The visual arts have always inspired composers to create music. Remember Nat King Cole singing “Mona Lisa”? The classical music world is full of works inspired by paintings and drawings. Perhaps the most famous classical piece of this nature is “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky.
German composer Paul Hindemith wrote an opera inspired by a religious altarpiece painted by Matthias Grünewald. Called the “Isenheim Altarpiece,” the Grünewald piece is a series of folding panels that reveal many different scenes. Hindemith took three of the scenes and created a symphony for orchestra from the opera. The title, “Mathis der Maler,” translates as Matthias the Painter.
The first movement is called “Angelic Concert.” The music depicts a concert of angels singing the news of the Christ child’s birth at the nativity. The second movement, “Entombment” is a musical depiction of the bottom panel which remains always visible at the base of the altarpiece below the wings.The third and final movement, “The Temptation of St. Anthony,” shows strange creatures reminiscent of the work of Hieronymus Bosch.