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29 July 2010

ASQ National Composers' Forum: Composer Blog - Mark Holdsworth

Portrait Frida Kahlo Image: Portrait Frida Kahlo  

[Updates and edits by the author July 2014]

The Frida Kahlo Portraits was inspired by the life and selected works of Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo. Kahlo suffered a tumultuous life pervaded with constant misfortune. She was beleaguered by sickness, injury, myriad failed medical procedures, miscarriages, deaths and relentless marital problems including an affair between her husband Diego Rivera and her sister Cristina. Each of these 5 miniatures is derived from a Kahlo portrait of the same title. I've endeavoured to musically emulate each of these and bring to sound the artist's torment and pain.

My Birth is a disturbing depiction of suffering. The image alludes to the death of Kahlo's mother which was recent at the time she painted this work. Kahlo's birth is a grotesque event and my music is equally as ugly. The movement involves the gradual extension of a single note to a cluster of violent scratch tones.

Memory is Kahlo's reaction to the affair between her husband and her sister. The exaggerated heart is a symbol for the size of her pain. I've chosen to represent this scene as a dreamy sequence with sliding harmonics, wispy viola fragments and muted cello.

The Broken Column reflects on the inescapable Kahlo suffered due to a vehicle collision during adolescence. The accident inflicted severe injury to her body. Kahlo's spine was shattered and, although she regained her ability to walk, the immense pain she suffered never gave way. My music is an attempt to capture the notion of suppressed anger. Kahlo's steel expression is a facade masking a violent tempest.

The Tree of Hope, Stay Strong is about the repudiation of helplessness. Kahlo is depicted turning her back on her alternate wounded self. Musically, I decided to create this elegant and more conventional harmonic surge, which subtly emerges from this confusion of atonality. This brief tonal moment suggests hope.

The Two Fridas is about rejection and self uncertainty; the repression of Kahlo's true identity for the sake of her beloved. The dissolution of tonality is representative of Rivera's coercion of Frida to reject her character for the sake of his love.

I tried to accomplish many things with the Frida Kahlo Portraits that I hadn't previously attempted. The music is structured around colour, harmonic discourse and expressivity. I found this piece an appropriate occasion to exploit various idiosyncratic instrumental capabilities. The work is pervaded with a plethora of extended techniques and colouristic devices. The Frida Kahlo Portraits commemorates an astounding artist and her remarkable life.

Further links

Thomas Green - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog, part 1
Thomas Green - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog, part 2
Melody Eötvös - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog, part 1
Melody Eötvös - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog, part 2
Adam Starr - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog part 2
Adam Starr - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog, part 1
Ross Carey - ASQ National Composers' Forum, composer blog

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