The Yellow Sound

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Der Gelbe Klang
The Yellow Sound
Kandinsky in 1913, a year after the experimental theater piece was published
Written byWassily Kandinsky
Date premiered12 May 1972 (1972-05-12)
Place premieredGuggenheim Museum, New York City
Original languageGerman
GenreColor-tone drama

The Yellow Sound (in German, Der Gelbe Klang) is an experimental theater piece originated by the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky. Created in 1909, the work was first published in The Blue Rider Almanac in 1912.[1]

The Yellow Sound was the "earliest and most influential"[2] of four "color-tone dramas" that Kandinsky conceived for the theater between 1909 and 1914; the others were titled The Green Sound, Black and White, and Violet.[3] Kandinsky's pieces were part of a larger trend of their era that addressed color theory and synesthesia in works that blended multiple art forms and media. Such works — Scriabin's Prometheus (1910) is arguably among the best known — utilized lighting techniques and other innovations to extend the normal range of artistic expression.[4] Kandinsky had published his own theory on color and synesthesia in his Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1911).

Kandinsky never saw The Yellow Sound performed during his lifetime. He and his Blue Rider colleagues, including Franz Marc, August Macke, and Alfred Kubin, worked intensively on a planned 1914 Munich production, but it was cancelled by the outbreak of World War I.[5] (That original production was perhaps intended for Georg Fuchs's Künstlertheater, which had the lighting facilities required by the project.)[6] Two subsequent German productions, one at the Bauhaus, also failed to materialize.

The work had its belated world premiere on 12 May 1972 at the Guggenheim Museum and has since been staged (in various levels of authenticity and completeness) at the Theatre des Champs-Élysées, Paris (4 March 1976) and on 9 February 1982, at the Marymount Manhattan Theatre in New York City.[7] There has also been productions at the Alte Oper, Frankfurt am Main (7–8 September 1982) the Theatre im National, Bern Switzerland (12–15 February 1987) and the NIA Centre, Manchester U.K. on 21 March 1992. Productions of The Yellow Sound have been mounted with three musical scores in three countries. The American production employed a rearrangement based on ideas from the lost original score (composed by Thomas de Hartmann) by Gunther Schuller, while a French production used a score by Anton Webern, and a Russian production one by Alfred Schnittke.[8] The show was remounted with puppets in New York City in November, 2010, by Target Margin Theatre Co. at The Brick Theater.[9] On 10 April 2011 The Yellow Sound has been performed in Lugano (Palazzo dei Congressi) with the original score composed by Carlo Ciceri.[10] November 2011 also saw a full production of the stage composition with fragments of original score performed at Tate Modern, London, UK. This was commissioned as part of the Blaue Reiter Centenary Celebrations.[11][12]

The Yellow Sound is a one-act opera without dialogue or conventional plot, divided into six "pictures." A child in white and an adult performer in black represent life and death; other figures are costumed in single colors, including five "intensely yellow giants (as large as possible)" and "vague red creatures, somewhat suggesting birds...."

Drawing on elements of Symbolism and Expressionism (while and anticipating Surrealism), Kandinsky's work had a strong influence on German theater innovator Lothar Schreyer, who "built a whole theory of performance on the expressive process first suggested in The Yellow Sound."[13]


  1. ^ Richard Drain, Twentieth-Century Theatre: A Sourcebook, London, Routledge, 1995; pp. 251-2.
  2. ^ David F. Kuhns, German Expressionist Theatre: The Actor and the Stage, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997; p. 148.
  3. ^ Michael Kobialka, "Theatre of Celebration/Disruption: Time and Space/Timespace in Kandinsky's Theatre Experiments," Theatre Annual Vol. 44 (1989–90), pp. 71-96.
  4. ^ Richard Cytowic, The Man Who Tasted Shapes: A Bizarre Medical Mystery Offers Revolutionary Insights into Emotions, Reasoning, and Consciousness, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003 ISBN 0-262-53255-7
  5. ^ Hajo Düchting, Wassily Kandinsky, 1866–1944: A Revolution in Painting, Cologne, Taschen Books, 2000; p. 53.
  6. ^ Vasilly Kandinsky, Complete Writings on Art, Kenneth C Lindsay and Peter Vergo, eds., Cambridge, MA, Da Capo Press, 1994; p. 231.
  7. ^ "Theater: Staging a Kandinsky Dream," The New York Times, 7 February 1982, "".
  8. ^ Konrad Boehmer, Schönberg and Kandinsky: An Historic Encounter, London, Taylor & Francis, 1998; p. 97.
  9. ^ "Target Margin Theater Will Examine Its Origins at The Brick in November -". Archived from the original on 2010-10-11.
  10. ^ Jean Soldini, «Eccomi!». L’agire protagonista in Kandinskij, Lugano, University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland, 2011.
  11. ^ Geraint D'Arcy, 'The Yellow Sound An unstageable composition? Technology, modernism and spaces that should-not-be' Body, Space, Technology vol. 11.2, 2011.
  12. ^ Geraint D'Arcy & Richard J. Hand 'Open Your Eyes/Shut Your Eyes: Staging Kandinsky's The Yellow Sound at Tate Modern', Performance Research, 17:5, 2011, 56-60, DOI: 10.1080/13528165.2012.728441
  13. ^ Kuhns, p. 150.