March 2023

Kandinsky Anew | Lissa Tyler Renaud | Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Kandinsky and Theatre:
More from de Hartmann's Intimate
 Memorial Account


Lissa Tyler Renaud

Editorial Note


This piece completes the January 2023 series entry, "An Intimate Memorial Account of Kandinsky: Thomas de Hartmann" (see here). There, co-editors Hahl-Fontaine and Renaud wrote, mid-account: "We have held back Hartmann's account of their work together on Kandinsky's stage play, The Yellow Sound, to share fully another time." This is that. Together, the two pieces make up the whole memorial text of this important composer. The two parts are much quoted from, but have probably not been published before in their entirety. Jelena (Hahl-Fontaine) received it directly from de Hartmann's wife, Olga, and she also points to a typewritten text kept at the Guggenheim Museum.




It is said that whoever holds the pen writes the history, and this is certainly true in the case of Kandinsky. It seems possible to find virtually anything written—or not written—about him. "Facts" emerge, are exaggerated or submerged; long-standing information is taken as given, while inconvenient knowledge of him barely surfaces. So the text given here is especially precious, since it gives a first-person account of Kandinsky's early efforts on behalf of the theatre that occupied him until his death.


From behind the scenes: Jelena, former Curator of the exceptional Kandinsky archive in Munich, reports about the archives that among the many thank-you letters Kandinsky received, there was one from Olga thanking him for his "so favorable, calming effect upon me, such that my nerves are almost healed." Olga also wrote, Jelena says, with some impatience about Giants, which became The Yellow Sound: "The threatening mood of the Giants was active in our home"; she said she often hoped the long and tedious time of "preparation/ inspiration" would end soon, when the two friends would have accomplished their work. 


Thomas de Hartmann's 1956 book, Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff, co-authored with Olga, was re-published in 2011. In 1922, a Berlin theatre made Kandinsky one of several offers he had to produce The Yellow Sound, but de Hartmann was unavailable, pursuing just the spiritual life described in the book. Kandinsky declined the production, not wanting to work with another composer.


The ground-breaking dancer, Alexander Sakharoff, makes an appearance here. Inspired by the dance innovations animated by Isadora Duncan, Sakharoff went on to become the first male modernist dancer. Duncan's work also interested Kandinsky, who saw her dance in Munich and mentioned her in several letters. Stanislavsky, whom de Hartmann hoped to interest in Kandinsky's The Yellow Sound, was not only interested in Duncan's dancing and ideas, he was actually enamored of her for some time (and then later, wasn't). A professional interest that Stanislavsky and Kandinsky shared: they were both deeply impressed with the Belgian playwright, Maurice Maeterlinck, to whom The Yellow Sound owes much.


The 2008 exhibition catalogue, Paul Klee: Theater Everywhere, about Klee's fervent, lifelong passion for the theatre, brings up his close friendship with Kandinsky. Klee started out as a theatre critic and called himself "a theater nut." As both colleagues and neighbors at the Bauhaus, they shared Kandinsky's ideas and information about the new theatre, as well as Klee's own, different ideas. 


Kandinsky carried on a a theatre discussion in his correspondence with composer Arnold Schoenberg, who said of The Yellow Sound: "I imagine that it would make a tremendous impression on me when performed."


The theatre section from

(New York, 1944/45)


"…Until 1914 [there] was a period of great questions and of slowly conquering the New. An honest artist carried always within him the question "Is it permitted? Are these means admissible?" All means are permitted, said Kandinsky, all, if it is necessary to express the inner sound. He spoke very often about the inner sound. More concrete realization of this was achieved in his work for stage which he called
The Yellow Sound.


But I want to return to our search in the realm of stage in general. The first thing that we tried to present was one of the tales of [Hans Christian] Anderson. Kandinsky made within a very short time a charming sketch of a town in the Middle ages. The houses were as if taken from his painting "Picture with houses," but seen from the front. We began to think about the different scenes and how to put it in ballet form. And at this point we realized that ballet as it existed could not give us what we were looking for. We wanted something else, something quite different.


Just at this time a young man, very talented, and who understood what we wanted, joined us. It was Alexander Sakharoff, who later became a well-known dancer. We began to look in the direction of ancient Greek dance. Sakharoff began to study in museums; and we changed from Anderson to Daphnis and Chloe. Kandinsky made a sketch for the first scene, a wonderful "Trirema" with warriors. It was not realistic, but it gave an amazingly strong impression of the horror of Daphnis being raped by knights. We did not know then that Fokine with Diaghileff had taken the same subject. Although our presentation was quite different from what Fokine had done, we did not wish to continue with it when we heard of his plans.


All the same, these works brought Kandinsky to create a stage work called The Yellow Sound, a work which can be considered one of the most daring in this field. The Scenario was printed in Der Blaue Reiter [The Blue Rider Almanac], published in Munich during 1912, and which is now a rarity. The music was written by me, but only in sketches since the final exposition and orchestration would depend upon the kind of theatre accepting it. Kandinsky made sketches for scenery. I brought them to the Moscow Arts Theatre (Stanislavsky), but they refused it. Even they did not understand. Sakharoff continued his study of the Greek dances, and due to our influence made his very interesting first appearance in Munich at the Odeon in 1910. I wrote the music, for string quartet, for the entire performance.


Today, Kandinsky's artistic genius is appreciated more and more in Europe and America, and there is hope that his dream, to see The Yellow Sound staged, will be realized.


I have no time to say much more about the Blaue Reiter magazine, only that, due to Kandinsky, it presented for the first time Matisse, Picasso, Delaunay, Negro sculpture, and the young artists of the Russian school."



Lissa Tyler Renaud | Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com
Curator, writer and editor, Kandinsky Anew Series
Lissa Tyler Renaud MFA Directing, PhD Dramatic Art with Art History (thesis on Kandinsky's theatre), summa cum laude, UC Berkeley (1987). Lifelong actress, director. Founder, Oakland-based Actors' Training Project (1985- ) for training based on Kandinsky's teachings. Book publications: The Politics of American Actor Training
(Routledge); an invited chapter in the Routledge Companion to Stanislavsky, and ed. Selected Plays of Stan Lai (U. Michigan Press, 3 vols.) She has taught, lectured and published widely on Kandinsky, acting, dramatic theory and the early European avant -garde, throughout the U.S., and since 2004, at major theatre institutions of Asia, and in England, Mexico, Russia and Sweden. She is a senior writer for Scene4.  
For her other commentary and articles, check the Archives.


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