The Musical Mind #24: Christopher Thornborrow

  • October 26th, 2021

Episode 24 of The Musical Mind features an interview with Canadian composer Christopher Thornborrow. The Musical Mind spotlights prominent figures in the world of contemporary classical music – musicians and composers who perform with Esprit Orchestra.

Trompe l’œil is a painting technique used to create the illusion of three dimensions on two dimensional surfaces. Specifically, Thornborrow was drawn to Carel Fabritius’s skillfully crafted painting, The Goldfinch (1654), which has gained unusual popularity after being featured in Donna Tartt’s novel of the same name.

The painting features a pet finch chained to a feeder box, and creates the illusion that the animal and the box are attached. What is particularly remarkable is the extraordinary realism to the image using mostly large, simple, bold brushstrokes.

In his piece, Trompe l’œil, several elements pay homage to Fabritius’s painting. For example, birdsong features prominently in the motivic material. These tiny, detailed melodies are stacked vertically, often in the winds, to create thick textures, emulating Fabritius’s painting technique. As longer melodies progress, they pull apart in pitch through sliding glissandi, as if lifting off the page, a reference to the 3D nature of the picture.

There is a tragic aspect to Carel Fabritius’s story. He was killed in the Delphi explosion in 1654, the same year he painted the Goldfinch. Compounded by the loss of life in this event, we also lost many of Carel’s paintings, and the potential for more if he had lived out his life. The final moments of my piece reflect on the fragility of not just life and of art. A goldfinch sings under a subtly discordant lullaby.

Don’t miss the world premiere of Christopher Thornborrow’s new work, Trompe l’œil, this Sunday March 24th at Koerner Hall.