About this exhibit


The concept of the sketch is a long and fascinating thread woven into the tapestry of music history. Of course, the word “sketch” has several different meanings, including the seeds of musical ideas put to paper, short descriptive compositions, and the visual arts of drawing and painting. This exhibit explores the many connotations of the word “sketch” and its varied intersections with the field of music.


Amongst musicians the first connotation to come to mind is typically that of compositional sketches, the jottings of musical ideas that lead to finished works. These sketches can shed light on a composer’s creative process. Perhaps the most-studied sketches are those of Ludwig van Beethoven, whose sketches were a topic of conversation and study even during his lifetime. Other composers whose sketches are frequently studied include Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler, Igor Stravinsky, and Johannes Brahms.


Then there is the small genre of works known as sketch pieces. Depending on the composer, these works can range from simple works resembling generative sketches to descriptive works that try to capture visual ideas in sound. One of the best-known examples of the sketch piece is Edward MacDowell’s Woodland Sketches, where each movement evokes a different landscape or location.


Of course, then there is the artistic connotation of the word sketch. Artists like Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Pablo Picasso sketched portraits of important musical colleagues including Cherubini, Gounod, and Stravinsky. Throughout history there have also been those who both sketched musically as well as artistically. Arnold Schoenberg was not only a highly influential composer, but also an accomplished painter. Even Queens College’s own Gabriel Fontrier had a reputation as a caricaturist as well as a renowned composer.


Sketches, either musical or artistic, capture something intimate. It is through sketches we can gain insight into a composer’s creative process, experience an aural moment in time, or see historical figures through the eyes of their contemporaries.