Widely revered as a national hero in Holland, Dutch performing artist Diederick Van Eck has recorded twelve songs that interpret a dozen of Van Gogh’s paintings through song. Van Gogh by Van Eck follows Van Gogh’s life from the period spanning 1882 – 1890. The accompanying gift book is a cross between a glorified hardcover note-liner booklet and a mini-art book, interposing Van Gogh’s paintings with the lyrics of Van Eck’s interpretive songs.
Billed as something of an exploration of synesthesia ("seeing" sounds as colors, or "hearing" colors as sounds), I was in all honesty surprised to hear a wide variety of musical styles woven around the biographical fabric of Van Gogh’s life. Anyone who has spent time studying Van Gogh’s work will no doubt be familiar with the melancholy, lonely, and distress-filled elements present in much of his work, but very little of this visual mood is musically present on the CD.
“Still Life” which accompanies the painting “Sien with Cigar Sitting on the Floor Near Stove” is an optimistic love song filled with soothing instrumental backing and the surprise of finding a love he needed. Visually however, this stark, monochromatic piece seems to speak more of desperation than it does breathy infatuation and devotion. It’s difficult to reconcile the two.
Likewise, the visually dark “The Potato Eaters” which is so often associated with poverty is transformed into a jazzy longing for family and belonging in Van Eck’s “One of the Family”. This almost bouncy, strolling-rhythm tune seems well, out of place when viewing the painting. Others may differ, but I never imagined Van Gogh would sound like this.
“Lost Letter to Theo” which imagines a letter from Van Gogh to his brother and sponsor during his time in the asylum at St. Remy comes much closer to including some elements of Van Gogh’s mental descent. More angst enters Van Eck’s voice as he voices Van Gogh lamenting the sale of only a single painting during his lifetime – “Red Vineyard”. “Standing on the Edge” accompanying Van Gogh’s final painting “Wheatfield With Crows” sadly seems to depict the artist’s final days as an empowering and exciting climb towards the end of his life, rather than the tragedy it truly was.
Due to these surprising contrasts, I certainly can’t recommend Van Gogh by Van Eck as the definitive musical portrayal of Van Gogh’s art (though it’s the only one I’m familiar with.) The songs and notes are well researched, and the song content matches biographical detail, but in terms of matching art study to musical appreciation, the set falls short. Die-hard fans might want to check this set out, it’s certainly easy to listen to; I have no complaints with the production, and Van Eck performances are flexible.
(Painting names are followed by song titles.)
1. Self-Potrait [Picture of a Man]
2. Sien with Cigar Sitting on the Floor Near Stove [Still Life]
3. The Potato Eaters [One of the Family]
4. A Pair of Shoes [One Foot in Front of the Other]
5. The Bridge in the Rain [Show Me What’s Over the Bridge]
6. Fishing Boats on the Beach at Les Saintes-Maries-De-La-Mer [Red Boats, Green]
7. Terrace of a Café at Night [La Belle de Nuit]
8. The Yellow House [Season of Dreams]
9. Sunflowers [Obsession]
10. La Berceuse [Mother O Mother]
11. Red Vineyard [Lost Letter to Theo]
12. Wheatfield With Crows [Standing on the Edge]