Fantasy after Samuel Van Hoogstraten

I wrote Visible World as the penultimate in a cycle of several pieces taking visual inspirations as their starting points.

Samuel Van Hoogstraten was a highly influential painter and theorist of the Dutch Golden Age (the late 17th Century) whose works include paintings, poetry, and his treatise on art Introduction to the Academy of Painting or the Visible World, from which I took my title. His treatment of perspective as a technical tool in the artist’s arsenal was central to his notion that the visual art should be considered a science; a means of investigating the natural world. Amongst his most famous works are “perspective boxes” - usually a small wooden case with one side panel missing (to allow light in) and all the remaining interior sides painted. At each end, a small hole allows the viewer to see a very realistically depicted domestic interior, a testament to the power of his perspective and illusive skills. However, when viewed from a point other than one of the two peepholes, the illusion is broken and the scene becomes dazzlingly distorted and bizarre.


My work does not depict any particular figurative detail of these extraordinary pieces, but rather I took the ideas of perspective, “in/out of focus” and attention to minute detail and applied them to a musical world in various byzantine methods of my own devising. As the piece evolves, material “viewed” from the wrong angle becomes unraveled, and rewritten; the rather dense and rapidly changing opening two minutes is untangled somewhat in the following four minutes. I also imagined the form of the piece as being like a series of perspective boxes, each with their own particular mood and character, which could join on to each other in bizarre and unexpected ways. Doors that should lead outside instead lead back into a previous chamber, and later sections of the work might resemble earlier passages in rhythm, harmony or character, but not in other parameters. This being said, my aim is always to create a bewitching and surprising musical experience regardless of the listener’s familiarity with the source material.

The music is highly virtuosic and places a great emphasis on individual players in the ensemble, so my warmest thanks go to the instrumentalists of the Festival Chamber Orchestra and Christopher Kim for bringing my piece to life.