The rhythms of Matisse's work are musically interpreted for us by Alan Scholefield, who finds 'a score of sorts for the dance of Matisse’s "carving into colour"', with Honest Jon's Records

Portrait of Alan Scholefield of Honest Jon Records
Alan Scholefield of Honest Jon Records

I imagine Matisse in his house in Vence, bed-ridden, cutting out shapes of coloured paper in the darkness he needed to protect his eyes, the gloom pierced by shafts of Cote d’Azur light coming in through the cracks in the curtains.

My idea for this playlist is to use cracks in the curtains as a metaphor: to allow music to intrude from unexpected places into the magical world of Matisse’s art, and so to provide a score of sorts for the dance of Matisse’s ‘carving into colour’. 

Dazzling light, flooding in from the Mediterranean, from North Africa and from the tropics beyond, seems to be the stuff of this art, and there is music here from Algiers and from Ghana, from Turkey and from Haiti. Some of the tracks speak with a French accent, like the great Romany musician Django Reinhardt playing electric guitar in Rome.

Most, but not all, are contemporary with the works in Tate’s exhibition. The motifs of music and dance which run through Matisse’s work culminate in the 1947 book of cut-outs, Jazz, published when the white heat of the be-bop revolution was at its hottest.

So (following a gorgeous introductory ney solo from Istanbul) we start and end with Thelonious Monk whose jagged, looping lines seem to be the musical equivalent of a piece like The Snail, or what Matisse called ‘my chromatic and rhythmic improvisations’.

Henri Matisse, 'The Snail' 1953
Henri Matisse
The Snail 1953
Gouache on paper, cut and pasted on paper mounted on canvas
support: 2864 x 2870 mm
Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1962© Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2002

Hear Alan’s playlist on Soundcloud

  1. Neyzen Tevfik Efendi, Huseyni Taksim (Istanbul) [from Honest Jon’s CD To Scratch Your Heart, Early Recordings From Istanbul]
  2. Thelonious Monk, Thelonious (1947, NYC) [the flipside of Monk’s first 78 on Blue Note]
  3. Orlando et Son Orchestre du Bagdad, La Viruta (1933, Paris) [from Fremeaux CD, Le Tango A Paris 1907- 1941]
  4. The Rhythm Aces, Mami (early 50s. Ghana) [from Honest Jon’s CD Marvellous Boy,  Calypso From West Africa]
  5. Moondog, Fiesta Piano Solo (mid-50s, NYC) [from the Prestige LP More Moondog, as re-issued by Honest Jon’s]
  6. Abdel Hadi Halo & The El Gusto Orchestra Of Algiers, Ya L’Quadi  (2006, Algiers) [recorded by HJ at the Conservatoire d’Algiers; an out-take from the album, Abdel Hadi Halo & The El Gusto Orchestra Of Algiers]
  7. Olivier Messiaen, Louange a l’immortalite de Jesus (the final part of Quartet pour la fin du Temps, 1941, Stalag VIII, Gorlitz) [Matisse’s daughter worked for the resistance and was arrested and tortured by the Gestapo. This piece was written while Messiaen was a prisoner at a concentration camp in Germany, and scored for fellow prisoners. From a 1969 EMI recording with Greenberg, de Peyer, Pleeth, Beroff]
  8. Miles Davis, Honky Tonk (1970, NYC) [An out-take from Miles’s epic Jack Johnson soundtrack, an album literally cut and pasted down to 45 minutes from hours of jam sessions. A nod to Boxeur Negre – and the art of cutting]
  9. Django Reinhardt, Micro (Mike) (1950, Rome) [The king of jazz manouche goes electric]
  10. Raoul Guillaume et Son Groupe, Mal Eleve (early 50s, Haiti) [from the superb new compilation Haiti Direct, on Strut Records]
  11. Erik Satie, Enfantillages Pittoresques 1 (1913, Paris) [When the Fauves had a party, Satie was their piano-player of choice. This is “picturesque childishness” (but more beautiful than that). Played here by Pascal Roge]
  12. Thelonious Monk, Misterioso (1948, NYC) [Quintessential Monk, with the great Bags (Milt Jackson) on vibes]

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs opens at Tate Modern on 17 April, on display until 7 September


Looping tunes? A spiral is never a loop. Neither geometrically, nor metaphorically.