Karim Al-Zand: Music: Studies in Nature

Studies in Nature

for harp, flute & viola, after illustrations by Ernst Haeckel

Studies in Nature is inspired by the captivating illustrations of biologist and naturalist Ernst Haeckel (1834—1919). In the late 19th century, Haeckel identified and catalogued thousands of new species, particularly aquatic microorganisms, many of which he discovered in the course of his numerous scientific expeditions. In 1904 he published the highly influential Kunstformen der Natur [Art Forms in Nature], a series of 100 color plates showing various organisms in intricate detail, all organized by zoological classification and stunningly presented in artistic form. His work in these illustrations is a remarkable synthesis of art and science. The plates display an elaborate and ornate natural world: its delicate designs, patterns and symmetry; its impressive diversity of shapes and countless variations of form. Haeckel’s work was significant scientifically and also aesthetically. Early 20th century visual art and architecture, especially Art Nouveau, is particularly indebted to his artistic vision. Studies in Nature, a trio for flute, viola and harp, uses a characteristic Haeckel plate as the basis for each of its three movements. Its musical character aims to capture an impression of each illustration, rather than to portray the organisms depicted. The first movement, Sea Lilies, reflects both the stately grandeur of Haeckel’s central image, and the gentle billowing motion conveyed by the progression of sea plant forms in the drawing. The second movement tries to capture the exquisite crystalline symmetry of Radiolaria, a diverse class of tiny skeletal zooplankton. The last movement evokes the sinuous curlicues of the Jellyfish species, rippling wispily through the water, all quivering motion.

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12 minutes

viola, harp, flute

1. Sea Lilies
2. Radiolaria
3. Jellyfish

Museaux Trio and Portland State University


1. Sea Lilies
2. Radiolaria
3. Jellyfish