Listen to 4 Musical Masterpieces Come to Life

These musical pieces which appear in paintings are compositions within compositions! Listen along as you scroll

By Google Arts & Culture

With content from the Museo Villa-Lobos, the Leipzig Bach Archive, and more

Beethoven with the manuscript of the Missa solemnis (1820) by Joseph Karl StielerBeethoven-House Bonn

1. Beethoven, ‘Missa Solemnis’

In 1820, Ludwig van Beethoven was immortalized in this portrait by German painter Joseph Karl Stieler. Beethoven, who actually posed for the portrait in four separate sittings, is depicted among nature, and looks up from his work with intensity.

Rather than include one of the composer’s already-famous symphonies in the painting, Stieler chose to depict Beethoven hard at work on ‘Missa Solemnis,’ which would not be performed for another four years!

Below, watch Swiss conductor Thierry Fischer conduct the São Paulo State Symphony Orchestra’s performance of the epic Mass.

Concerto Digital: "Missa Solemnis", de Beethoven | Thierry Fischer (regente) e convidados (2020-04-12) by Ludwig van Beethoven and OsespMuseum Villa-Lobos

Ira Aldridge as Othello (c. 1830) by Henry Perronet BriggsSmithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

2. Verdi, ‘Otello’

Shakespeare’s Othello, itself an adaptation of other works, was written in the 16th century. Since then, it has inspired a plethora of artistic works in nearly every conceivable medium. Giuseppe Verdi’s operatic adaptation, ‘Otello,’ premiered in Milan in 1887.

Verdi’s work stands at the intersection of literature, performance art, visual art, and music. It absorbed a huge amount of influence from existing works and also contributed greatly to art that followed. 

The opera’s plot follows that of the play, which tells the tale of Otello, a general who is manipulated into a jealous rage by his duplicitous ensign, Iago. Scroll down to listen to ‘Era la notte,’ in which Iago convinces Otello of Desdemona’s infidelity.

Urbano - Verdi: Era la notte from Otello (1907) by Umberto Urbano, baritone, with orchestra, ℗ Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft 1907, and the Shellac ProjectDeutsche Grammophon

By Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

3. Mozart, ‘Die Zauberflöte’

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a shooting star in the world of music, who composed over 600 pieces in his short 35 years on Earth. Two months before his death, in November 1791, his opera ‘Die Zauberflöte’ (or ‘The Magic Flute’) debuted in Vienna.

Die Zauberflöte (1794) by Joseph SchafferAustrian National Library

The Magic Flute’s story is the fairy tale of Prince Tamino, who is charged by the Queen of the Night to rescue her daughter, Pamina. The libretto, or the text of the opera, was written by Emanuel Schikaneder, alongside Mozart, who composed the music.

Pamina is imprisoned by Sarastro, a high priest shown here in a chariot pulled by lions. Listen to a 1930 recording of ‘Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön,’ in which Tamino falls in love with the princess after seeing her portrait.

Julius Patzak (tenor) - Mozart: Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön from Die Zauberflöte (1930) by Julius Patzak and the Shellac ProjectDeutsche Grammophon

Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach (1748) by Elias Gottlob HaußmannLeipzig Bach Archive

4. Bach, ‘Dir Jehova Will Ich Singen’

Johann Sebastian Bach was incredibly prolific, having written over 1,100 unique compositions for a wide variety of instruments and genres. His catalog includes an abundance of both secular and religious music, written for choirs, orchestras, soloists, and other ensembles.

Watch the 360° video below to see London-based artist Atma create a 3D portrait of Bach set to ‘Dir Jehova Will Ich Singen.’ Click and drag to look around during the video!

Tilt brush performance to "Dir Jehova will ich singen" (2018) by © Atma and The Shellac ProjectDeutsche Grammophon

Making Blob Opera with David Li

Ready to create your own operatic compositions? Try out Blob Opera, a musical machine learning experiment!

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