Anxiety Under the Piano Lid: Why Dalí Didn’t Like Music

Anxiety Under the Piano Lid: Why Dalí Didn't Like Music

Few people know, but the surrealist genius Salvador Dalí, who created not only paintings but also sculptures, films, and even ballets, had an extremely complicated relationship with music. Moreover, some researchers believe that he frankly didn’t like it. Let’s find out why the artist cannot be called a fan of musical art.

Dalí Is Against

In 1942, when the Spanish painter was 38, he released a fiction autobiography called The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí. The artist devoted many pages to his “battles”: he provided readers with a list of what he was against in the world and what he was fighting for. In one of the lines, the artist wrote that he was “against music” and “for architecture.” 

Such a statement looked rather strange considering how often in the paintings of Dalí, created in the 1930s, images of musical instruments were presented. However, if you look closer at those paintings, it becomes clear that pianos, violins, and cellos don’t look like something romantic or lyrical, causing admiration and other positive emotions, like those that we feel while playing live Crazy Time. Their appearance provokes anxiety and a feeling of discomfort.

For example, in the 1934 painting Masochistic Instrument, a female figure hangs a violin outside the window, holding it with two fingers as if it were a dirty sock rather than a source of inspiration and beauty. The instrument in the hands of the stranger loses the usual hardness of wood and looks soft, sluggish, and alive. Or, for example, in Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in Their Arms the Skins of an Orchestra (1934-1936), musical instruments look like skins removed from slaughtered animals. They are soft, long, and hang lifelessly from the arms of the heroines of the painting.

Although in Dalí’s works, one can find a violin, a cello, and even a tuba, the piano is still the main musical instrument for him. In some paintings, it’s almost invisible, but on closer inspection, it can be found even in the form of an overhanging shadow, for example, in the background of The Average Bureaucrat (1930). A lone piano lid, a keyboard inscribed on the side of a ship, or a tombstone in the shape of a piano — there are many variants. One thing they have in common is anxiety. And there’s a reason for that.

Childhood Trauma Is an Adult Nightmare

The roots of the eerie image of the piano are closely intertwined with Dalí’s childhood. As a child, the future surrealist learned to play this musical instrument. He participated in open-air concerts that his family organized for his friends on the beach.

At home, the piano, which brought so much joy during street performances, served as a stand for books on sexually transmitted diseases. They were laid out on the instrument by the artist’s father. The young Dalí was impressed by the gruesome illustrations, which is probably why later on in a number of his works, the piano is presented as an object associated with sexuality, anxiety, and even death.

Often, in Dalí’s paintings, there were images of pianos, from under the lid of which there was a fountain. Given the tendency to sexualize this instrument, it is not difficult to guess what exactly this stream could symbolize.

An Unexpected Denouement

For many years, through the image of the piano, the artist showed anxiety in his paintings. At the same time, despite the difficult relationship with musical art, Dalí successfully worked with musicians. He co-wrote the ballets Bacchanale (1939), Labyrinth (1941), and Mad Tristan, inspired by the works of Wagner and Schubert.

The piano, cello, and violin appeared and disappeared in the artist’s work, depending on his state of mind. However, at the end of his career and life, something changed. In Mahon from 1983, the artist unexpectedly celebrated not only the beauty of mathematics but also music, placing an incomplete silhouette print of a cello and the red and black acoustic holes of the same musical instrument on the canvas next to an arc from René Thom’s Theory of Catastrophe.

One can only speculate, but judging from this drawing, one gets the impression that music, which the young Dalí associated with restlessness and anxiety, in his old age began to give the artist comfort and a sense of beauty. Perhaps it’s hard to imagine a more inspiring ending for this story.

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