience members to trust and witness the creation of that perfect moment were music created by both artists, captured and transformed into a different dimension.”

Kirill Burlov
Artistic Director Baltic Art Form
London 2015