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Beauty Is In the Eye (and Ear) of the Beholder – 5 Examples of Augenmusik or Eye Music

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

Celebrating the Beauty of Love this Valentine's Day

True Love Is Music to Our Ears
True Love Is Music to Our Ears

In today's multimedia landscape, it's common—and often necessary—for one person to be a musician, a visual artist, historian, storyteller, author, actor, filmmaker, and tech wiz at the same time. But, as we learned in previous articles like The Art of the VJ: The Origin and History of a Complete Art and A.I., Algorithms, Art, and Allegro – The Story of Interactive Media the arts and the work of artists has been integrated since long before the computer age. Musical performances have nearly always included a visual and kinesthetic component as well, such as the light shows of the Magic Lantern invented in 1646 as well as the theatrical performances of the opera and the dance of the ballet.

Sometimes a musical work's score would be created in such a way that the visual presentation of the music is just as important as the sound of the music itself even though listeners are not aware of the visual component to the score. As mentioned in the article Orchestration Basics – Choir – Voices Types, early music notation included stylized notes known as neumes. Musical scores were included in what are called illuminated manuscripts, dramatically illustrated books that were carefully hand-copied by monks. This tradition has continues today where composers not only may hand draw beautiful scores but may use a computer as an artistic tool to create scores that are both visually and aurally stunning.

Music that features a graphically significant score that may be unnoticeable to the listener during a performance is known as Augenmusik, "Eye Music." In today's post, we will learn about five examples of Augenmusik from arts history.

1. Baude Cordier's Belle, Bonne, Sage

Our first work of Augenmusik comes from Late-Medeval/Proto-Renaissance France, Baude Corder's "Belle, Bonne, Sage."

Baude Cordier (c. 1380 c. 1440) was a composer from Reims, France. Very little is known about Cordier or his life. Some historians believe "Cordier" to be a nom de plume for Baude Fresnel, a harpist and organist for then-Duke of Burgundy Philip the Bold. Cordier's two works from the Chantilly Codex, a collection of medieval musical scores, are often cited as prime examples of ars subtilior style, a musical style of Southern France and Northern Spain that included rhythmic and notational complexity.

One of these works, "Belle, bonne, sage" ("Beautiful, good, wise") is a secular love song, extolling the virtuous qualities of the singer's lover with a score composed in the shape of a heart. The lyrics of this song are fitting for today's love-themed holiday.

Lovely, good, wise, gentle, and noble one,

On this day that the year becomes new

I make you a gift of a new song

Within my heart, which presents itself to you.

Cordier not only composed the piece in the shape of a heart but included a sort of color coding used from the 13th to 16th centuries known as mensural notation. In his score, the red-penned notes indicate a triple-feel while the black notes are a duple-feel. This means that the red notes are to be performed in groups of three beats and the black notes are to be performed in groups of two beats. This is an early example of hemiola in Western art music, a musical figuration in which two groups of three beats are replaced by three groups of two beats, giving the effect of a shift between triple and duple meter. You can listen to the piece in the video below and follow along with a modernized score.

Cordier's other work in the Codex is also a work of Augenmusik. "Tout par compas suy composés" ("With a compass was I composed") is a circular canon in which the manuscript is notated in a circle.

2. Magister Sampson and Benedictus de Opitiis, Red Rose from the Royal 11 E XI

Our second example of Augenmusik comes from Tudor England via Antwerp, Belgium. In this piece, the music seems like it is almost an afterthought when compared to the detailed drawing of a rose that is placed in the center of each page of the musical score. However, the music is meant to be viewed as surrounding or bowing to the red rose, the symbol of the Tudor family. Augenmusik is meant to show the performer or score reader that the purpose of the work is to give honor to the king.

The work is included in an illuminated manuscript which was prepared by a Flemish merchant of Italian origin, Petrus de Opitiis in Antwerp. Petrus' son, Benedictus de Opitiis, was said to be the organist for King Henry from 1516 to 1522 and is credited with some of the motets included in the collection. Some of the other musical works are credited to a "Magister Sampson", formerly believed to be the bishop of Chichester in 1536, but it is now thought composer from the Netherlands.

3. Jacques Charpentier's 72 Études karnatiques, for piano, L'Étoile (The Star)

Although composers in the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras continued to create works of Augenmusik, our third example of Augenmusik takes us all the way to the Modern era.

Jacques Charpentier (Oct. 18, 1933 – June 15, 2017) taught himself to play the piano as a child. During his teen years, he studied with French music educator and composer, Jeanine Rueff (Feb. 5, 1922 – Sept. 22, 1999) before traveling to India in 1953 to study traditional Hindu music for a year and a half. When he returns home in 1954, he began his studies at the Conservatoire de Paris where he studied under composer, organist, and ornithologist Olivier Messiaen (Dec. 10, 1908 – April 27, 1992). Charpentier served in various roles throughout his life, including music-related government positions and as a founder of a center for Gregorian studies. He also taught at the Conservatoire. He authored many pedagogical works on Gregorian chant and Hindu (Indian) music.

Charpentier at Home from

Charpentier composed more than 150 works, and Études Karnatiques for solo piano is his most ambitious. It is similar to other composers' collections of studies, such as Chopin's Études, Bach's Préludes and Fugues, or Bartok's Mikrokosmos. However, rather than working his way through the 12 diatonic major and minor as Chopin or Bach Western keys—or even the Western modes, it contains 72 studies that correspond to the 72 scales or ragas of the South Indian Karnatic tradition. The etudes are organized into twelve separate cycles, each containing a set of etudes. The score for the 12th and final cycle is above. Entitled, L'Étoile or The Star the score is composed to correspond to the shape of a five-pointed star. Visually each of the subsequent etudes radiant outward from the star, like beams of light, visually showing the structure of the cycle. He began composing the work in 1957 and didn't complete it until Jan. 1985! When it is played from beginning to end this massive collection contains over three hours worth of music! You can listen to the whole piece in the video below. The video is set to begin at the beginning of the 12th cycle to correspond with the score above.

4. George Crumb's Agnus Dei (Capricorn)

George Crumb at 90, Alice Tully Hall by Peter Matthews, Wikipedia
George Crumb at 90, Alice Tully Hall by Peter Matthews, Wikipedia

George Crumb (Oct. 24, 1929 – Feb. 6, 2022) was an American modern avant-garde art music composer and music educator. His music juxtaposed musical styles from a wide range of Western music styles and non-Western musical traditions. His compositions often explored unusual timbres and extended musical techniques. Much of Crumb's works are programmatic (tell a specific story), symbolic and mystical, and contain theatrical elements. He was also known for his ornate and meticulously notated graphical scores which visually portrayed the zeitgeist of the work.

Crumb's best-known works include Ancient Voice of Children: A Cycle of Songs on Texts by Federico García Lorca, scored for soprano, boy soprano, oboe, mandolin, harp, amplified piano/toy piano, as well as three percussion players (1970); Black Angels for electric string quartet (1971); and the four-volume collection Makrokosmos for piano (1974).

Volumes I and II of Makrokosmos are subtitled 12 Fantasy Pieces after the Zodiac. Each piece included in these volumes is dedicated to an individual born under that astrological sign. The traditional symbol for Capricorn is a goat, so Crumb chose to entitle his work for Capricorn Agnus Dei, which is Latin for "Lamb of God." Crumb wanted the performer to embody a sense of peace while performing this work and thus chose to compose the score in the shape of a peace sign. Listen to the movement in the video below and compare it to the image of the score.

5. Olivia Jack's PixelSynth

With the computer age, composers not only have the ability to create visually appealing scores with technology but can even use an image to create the music itself. Olivia Jack's online project PixelSynth takes an image and turns it into music. You can even upload your own image and see how it sounds.

PixelSynth is just one of many recent and current projects that explore the relationship between images and sound. I encourage you to see and share what other current works you discover, as well as to share your own experiments with me at

Further Information

Augenmusik (General)

Augenmusik (Examples)

Baude Cordier

16th Century Red Rose

Jacques Charpentier

George Crumb

Olivia Jack


Janae J. Almen is a professional music instructor, composer, sound artist, and writer. She has a BA in Music/Education from Judson University and a MM in Computer Music/Composition from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. She is the founder of Perennial Music and Arts and is passionate about sharing her love of music and arts.



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