An Allegory: Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Percussion (one player) – Marimba & Snare Drum, Violin, Viola, Cello, Double Bass

Guy Bunce (Photographer)

Research output: Non-textual formComposition


‘An Allegory’ was inspired by Bronzino’s painting: An Allegory with Venus and Cupid (see below). The influence of the painting on the piece can be seen on a number of levels. At an abstract level the dates including the approximate date the painting was completed (1540) Bronzino’s age, and his dates (1503-1572) were employed in the construction of the piece. Section lengths and the overall form are related to these numbers, as are the piece’s tempi and some of the rhythmic patterns. The influence can also been seen in the surface layer of the piece through the absorption of themes that the painting is believed to express. Themes of love, folly, fraud, despair, time, and oblivion are treated musically with each being given a melodic fragment. Allegory opens with the ‘time’ motif, a motif which persists throughout the piece, interrupting development and framing sections. In Bronzino’s painting Father Time provides the backdrop in the manner of a blue cloth; it therefore seemed fitting to employ the time motif in a similar manner in the piece.

The following observations were made while studying the painting and were used as starting points for composing the piece. First, the painting has an icy quality in its colour. Second, the painting is full of angles, mainly created by its subjects. Third, there is an atmosphere of claustrophobia caused by the intensity of the painting and dense concentration of characters and objects. This is accentuated by the lack of depth caused by Father Time’s blue cloth. Fourth, although the painting does appear to lack depth it is in fact based on a number of levels reading from the foreground to the background.

The icy colours are explored in the instrumental techniques employed such as sul pont. In addition, much of the piece’s melodic material is angular in accordance with the visual impact of the painting. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the painting is explored in the first section of the piece where each of the thematic motifs (love, folly, fraud, despair, and time) is layered in counterpoint resulting in a very dense texture.

In order to assimilate the painting’s layers, the painting and its subjects were broken down into their constituent levels:
Layer 1: Venus – Cupid (right hand and foot)
Layer 2: Folly – Cupid (rest of his body)
Layer 3: Despair – Fraud
Layer 4: Time – Oblivion

These levels (along with the aforementioned dates) were employed in the formal construction of the piece. The piece opens with a series of paired blocks: one represents ‘time’ with its corresponding motifs and the second conveying the dense nature of the painting by exploring all motifs simultaneously. In each reoccurrence the second block of each pair highlights a different motif by having it performed dynamically above the rest. In addition the blocks reduce in length with each appearance. The tempo change marks the beginning of the next section. From this point, each layer of the painting is explored moving from foreground to background. First the ‘love’ motif is developed, followed by ‘folly’ and finally ‘despair’. ‘Fraud’ is not given its own section or a motif; instead ‘fraud’ mimics and comments upon other motifs throughout the piece. The piece gets darker in mood as the background is reached. The ‘time’ motif becomes more dominant as the cello and bass develop ‘despair’ before the piece evaporates into ‘oblivion’ as Time’s blue cloth is dropped.

Original languageEnglish
PublisherEnigma Publishing
Media of outputCD
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2009

Cite this