As I was running the operations shift for Reed Hessler’s Sunday show, I grabbed the CD case for Raff’s Symphony No 5. “Lenore” and saw the terrifying cover art.
I was mesmerized by this creepy horse and flipped through the liner notes to see who had painted this. “The Nightmare” by Henry Fuseli.
What followed was me falling down (yet another) Wikipedia Hole…
Much like my favorite musical work (The Symphonie Fantastique), The Nightmare is inspired by unrequited love and a tortured soul. Fuseli had fallen in love with a friend’s daughter, and became obsessed with having her. She refused his marriage proposal, and instead married someone else. Many believe The Nightmare depicts Fuseli’s unresolved feelings for his lost love and his darkest desires.
This series of paintings that Fuseli produced have inspired everything from Mary Shelley to Edgar Allen Poe, poems to political satire.
“So on his Nightmare through the evening fog
Flits the squab Fiend o’er fen, and lake, and bog;
Seeks some love-wilder’d maid with sleep oppress’d,
Alights, and grinning sits upon her breast.” – Erasmus Darwin
I’m beginning to see a theme in my artistic tastes… I seem to be drawn to the dark, macabre yet beautiful worlds of insanity and unrequited love.
“If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.”
― William Shakespeare,
In fact, I was just thinking of one of my favorite series of Waterhouse paintings as I sat at my loom the other afternoon based on the Lady of Shallott by Lord Alfred Tennyson, which is also about death at the hands of unrequited love.
“I Am Half Sick of Shadows,” Said the Lady of Shalott depicts a woman at her loom, who is cursed to live in a tower and unable to look upon the real world lest she die. She gets around this by viewing the world reflected in a mirror, and weaves what she sees into tapestry.
She’s upriver from Camelot, and sees Sir Lancelot coming and going quite a bit, and so falls madly in love with him. Unable to help herself one day, she looks out the window at him and invokes the curse.
Before she dies, she leaves her tower, climbs into a boat and her body floats down to Camelot. Lancelot looks upon her and remarks, “she has a lovely face”.
Well at least she didn’t have a incubus sitting on her chest.
And we come back to Raff’s Symphony No. 5 “Lenore”, which was inspired by a ballad of the same name by Wilhelm August Bürger. Raff wrote: “The happiness of two lovers is interrupted by war. The time has come when he must go forth with his fellow soldiers and she remain behind alone. In this solitude evil forebodings take possession of her; she falls into a fever, in which her hallucinations prepare, in reality, only for her own death.”
Bürger’s work features a lost love, blasphemy, a harrowing ride through demonic landscapes, Death Himself and themes of returning from the dead. Lenore is credited with partially inspiring the Gothic vampire genre.
So, thank you, whoever selected The Nightmare for the album cover art. You’ve helped me
waste spend a delightful afternoon learning all about some cool and macabre fine art.