One of my work colleagues, having read my post Music and Mood, asked me whether I had ever seen Disney’s Fantasia – in particular the abstract animation accompanying Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. He was curious to know whether my mental images would match the animation at all.

I hadn’t seen the picture at that point, but have since watched most of the segment in question. The short answer is that the images it conjures up in my mind do not match those in the movie at all. In fact the mismatch was so great that I stopped watching because I found the animation distracted from the music rather than complementing it; however I did find an audio recording of the piece played on a pipe organ which I found much more satisfying than the orchestral version because of the purity of tone.

It is somewhat curious to me that what is essentially an abstract piece of music – there is no evidence that Bach intended any narrative in his composition – should inspire concrete images in my mind’s eye. The opening bars bring into being a darkened landscape, hills rolling to the horizon, the scene widening. And then as that powerful chord is built up the sun rises above the far horizon, flooding the bucolic land with its warm golden brightness. As the piece progresses there is movement as flowers spring up out of the ground, streams and waterfalls cascade and great towering trees thrust skywards, propelled by the strength of the deep bass notes.

There is a lot of detail and movement in my images, especially those that are produced by rapid sequences of notes – this is in complete contrast to the simple nature of the animation in Fantasia, where the complexity of the music is not matched by the visuals. There are odd moments that begin to show promise but they still fall far short and I am left with a feeling of dissatisfaction because the combined experience of music and video ends up much less involving than the music alone.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

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