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Atonality and Abstract Art: Schoenberg and Kandinsky - New Visual and Sonic Horizons of the 20th Century

Updated: Jan 22


As explored in the previous article, we witnessed how a synesthetic approach between the arts, particularly visual and musical languages, fueled creativity and the emergence of new expressive directions in distant epochs. In this article, we delve into how this exploration led to radically innovative outcomes in the early decades of the 20th century, giving rise to new theoretical and expressive paradigms in both #art and #music. #Abstract #art and #atonality shattered lexical and formal conventions entrenched in the past, inevitably giving birth to new and conflict-laden creative experiences capable of capturing the expressive impulses of artists and musicians. The introduction of such unheard-of languages into the artistic scene was not without pain, and the initial abstract productions in art, or #dodecaphonic #compositions in music, faced vehement criticism.

Protagonists of an Epochal Transition: Kandinsky, Klee, Schoenberg

Among the key figures in this pivotal moment for the fate of art and music are three artists: Vassily #Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Arnold #Schoenberg. Interestingly, all three were masters of both visual and musical languages. Kandinsky had a solid musical

Vassily Kandinsky: Fugue (detail), painting inspired by the musical form of the fugue
Vassily Kandinsky: Fugue (detail), painting inspired by the musical form of the fugue

background in his youth, proficient in playing the cello and piano. Paul Klee, in the early stages of his career, divided his dedication between art and professional violin playing. Arnold Schoenberg, the father of twelve-tone music, was also a highly regarded painter in the realm of expressionist art. Kandinsky and Schoenberg embarked on the theoretical establishment of their artistic innovations in the

Paul Klee: graphic representation of a composition by Johann Sebastian Bach
Paul Klee: graphic representation of a composition by Johann Sebastian Bach

same period, in the early decades of the 1900s, forming not only a relationship of mutual esteem and admiration but also a deep friendship, evidenced by extensive correspondence and intense personal and familial interactions.

Kandinsky: Visionary of Abstract Art

In 1912, Kandinsky published the seminal essay "Concerning the Spiritual in Art," a cornerstone of abstract art. Here, color emancipates itself from figurative constraints, acquiring an autonomous dimension. For the Russian master, color reveals a surprising connection with the sound of musical instruments, demonstrating in this vision the synesthetic interaction between the arts. We anticipate an expression from Kandinsky, extracted from the fundamental essay "Concerning the Spiritual in Art" (1912). In an upcoming article, a more extensive series of observations by the Russian master will be presented, revealing the depth of the artist's thinking and the breadth of his vision: “Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings.” Here, the artist synthesizes in a metaphor as simple as it is effective the way we perceive a work of art. The eye sets the color (the key, the individual note) in vibration, much like a hammer striking a string. The soul is the vital spirit impressed by the artist, giving life to the entire work, resonating in the observer once an overall vision is achieved, much like a musical piece is complete only when the pianist has played all the notes in the score.

Schoenberg and Atonality

In the same years, Schoenberg traversed a similar path in the musical domain. Dissolving #tonal #harmony into #twelve-tone music, he paved the way for an avant-garde movement that significantly influenced the course of the 20th century. The pre-established order, where each tone in the tonal language had a specific function, was completely reset in the servitude of twelve-tone music, where each of the twelve

Arnold Schoemberg, manuscript (detail)
Arnold Schoemberg, manuscript (detail)

semitones held equal dignity and importance. This visionary innovation led to a new way of conceiving and listening to music, breaking with all past schemas. Musicians such as John #Cage and Karlheinz #Stockhausen carried forward this musical revolution. This theme will be further developed in upcoming blog articles, especially in relation to the birth of #electroacoustic #music, a focal point of our interest.

Interdisciplinary Dialogue in the Third Millennium

Symbiotic influences and the interplay between visual arts and music are more alive and ever-evolving in the third millennium. Artists and creatives today are immersed in tumultuous innovations, with #Artificial #Intelligence (AI) playing a key role. Music, #videography, art, #augmented #reality, #audio #installations, and other disciplines contribute to the creation of multimedia and interdisciplinary works. The Akusmart project fits into this context by providing new tools for the dissemination and enjoyment of contemporary art, both in a museum perspective and in a performative form during #acousmatic #concerts.


The legacy of Kandinsky, Klee, and Schoenberg is intrinsically linked to the evolution of contemporary art and music. The synergy between sonic and visual languages continues to generate ever-new expressive forms in our time, indebted to these artists. Together with others, whom we will delve into in this blog, they continue to inspire new generations of artists and creatives.


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