Hue to tembre

Kandinsky, who took chromatic audition to be entirely self-evedent, made a historic contribution to the subject. A curious fact emerges from the following extracts, namely that two parameters produce the most compelling correspondences where they are least expected. Namely color tone and overtones.

Yellow. This color, “which is strongly inclined to lighter tones can be given a power and intensity that is intolerable to the eye and feelings. Intensified in this way, it sounds like an ever louder trumpet blast or a fanfare elevated to a high pitch.”

Orange. “This color sounds like a church bell of medium pitch ringing the angelus, or like a rich contralto voice, or a violin playing largo.”

Red. “Musically it recalls the sonority of fanfares with contributions from the tuba—a persistent, intrusive, powerful tone…Vermillion sounds like the tuba and parallels can be drawn with powerful drumbeats.”

Purple. “Cold red, if it is light…sounds like youthful, unalloyed joy, like a fresh, young figure of a girl, pure and unsullied. This image can be easily given musical expression by the high, clear, singing tones of the violin. Pure, joyous often successive tones of little bells (including horse bells) are called ‘raspberry-colored sounds’ in Russing.”

Violet. “It resembles in sound the cor anglais or  shawm, and in its depths the deep tones of the woodwind instruments (for example, bassoon).”

Blue. “In musical terms light blue is like a flute, dark blue the cello, and going deeper, the wonderful sonority of the contrabass; in its deep solemn form, the sound of blue is comparable to the bass organ.”

Green. “I would characterize green best by comparing it to the quiet, drawn out, meditative tones of the violin.”

Karl Gerstner, The Forms of Color, 1986, 174
quoting from Kandinsky,
The art of spiritual harmony, 1914.

In a program for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, some years ago, Philip Hale commented on a few of the color associations of musicians. He told that Raff held the tone of the flute to be intensely sky-blue. The oboe was clear yellow, the trumpet scarlet, the flagelot deep gray. The trombone was purplish to brownish, the horn greenish to brownish, the bassoon, a grayish black. He remarked that A major was green to one musician and that another felt the hue of the flute to be red rather than blue, as with Raff.

This alliance of color with various instruments has been encountered in many persons. Christopher Ward wrote, “From the faintest murmer of pearl-gray, through the fluttering of blue, the oboe note of violet, the cool, clear wood-wind of green, the mellow piping of yellow, the bass of brown, the bugle-call of scarlet, the sounding brass of orange, the colors are music.”

Tom Douglas Jones, The are of light and color, 1972, 106-07.