Karim Al-Zand: Music: Visions from Another World

Visions from Another World

after illustrations by J. J. Grandville

Visions from Another World is inspired by three fanciful illustrations by J. J. Grandville (1803–1847), one of the most popular and innovative French illustrators of the 19th century. Grandville’s engravings and lithographs for editions of Gulliver’s Travels, Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe and the fables of Fontaine and Aesop were highly regarded and much collected during his time.
He is also well-known for his animal caricatures, often published in periodicals, in which anthropomorphized creatures enact humorous satires on contemporary politics and social mores.
Un Autre Monde [Another World], imagepublished in 1844 with wood engravings by Grandville, is somewhat unusual in the history of illustration: the drawings were completed first and a text added only later, to tie the images together. It is an eclectic work, reflected in Grandville’s own subtitle: “transformations, visions, incarnations, ascensions, locomotions, explorations, peregrinations, excursions, metamorphoses, cosmologies, phantasmagories…” The imagery from this later, more idiosyncratic period of his work stems from Grandville’s vivid and bizarre flights of imagination. The illustrations of Un Autre Monde reveal why Grandville has often been cited as a precursor to the surrealist movement of the early 20th century.
As Robert Simon puts it, “the book charts an excursion to a parallel universe populated by mutant animals, vegetal/human hybrids, and inanimate objects come to life. The dreamscape they inhabit is equally fantastic.”

Ronde Fantastique

A lovelorn owl has consulted an old carp, well-known as a prognosticator, about his fortune.
The carp summons a troupe of aquatic animals, who “rise one by one to form a circle; above this, other rings appear, formed of innumerable insects rising into the sky. The water lilies, braving the darkness, lift their bold stems to the water’s surface; and flowers—which had closed, not to reopen until the morning—are pulled out of their deep sleep. With the carp at the center, the rings begin to spin, the animals dancing a fantastic round.”

Funeral Cortège of the Silkworm

Taken from the book La Vie privée et publique des animaux, this drawing imageillustrates a detailed account of an insect funeral rite. The insects mourn the passing of their comrade the silkworm, released from a life of servitude (as a slave of the silk trade), and accompany the corpse to the grave. “The Death’s Head Moth giving the signal to depart, the tiny procession begins to march. Shepherd Spiders clear the path before the Silkworm’s body, which is carried on a Mulberry leaf by four Cardinal Beetles. Following the funeral bier is a long train of Fleas and Ticks, Ants, and Caterpillars, which accompanies the procession on its way to the purple heather in the distance.”

The Spinning Ballerina

This illustration from Un Autre Monde probably best captures the whimsical imagelunacy of Grandville’s drawings. mEntitled “Apocalypse du Ballet,” the work also features several of the artist’s characteristic “metamorphoses”: here a ballerina emerges from a dancing foot, is transformed into a spindle and thread, eventually to take the form of a sprinting dog. Other metamorphoses can be seen in the foreground, as can the dancer’s love-struck admirer (the heart figure at left) and a newspaper critic (the feather plume holding a thurible).
The remarkable image objectifies a sort of frantic, madcap motion.

[Hi-res versions of the images are available for download.]

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13 minutes

River Oaks Chamber Orchestra; City of Houston, through an Individual Arts Grant from Houston Arts Alliance

chamber orchestra: winds: 2*22*2 brass: 2110 | 3 percussion | timpani | harp | harpsichord | strings (min 6-6-4-3-2)

Visions from Another World also exists in a version for sinfonietta (16 players: flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, 2 percussion, harp, piano, 2 violins, viola, cello, contrabass)

Ronde Fantastique also available separately in a version for 10 players

1. Ronde Fantastique
2. Funeral Cortège of the Silkworm
3. Spinning Ballerina

October 11, 2008, St. John the Divine Church, Houston TX
River Oaks Chamber Orchestra | JoAnn Falletta, conductor


1. Ronde Fantastique
2. Funeral Cortège of the Silkworm
3. The Spinning Ballerina