February 5, 2010  |  Artists
Portrait in Seven Shades: Dalí

In my first post I talked about how seven master painters in MoMA’s collection inspired me to write Portrait in Seven Shades, an hour-long piece of music being performed by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra over the next several nights. The piece has seven movements, each dedicated to a different painter. Yesterday, I wrote about how I was inspired by Monet’s treatment of light and surface in his triptych Water Lilies. Today I’d like to talk about another movement in the suite, this one inspired by Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory.

Dalí‘s work incorporates familiar images and objects in unfamiliar settings and combinations, creating a sense of discomfort or insecurity in the viewer. His paintings allude to violence, sexuality, and secrets living in one’s subconscious. The Persistence of Memory depicts a barren landscape populated by melting clocks; I was inspired by this surreal scene to develop an unusual time signature, 13/8. Embracing the effect of this painting I have found sounds and approaches to harmony that are familiar on their own, but take on an unsettling effect with the particular way they are combined.

In “Dalí,” which is basically a disguised blues, the persistent drum groove exposes a little of the aggressive quality of this painting, and the melody, played in thirds by trumpet and alto, exists in a different tonal center from the bass, like a lost creature searching. A flamenco-like clave—supporting a drum solo and emphasized by the orchestra’s hand clapping—references Dalí’s Spanish heritage.