The music that inspired Frank Lloyd Wright

Oak Park

20 August 2012

The American architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said that "architecture is a kind of music". Now, a new project aims to illuminate the influence of music on Lloyd Wright's career by recording the previously unheard compositions of his father, William Carey Wright.

Drawing together parlour songs and simple piano tunes, Frank Lloyd Wright's Influences: The Music of W. C. Wright, hopes to record a CD of Carey Wright's work. The music has only previously been played by members of Lloyd Wright's family.

The project was devised by David Patterson, a music scholar who has worked closely with the descendants of Carey Wright, and is currently fundraising through the crowdfunding website Kickstarter.

Patterson says that Lloyd Wright's architecture was heavily influenced by music and that Carey Wright was his son's primary source of musical education. He says that the new CD will let architectural historians better understand Lloyd Wright's formative years and their effect on his work.

"It's generally agreed that there were five main influences on Lloyd Wright's architecture," says Patterson. "Nature, Louis Sullivan, Japan, Friedrich Froebel and music. But it's very difficult to discuss and pin down music's exact role. By starting at the beginning with William Wright, I hope that I can initiate a developed conversation about music's influence."

Carey Wright was a minister, musician, lawyer and country doctor. Following the death of his first wife Permelia Holcomb in 1864, he married Anna Lloyd Jones in 1866. A year later, Lloyd Jones gave birth to Frank Lloyd Wright. The couple later divorced and Carey Wright returned to his three children from his first marriage.

Patterson believes that the musical traits visible in Carey Wright's simple piano compositions and parlour songs will marry with the architectural techniques that Lloyd Wright used throughout his career.

"Lloyd Wright is famous for his compression and release technique," says Patterson. "Throughout his buildings he would install very narrow corridors as a means of driving you through them into larger spaces. That's the "release": the openness of the resultant space that you walk into. You have a process and a goal, and that is very musical."

Patterson also sees a strong musical influence on Lloyd Wright's theory of organic architecture: a series of ideas focused around developing architectural designs from a set of simple starting premises.

"Lloyd Wright compared his theory of organic architecture, the theory of growing a design from a single seed and elaborating on it, to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. He saw parallels between architecture and the way that Beethoven took five incredibly simple notes and built an entire complex symphony out of them.

By initiating the project, Patterson hopes to prompt a reevaluation of the influence of Carey Wright on his son. Carey Wright has traditionally been viewed as having little influence on the development of his son's architectural style.

"The perceptions from Frank Lloyd Wright's autobiography was that William was a ne'er-do-well who upped and left his family," says Patterson. "But the situation was actually quite different: it was his wife who filed for divorce and she was a very difficult personality. William is a mystery figure who needs to be filled in."