We’re all familiar with the faces behind the music–music history books, program notes, and even the walls of music libraries and teachers’ studios are inundated with portraits of the greats. Without them we would be logging hours in a cubicle rather than a practice room, or sketching diagrams that didn’t include the terms “recapitulation” or “pitch set” or “inversion,” or counting change at a cash register instead of counting rests at a music stand (insert joke about how musicians can’t count past 4). Most of these portraits are weighty and austere and portray the composer reverently: Shostakovich at the piano, the clean, crisp shades of black and white highlighting the dark frames of his glasses and the stern, knifelike line of his mouth. His head rests in his hand, the quintessential intellectual pose (aka “My brain is too heavy for my neck to hold up all the time”). Or Chopin as portrayed by Delacroix in thick, rich brushstrokes–we, the viewers, gaze up at him from below as if aware of our inferiority in the presence of such a man. His gaze, on the other hand, is inscrutable and distant under elegantly furrowed brows, a mixture of both “tortured artist” and “visionary genius.”
Our familiarity with the veneration displayed in these portraits is perhaps why seeing other kinds of portrayals of composers are so startling and, well, funny. For example, who knew Shostakovich was capable of smiling?
All of these are from the wonder that is Composers Doing Normal Sh*t. Go there for more proof that “Hey, composers are real people too!”
One thing’s for sure: you won’t find this picture in your music history textbook under “The Genius Behind ‘The Rite of Spring.'”