Artistic Connections: the BAUHAUS school, Rubinstein, Szymanowski and Hindemith
For much of the 20th century, the ideas advanced in many artistic disciplines by the German Bauhaus school influenced contemporary artists from different cultures and from all over the world.
The ideas that emerged from this milieu were not aimed exclusively at the world of art; they were equally intended to stimulate political and cultural circles in fostering improved social conditions.
This approach was facilitated by the principle of interdisciplinarity that faculty members had embraced, leading them to share, and often unite, the goals of several artistic disciplines within single projects. Among these faculty members, Walter Gropius, the school's director chose Oskar Schlemmer as head of the department of mural painting, sculpture and of the theatre workshop.
Among the many multidisciplinary works produced by the Bauhaus during the Weimar years, man-machine and dynamics were some of the themes Schlemmer explored in composing his ballet "Das triadische Ballett - The Triadic Ballet" (1922) with musician and composer Paul Hindemith. The number 3 was central to the graphics and musical composition of the ballet: three acts with three dancers; two men and a woman dressed in geometric and rationalist costumes. Their movements on stage aimed at reproducing architectural structures.
Each act featured a different colour and mood. The first act used shades of light yellow to convey a positive and cheerful atmosphere; the second act used shades of pink for a festive and solemn mood; the third and last act used the colour black to introduce mystical and fantastic themes.
Many of the artists who passed through the Bauhaus classrooms between 1919 and 1933, either as teachers or as students, were also influenced by the musical production of the period. Their most important references were composers from France or Austria, like Erik Satie or Arnold Schönberg, or Paul Hindemith and Kurt Weill from Germany, George Gershwin from the USA, and Artur Rubinstein and Karol Szymanowski from Poland.
Although subjects like musical composition and theory, or instrumental and vocal teaching were not included in the academic curriculum of the Bauhaus, the head of the theatre workshop, Schlemmer, integrated musical contributions into artistic collaboration projects. To achieve this, he invited and interacted with several internationally renowned contemporary composers who were often guests at the school. One of his most successful ventures in this area was the inauguration of the Bauhaus music week "Fest Neuer Musik - Celebration of New Music" in 1923 with the participation of several highly regarded composers.
One of them was Igor Stravinsky with his "Histoire du Soldat", a mixed media piece that used speech, mime and dance as well as musical idioms ranging from ragtime to tango. Paul Hindemith also contributed with the premiere of his composition "Marienleben - Life of the Virgin Mary", a composition for soprano and piano in which fifteen poems by Rainer Maria Rilke were set to music. By 1923 Hindemith was already a regular at the Bauhaus since he had already collaborated with Schlemmer on the scores for "Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen - Murderer, the Hope of Women" and "Das Nush-Nushi". Other equally famous composers and musicians included Ferruccio Busoni as well as Stefan Wolpe and Kurt Weill from Berlin.
The reasons for this far-reaching participation was to be found in the international recognition the school had achieved: it was widely perceived not only as a place where famed professionals and artists taught contemporary art, but also and above all because it was a setting that combined contemporary art and artistic disciplines. A few years earlier, in 1917, French composer Erik Satie with his ballet "Parade" had already explored the type of creative interaction that the Bauhaus was later to develop, by combining the sounds of a typewriter, a marine fog horn and the tinkling of milk bottles into a musical base of ragtime and chamber music and by creating a collage that could be described as Dadaist. Notably, Pablo Picasso designed the sets for the first production of the ballet.
Following the same learning and exchange process, musician Stefan Wolpe acquired his earliest notions of artistic composition under the guidance of artists Paul Klee and Johannes Itten, and started his career as a Dada artist. Only later was he to state that he was not a painter but a music composer.
Wolpe also embraced Itten's influence in the field of Japanese art and Zoroastrian ideas. In 1916, Itten's painting "The Encounter" expressed what was already being explored in the field of music. The work presents an attempt to represent movement in space; it features an animated environment that is closely correlated with the early experiments in colour dynamics. The dynamism and eurythmy resulting from this cultural exchange can be seen in some of the architectural work produced by members of the school, including Walter Gropius's 1927 design for the Total Theatre in Berlin or the 1968 Bauhaus archive building in Berlin where the buildings’angularities, seriality and varied forms emphasised dynamism and spatial movement.
Following his Bauhaus training, Stefan Wolpe came under the influence of Arnold Schönberg and discovered the dodecaphonic composition technique. This connection, together with his relationship with Kurt Weill, led him to embrace the aims of the Berlin cultural "November Gruppe", which already included figures such as Erich Mendelsohn, Wassily Kandinsky, Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe and Georg Muche, all of whom were prominent lecturers at the Bauhaus school both in Weimar and Dessau.
These artistic connections also led to relationships like the one between Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht in the 1928 play "Die Dreigroshenoper - The Threepenny Opera" where jazz rhythms were combined with the typical German musical tradition of the Weimar Republic period.
These partnerships were strongly opposed by the German Nazi political administrations and they were soon discontinued. During the 1930s many prominent cultural figures fled overseas and it was only in the early years of the second post-war period that they started rebuilding their relationships and returned to composing.
Renowned American businessmen like Walter Paepcke, president of the Container Corporation of America, helped artists from the Bauhaus school resume their activities and re-open schools in America, a country that had always approved of and supported the experiments and work of artists like Artur Rubinstein, Karol Szymanowski and Arnold Schönberg.
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy was therefore encouraged by Paepcke to open the Chicago Institute of Design, an American venue for the integration of the arts. In 1949, under Paepcke's patronage, a period of cultural exchange between artistic disciplines became once again possible in Aspen thanks to the Goethe Bicentennial Convocation. During the event, many artists like Moholy-Nagy were reunited and once again had the opportunity to interact with composers like Albert Schweitzer, Jose Ortega y Gasset and Artur Rubinstein, just as they had done in the days of Weimar and Dessau.