Max Weiler, 1990
Photo: Franz Hubmann

Max Weiler: Like a Symphony (1990)

Max Weiler (1910-2001) painted the monumental masterpiece Like a Symphony, (egg tempera on canvas, 500 x 630 cm) at the age of 80 for an ‘audio room’ of the Salzburg regional exhibition “Mozart – Bilder und Klänge” (Images and Sounds) (1991) in Kleßheim Palace. The painting found a representative home in the Karl Böhm Saal of the Salzburg Festival Hall since the summer of 2008, providing an opportunity to contemplate afresh the manifold aspects of this complex artwork and to remember Weiler’s long-standing relationship to Clemens Holzmeister, the architect of the Festival Halls, and to the city of Salzburg. In the book published for this occasion, the art historian Thomas Zaunschirm also poses the question of the tension-filled relationship between painting and music in Modernism.

On view:

On permanent loan from the Max Weiler Private Foundation Vienna, the painting Like a Symphony (1990) is on show in the Karl Böhm Saal since July 2008. It can be viewed not just during the intervals of Felsenreitschule performances, in the House for Mozart or on the occasion of events, but also within the framework of the Salzburg Festival during guided tours, available in the festival shop Hofstallgasse 1.

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    From the book:

    Max Weiler and Clemens Holzmeister, Max Weiler in Salzburg, Symphonic art, The painting, A picture finds its home - the Karl Böhm Saal

    Thomas Zaunschirm

    Max Weiler: Like a Symphony – Hommage à Mozart


    96 pages, copious colour illustrations

    20 x 24 cm, stitched paperback

    16.50 €

    ISBN 978-3-7025-0592-9


    In Salzburg, the art historian and art writer, Wieland Schmied, is very well-known as president of the International Summer Academy of Fine Arts (1980-1999). 1988-1993, he was rector of the Academy of Fine Arts, Munich and from 1995-2004, president of the Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts. On the occasion of his reunion with the picture Like a Symphony in the Festival Hall Salzburg, he noted down his impressions. We warmly thank him for his permission to print his text.

    The painting “Like a Symphony“ by Max Weiler

    Max Weiler (1910-2001) called this mural, which was executed in 1990 and intended for the then exhibition “Hommage à Mozart”, with measurements of 5 x 6,30 meters, Like a Symphony. With this title, he continues the picture series produced in the 60s Like A Landscape. The painting – realised in egg tempera on canvas – is a highly impressive artwork, convincing in many respects.

    We should take the title seriously, because it is not accidental. Max Weiler has chosen it with care. Like a composer, who wishes to give expression to the macrocosm of the world in his symphony, Max Weiler wants to embrace the world’s totality in a single painting. This he wants to achieve exclusively through the means of fine art; more explicitly: with his own means, developed by himself, with which he was able to touch “the spiritual in nature“ – as designated by Gottfried Boehm.

    The music unfolding in time only knows the order of succession. Yet, the painting utilising space orders its elements side by side. We perceive these elements simultaneously; or in any case, we can enjoy their effect simultaneously. Because of these different effects of music and painting alone, it seems pointless to look for direct analogies between the two media in Weiler’s painting. Basically, the colours are liberated from all symbolism in Weiler’s artistic piece. No concrete fixed meaning can be attributed to the forms of his late work (to which the mural Like A Symphony certainly belongs). Figurative associations are impossible. Colours and forms are like the sounds of music, abstract; their abstractism corresponds to the abstract nature of music.

    The term “symphony” suggests – even though employed outside of the field of music – an all-embracing gesture linking all that it seizes, in a sensuous and harmonious way. Since such a gesture, embracing all phenomena, cannot be attained “at a stroke“ and uno actu, the musical form of the symphony subdivides into single movements, differing with regard to their sound sequences, their tempi, their rhythm; partly also through their instrumentalisation. Through their recurring (and recognisable) leitmotifs, however, these movements remain correlative and interconnected. Whoever wants to encompass the world as a whole, in order to approach it in ever changing ways, will experience it Like a Symphony. It is too rich and too multifarious, in order to be comprehended in a single act.

    By calling his mural Like a Symphony, Max Weiler assumes the major claim predetermined by the musical form. His pictorial composition, too, knows of single “movements“. The composition coheres in highly complex ways from single sections, which nevertheless – even though artistically intertwined – are each respected in their own character. Thus, in Weiler’s painting, the colour blue clearly dominates down below at the picture’s right side and the colour violet on the right side above; on the left side in contrast, the colour green prevails and in the painting’s centre above, the colour red. The colour spectrum encompasses the diversity of a spiritualised world. Even though there are transitions, overlappings and interconnections between the single colours, the viewer senses clearly: Weiler pays heed to the individuality of each colour, he pays respect to it and treats it with love. This belongs among the secrets of this painting: The painter clearly separates the colours from each other and allows them to rule in the region allocated to them. He knows to link them, without mixing them. In this way, they retain their distinctive character, their own sound, and fuse at the same time to a harmonious painting that is obliged to common ground and inter-connection. Max Weiler tells us: It is okay to accept this world. It is endlessly rich, if only we examined it attentively enough.

    Wieland Schmied

    Like a Symphony, 1990
    Eggtempera on canvas
    500 x 630 cm
    Like a Symphony, 1990
    Egg tempera on canvas
    500 x 630 cm
    Original situation in the audio room 4 of the Salzburg regional exhibition "Mozart – Images and Sounds" (in Kleßheim Palace in Salzburg, 1991)
    Like a Symphony, 1990
    Karl-Böhm-Saal Festspielhaus Salzburg
    Interior view
    Like a Symphony, 1990
    Karl-Böhm-Saal Festspielhaus Salzburg
    Interior view
    Detail aus "Wie eine Symphonie", 1990