The Many Faces of Death

January 30, 2016 at 10:00 am

This post isn’t meant to be morbid; I just want to point out how an artistic idea can grow, bloom and flourish. In chronological order:

  1. Date unknown: humans or pre-humans become aware that they everyone will eventually die
  2. Ancient: humans create artwork depicting death and the afterlife
  3. Medieval: poetic idea of “Dance of Death” – no matter what one’s station in life is, we begin and end the same
  4. 18th c.: Matthias Claudius writes the poem “Death and the Maiden”
  5. 1817: Franz Schubert writes an art-song (in German, lied) using Claudius’ poem (you can hear it here)
  6. 1824: Schubert writes a string quartet, whose second movement uses the same music as the art song he wrote seven years earlier

The quartet is a lengthy piece, and was written just four years before the composer died, at 32 years old. I’m not sure if he saw death dancing at his door at the time; not many of us know when, but we all know that he will.

7. afterthought – 1971, George Crumb‘s piece Black Angels quotes “Death and the Maiden” and freaks us all out big time.