• Illuminated Chaconne Series
  • About the Art
  • About Bach’s Chaconne


The Illuminated Chaconne Series

The Illuminated Chaconne drawings combine my art and music (violin) studies with a lifetime of research into the invisible, structural laws of nature that underlie the world we see.

In 1980, after experiencing a transformative, visionary dream six years earlier that was infused with cosmic imagery swirling together with vague audio fragments of the Bach’s Chaconne from his Second Partita in D minor for solo violin, I chose an expanding spiral galaxy (an ancient symbol of the life process) as the design foundation for the art project I began at that time.

I titled the project Illuminated Chaconne to reflect the meaning of the word Illuminate: “to make luminous or shining”, or in a more philosophical context, “to enlighten intellectually or spiritually”. I continued developing and revising the preliminary studies for this unconventional artistic exploration over most of my adult life, quietly and away from the public eye, as an ongoing personal meditation. This work shares a philosophical kinship with medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts of the past—but reimagines their meditative purpose in contemporary form.

In 2011, I began reworking these studies into final drawings. When completed in 2020 (the 300th anniversary of Bach’s writing of his Chaconne) Illuminated Chaconne will contain forty-eight interconnected artworks that that retell a timeless, universal life story from a new perspective.

My goal for this work is to collaborate with a projection designer to develop the drawings into an immersive, subtly animated, projected visual accompaniment to a live performance of Bach’s Second Partita. I also plan to develop a separate virtual reality application to accompany a possible museum show. Both presentations go beyond a static gallery exhibit to offer an experience of entering into the power of Bach’s genius in a multisensory way.

Bach’s Chaconne belongs to a unique body of musical compositions that encourages listeners to explore the deeper dimensions of our world and psyches. In Illuminated Chaconne my goal is to make this process visible.

For more information about music and its unique role as “internal mediator,” please read “A Contemplation on Music,” by Dr. Karl Paulnack, director of the Music Division at Boston Conservatory, reposted here by permission.

Click on a thumbnail to view larger images. Size of originals is 20 1/8′ x 20 1/4″, rendered in mixed media (colored pencil, liquid acrylic and archival colored pens). Additional artworks will be regularly posted on this site after scanning.

01-invocation-boosted-thumb-133 02-prelude-boosted-thumb-133 03-andante-boosted-thumb-133 04-between-dimensions-boosted-thumb-133
05-elemental-transcription-boosted-thumb-133 06-concentric-translation-boosted-thumb-133 07-amnion-boosted-thumb-133 08-arpeggio-boosted-thumb-133
09-spring-matrix-boosted-thumb-133 10-circular-echo-boosted-thumb-133 11-magnetic-infloresence-boosted-thumb-133 12-white-pentad-boosted-thumb-133
Intermezzo Andante Dimensional Transition Alchemical Rhythm
Centrifugal Border Embryonic Spiral Merging Spirals Formed Threshold
Revealed Symmetry Seed Coded Intent Autumn Matrix
Interior Helix from Husk Form Unbound Passage
Encoded Return Fermata

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About the art

Passage

The inspiration for the forty-eight drawings in the Illuminated Chaconne series arrived nearly half a lifetime ago in a dream, accompanied by the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

It was one of those magnetic dreams that settled in to stay, and did not fade. Above my head, a swirling, spiral galaxy gathered in thousands of stars from faraway. Vague fragments of a luminous musical composition rose and fell as the galaxy turned. When I recognized the music on a recording a few weeks later, I knew that I had to decipher the dream’s message. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

In the years that followed, the dream and the mysterious music associated with it, Bach’s Chaconne from the Partita in D Minor for solo violin, grew to become inseparable, interior guides. Their comforting but quietly insistent presence always pointed me to the depths as I explored the world through the complementary disciplines of visual art, music, natural science, biology, gardening and esoteric philosophy. Gradually, I began to understand that the reciprocal conversation between these two inner companions—one visual and the other musical—contained elements of a common theme. But the key that would translate the meaning of this dialogue into a new artistic language remained hidden.

It wasn’t until the dream’s subconscious galaxy imprint unexpectedly reappeared in a new form that the subject for this series of drawings came into focus. On an autumn walk, I picked up a fallen horse chestnut seed and in my sketchbook, I made the following note:

When I found the shiny brown horse chestnut seed with the vague imprint of a spiral galaxy on the side where it attached to the husk, I knew that its story held a special significance. It seemed to me that this miniature galaxy, delicate and almost humorous, was more than just a reminder that the same growth patterns appear in large and small worlds. It was also a clue to the creative secrets that live in the seed forms of all life.

Like the many variations of Bach’s composition, the Illuminated Chaconne drawings compress multidimensional information into a symbolic code that documents life’s passage through recurring cycles of change. Each drawing grows out of the one preceding it, while opening the way to the next. Images flow into focus and dissolve again into components of creative energy. Circular design undercurrents reflect the combined influence of ancient visual symbols and studies of unity: the Tree of Life, the Mandala and Sacred Geometry.

Throughout the entire series, a subtle mathematical rhythm constantly rearranges the structural threads of visible and invisible worlds. But like fractals, each drawing’s individual composition always retains a relationship to a larger, collective form.

 

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Polish violinist Wanda Wilkomirska performs the musical excerpts from Bach’s Chaconne in D Minor for solo violin that accompany this narrative. Her emotionally charged interpretation was recorded for the Connoisseur Society in New York City in the late 1960’s and recently re-issued on CD. This is the original version of the Chaconne that is associated with my galaxy dream.

More about Wanda Wilkomirska
More about Connoisseur Society
View original Bach Chaconne

Music Excerpt #1

Music Excerpt #2

Music Excerpt #3

Music Excerpt #4

Music Excerpt #5

 

About Bach’s Chaconne

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach, Portrait by E. G. Haussmann, c. 1748.

The musical term “chaconne” refers to a slow, stately 3/4 meter instrumental composition that was popular in the baroque era as a vehicle for melodic variation. It is built around a repeated short harmonic progression and an accompanying repetitive bass-line. Although many composers of the time experimented with the chaconne’s inventive possibilities, in the hands of Johann Sebastian Bach it reached an artistic pinnacle. His soaring Chaconne, the final movement from the Partita in D Minor for Solo Violin, transforms the colors of this compositional form into an iridescent musical kaleidoscope of ever-increasing depth and power. (Music excerpt #1)

In 1720, the year that he wrote the D Minor Partita and its Chaconne, Bach returned from a lengthy trip with his employer, Prince Leopold, only to discover that his wife, Maria Barbara, had died at the age of thirty-five and was already buried. He was left with his children and his memories. The musical motifs that Bach wrote into his Chaconne over the following months reveal the emotional responses and inner meditations of a man who entered into the depths of life's unfathomable mystery, and returned to transform his experience into art.

Generations of violinists who have interpreted the poetry of Bach’s music have often speculated that the Chaconne is a musical homage to the memory of his deceased wife. But since Bach never wrote down his intent outside of his compositions, the music must speak for itself.

From the Chaconne’s sweeping opening chords to the last doubled D note, Bach maps out a musical journey of passion, grace, tenderness, dignity in the face of sobering reality and finally, acceptance and profound reverence. Although its minor mode leans toward a darker, more melancholy musical exploration, the Chaconne never dwells on narcissistic self-pity or strident defiance. Even when he colors the call and response questioning in several passages with a tone of reserved anguish, Bach always returns to the radiant arc of strength that forms his main musical foundation.

The Chaconne’s solo pilgrimage twists and turns through a mysterious musical labyrinth whose cascading arpeggios, bold double stops and intertwining melodic themes eventually converge into a single path. Through nearly three hundred measures of elegant variations, Bach repeatedly invites us to join him near the edge of one musical cliff after another, but never allows us to fall into the abyss. (Music excerpt #2)

At a resting place atop a high plateau, dawn suddenly breaks across the curve of the earth far below, accompanied by the Chaconne’s central major mode passage, hymn-like and luminous. (Music excerpt #3)

It is only a short distance now to the last view point before the return home, where murmurs of passing memories begin to speak in hypnotic, breath-like tones, rising and falling with such tenderness and intimacy that two musical lines begin to echo together as one voice. (Music excerpt #4)

From far away, the Chaconne’s opening chords rise again, phoenix-like, and solemnly advance to the foreground to take their appointed solos. Then one by one, their forms dissolve into an expanded arpeggio and a wavering trill that announce the final, doubled D note — a glowing beacon of combined musical power that slowly fades to silence, but still carries the charge of perpetual resonance. (Music excerpt #5)

 

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