Music, specifically that by 18th– and early-19th-century composer Ludwig van Beethoven, was a focus of Ascher’s drawings and paintings, as well as his poetry. It was an interest and representational subject that extended from Ascher’s early career through the post-War era. In addition to creating several painted and drawn portraits of Beethoven, Ascher created drawings of musicians at work and drawings that captured the gestural energy displayed by conductors during live musical performances. Music was also the subject of Ascher’s poetry, notably via his ode to Beethoven, in which Ascher described Beethoven’s music as beyond words, and leading to a divine “ecstatic Spirit” in experience.
One can imagine that music—or the recollection of music—was a significant comfort to Ascher while he was in hiding; for an artist as engaged with the diversity of artistic mediums as was Ascher, the memory of melodies might have been a comfort as he fought in isolation, loneliness, and terror for survival. Beyond solace, music was also a subject of intense interest among modern artists. An artist such as Wassily Kandinsky, for instance, challenged all the arts to aspire to the condition of music—a reflection of his interest both in synesthesia, how to represent the profound experience of organized sound through a visual medium, as well as a statement about the magic of a musical performance, the transformation of individual performers and individual notes on paper into a transcendent, sonorous, collective event.
Ascher’s depictions of not only Beethoven but also the artist’s encounters with live music played and directed can be read as a hybrid of affection, coping mechanism, as well as an attempt to capture through imagery the profound experience with a resonant musical piece.