The Rest Before Death
Completed in 1902, Rest by the Wayside by William Merritt Chase is an impressionist painting created in the typical style of the period; short choppy brush strokes fill the canvas. To the untrained eye, these may appear to be haphazard and meaningless, but in reality they are painted with diligence and purpose. The same relationship can be heard in the music Death from the album Love Hurts, composed in 2011. At first, the listener may feel that the music has no definite structure however, this is false. Although Nuñez composed Death using improvisation, which means that this piece was performed in one sitting, on the spot, without any further editing after the composition had been recorded, the overall emotion of the piece was pre-planned. As with many of his compositions, Nuñez determined factors such as melody, rhythm, texture, harmony, and stylistic explorations before recording Death. Doing this before recording all of his compositions, including Death, allows Nuñez to accent the type of mood he wants the listener to hear, for instance in Death, he wanted to accent a more romantic and melodic mood. Although created in different time periods more than one hundred years apart, Rest by the Wayside by William Merritt Chase and Death by Claudio Nuñez complement each other well, increasing the audience’s interest in the painting and the music, as well as the story the two tell together — a story about a man and his last journey, a journey into the unknown.
Many parallels can be uncovered between these two works, the most noticeable being repetition. As mentioned previously, the painting is composed of short choppy brush strokes covering the canvas. This same repetition is found in the music. Each chord in the composition is followed by an improvisation of a single melodic line. These are always followed by a few moments of silence before the composer begins the next chord increasing the feeling of loneliness the improvised melodic lines evoke in the listener. This loneliness can be seen in the mostly uninhabited landscape and in the single man sitting on the side of the road. This is repeated for the majority of the piece, each chord and improvised melodic line becoming lower than the next. The notes that make up these chords are very short and concise, which parallel the short, concise brush strokes in Rest by the Wayside. These notes are repetitive, like the multitude of individual brush strokes that cover the entire canvas. The proximity of each brush stroke to the next also relates to the closeness of the notes in the main chords in the music.
After the sequence of repeating chords, the music changes. This change is very unexpected. Repetition has dominated the music, and this repetition seems to have no foreseeable ending. The road in the painting does not appear to end either. Just beyond the place where the man sits, the road vanishes into the landscape, leaving the viewer unsure if the road has ended, or if it is just no longer able to be seen. Now an ascending guitar line can be heard disrupted by forceful notes. Just as the guitar line is interrupted, the main color in the landscape, green, is interrupted by shades of blue, purple, and orange. These are not unpleasant interruptions; the use of these colors adds a complexity that would otherwise be lacking in the painting, and the disruptive notes in the music add this same amount of complexity to the musical composition. The interruptions in the music can also be related to the patches of ground that can be seen in Rest by the Wayside. Other than the road, the majority of the landscape is dominated by vegetation, but through the vibrant colors, some areas of dirt can be seen.
Activity increases in the music changing the composition further. The very melodic chords heard previously are no longer present. A fast guitar solo dominates the piece with unexpected interruptions, forming tension. This tension in the music can be seen in the dark colors the man is wearing. The sharp notes, like the man’s clothing are very noticeable against the lighter colored landscape. These unexpected interruptions create points of interest in the music, almost like a focal point in a painting. But soon after the sharp notes are introduced to the piece, they disappear, and the music returns to its previous melodic state. This melodic-sounding ending to the composition serves as a gateway into the mind of the man.
The tired man has ceased walking, and now sits, thinking about the past, reflecting on the good times, and remembering the bad. The mood of the music, with its melancholy feeling, supports this interpretation. Death is not an upbeat composition, nor does it evoke a feeling of sadness in the listener. When listening to the music, the listener may picture a clear day, not unlike the one seen in Rest by the Wayside. The landscape is sparse, only a few trees stand out as something other than groundcover. Sunlight streams through the clouds, illuminating the scene. With the repetition of the chords which become very melodic, one can imagine a light breeze rustling the leaves on the trees. Memories fill the man’s mind. He used to come here often, in fact, over the years, this has become his favorite place. Life, full of its ups and downs has been difficult, but being in this familiar place, surrounded by beauty, the man forgets the hardship and rests. He knows he has to eventually move from this spot, but seems unable to do so. The man sits in solitude, possibly for the final time. The music ends, the man playing the guitar sets his instrument down, and slowly walks off the stage. The last sounds the listener hears are footsteps fading into the distance. Could this be the man in the painting, taking his walk from this life to the next?
Further information regarding the music can be found at http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Claudio_Nuez/Love_Hurts/05_death.
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