Why is Mona Lisa smiling? Because she likes the music

A new production takes the paintings and drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and turns them into life using dance and 16th-century music. By Richard D North

WILLIAM Kemp is so beautiful you would not really need an excuse to go and watch him dance, but his performance tonight in the Covent Garden Festival will be something more than a display of lithe, athletic and rhythmic muscularity. It will also be a display of musculature for its own sake - and then something more than that, too.

On the table in Kemp's rehearsal studio lies a copy of Eadweard Muybridge's book of photographs of freeze-framed moving bodies - a clue to the observational mission in which the dancer is engaged. Under Netia Davan Wetton's direction, he aims to animate not just what we see in Leonardo da Vinci's paintings and drawings, but something of the spirit behind them.

The project is titled Music for the Mona Lisa. The music is early 16th century, mostly Italian and French, and is played by Corncordia, the early music group directed by Mark Levy.

The inspiration for the project was provided by Vasari's Lives of the Artists (published in 1550), in which Levy read that da Vinci created the Mona Lisa while listening to music. The artist loved, understood and played music. It satisfied his mission to see the mathematics underlying the arts. And it was always accepted that music played most directly on the emotions. Hence the probable interest in playing both artist and sitter some upbeat tunes from the new, emotionally free music available at the start of the 16th century.

One of the da Vinci quotations in the readings which accompany Kemp's dancing to Concordia's music captures this: "A good painter must paint two things above all others: the person and the intent of that person's soul." This required a painter to capture mood and expression, and that required a "snapshot" approach. Hence the excitement surrounding the Mona Lisa: the smile was quite new to art, and the artist's devotion to a fleeting moment demonstrates high technical achievement.

This was frozen movement as surely as a Muybridge, or one of Kemp's sudden stillnesses, threatening to topple over, at the end of a vigorous jump or two. Suddenly, he is a spear-thrower, arrested, as though ready for dissection by da Vinci's scalpel or pencil.

In a second Concordia performance of early 6th-century music, Levy and his collaborator will concentrate on the passion for melancholy. Concordia will play viol music as a background to Crye, a very strong but accessible poem commissioned from and read by Glyn Maxwell, about the grief of the English Civil War.

Levy says: "There is a great deal of miserable music for viol. It can make very fugitive, sombre music. It was often used at funerals and solemn occasions. In fact, much of the music for Crye is Elizabethan and early Jacobean, rather earlier than the Civil War."

`Music for the Mona Lisa', BOC Covent Garden Festival of Opera and Music Theatre, Cochrane Theatre, London WC2, 7.30pm, 26 May (0171 420 0171). `Crye', Old Operating Theatre, London SE1, 7.30pm, 9 June (0171 955 4791). CDs are available on Metronome (01326 377738).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

    Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

    Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

    £100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee