A symphony of Chagall in Montreal

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Introduction au théâtre d’art juif by Marc Chagall, 1920. Galerie nationale Tretiakov, Moscow, © SODRAC & ADAGP 2016, Chagall ®.

Anyone who has seen the magnificent, massive Chagall murals that have flanked the lobby staircase of the Metropolitan Opera in New York’s Lincoln Center since 1966 will appreciate the impulse behind Chagall: Colour and Music, an exhibition opening this month at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Few artists have as deep an association with the world of music as Marc Chagall (1887–1985), and perhaps no other painter’s work evokes such a palpable sense of rhythm and harmony—his colors resonate; his compositions soar.

Building on an exhibition presented at the Philharmonie de Paris a year ago, the Montreal show includes 340 works—comprising paintings, works on paper, stained-­glass windows, stage sets, and costumes—that demonstrate the extent to which music suffuses Chagall’s art. Some of the earliest folkloric motifs he drew from his childhood in a Belarusian shtetl were fiddlers, dancing across the rooftops of the town. They appear again and again in his work (and helped inspire the Broadway musical). Even as the touchstones for Chagall’s art grew more sophisticated, the link he made between music and magic never disappeared.

Green Violinist by Chagall, 1923–1924. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection, by gift, © SODRAC & Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY 2016, Chagall ®; photograph courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation / Art Resource, NY.

Some of the most fascinating pieces in the show are the rarely seen costumes and scenic backdrops Chagall made for theaters, operas, and ballets. These range from playful depictions of village life on panels created for Moscow’s State Jewish Chamber Theater in 1920, to his mystically themed curtain and scrims for the 1945 New York production of Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird, to the lush, fantastical costumes and scenery Chagall made for Rudolph Bing’s 1967 staging of The Magic Flute. The Montreal exhibition will be accompanied by numerous concerts. A highlight of the series will be a program by French pianist Mikhaïl Rudy, performing works by some of the great composers— including Mozart, Gluck, Debussy, and Ravel—that Chagall celebrated
in his 1964 ceiling mural for the Paris Opera.

Chagall working on The Triumph of Music for New York’s Metropolitan Opera house, 1966. Atelier des Gobelins, Paris, © SODRAC & ADAGP 2016, Chagall ®; photograph © Izis-Manuel Bidermanas.

Chagall: Colour and Music • Montreal Museum of Fine Arts • January 28 to June 11, 2017 • mbam.qc.ca