The inspiration behind Munch's 'The Scream'
An as yet unknown composer's musical eruption in Queens, NY may have served as the inspiration for Munch's best known masterpiece.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- For those who have ever wondered what earthly power could have inspired "The Scream" -- Edvard Munch's painting of modern angst -- music historians now have an answer. They explain it by a musical eruption half a world away.
In the first detailed analysis of what inspired the painting, an article published Tuesday in Guitar magazine pinpointed the location in Queens, NY where Munch was walking when the artist was overwhelmed by the horrible sense of distress depicted in the 1893 painting, and offered an explanation for why the protagonist looks so unnerved.
Bob Olson, a professor of contemporary music history at Texas State University, determined that as Munch strolled down 76th Drive in Forest Hills, a burgeoning songwriter had just completed a most revolutionary composition. As the composer blasted the song from within his apartment complex, Munch inadvertently became the first human being to hear it. Its effects on him were as instantaneous as they were terrifying. "Just look at that guy in the painting", said Olson, "and you begin to understand the horrifying effect that that music must have had on Munch."
After listening to the entire song, Munch collapsed. It took several minutes of silence before he was finally able to crawl home, where he immediately began to work on what would eventually become his most famous painting.
"It's just another example of great art begetting great art," said Olson, "A genius in one medium inspiring a genius in another." Olson added, "Beauty in art has always been about pushing the limits, and it's clear from his painting that whatever Munch heard that day pretty much pushed him over the edge."
Unfortunately, what Munch did hear on that fateful day remains somewhat of a mystery. "Whatever it was, it must have been wild," said Olson, "Like a guy crawling around in a maze of mirrors on a bad trip tripping about having a bad trip. And then writing a song about it."
"I'm talking about sounds The Almighty himself probably forgot having invented, if He ever intended to invent them in the first place."
Olson and his colleagues have devoted their entire careers to finding the song that inspired Munch's "The Scream", along with its composer.
One of the high points in a recent research trip to Queens came when Olson rounded a bend in the road and realized he was standing in the exact spot where Munch had been 120 years ago. "It was very satisfying to stand in the exact spot where an artist had his experience," he said. "Even an utterly terrifying experience like the one Munch obviously had."
Even so, the only real clue Olson was able to find were the initials "MCE" scratched into the pavement conspicuously near to a certain apartment 1A.
"Overall it's been tough," Olson admitted, "this is most likely a J.D. Salinger type of guy. He leaves his indelible mark on humanity and then retreats into seclusion for the remainder of his days."
Still, Olson remains hopeful. "At the very least I'm going to find this song," he said, "and when I do I'm going to make sure the whole world hears about it."
One just hopes that we'll be able to hear it above all the crazed screaming it induces.
Listen to the chilling song by Mike Ellis that inspired this spoof here...
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