Thursday, November 15, 2007

..."The Man Was No Longer Conscious But Kurtag Sat At His Bedside, Matching The Rise And Fall Of His Own Breath With That Of His Friend"...

... "Kurtag's home [in the Southwest of France, near his son's family] is small and modestly appointed, full of books and furnishings that make it feel a bit like an island of Central Europe dropped into French wine country. The composer's studio is a narrow room off of the kitchen, with little more than a writing table, a bookshelf, and an upright piano with a special soft-pedal that he keeps permanently depressed.

It would be easy for Kurtag to fill his time with commissions, but the entire system, in which works are planned out years in advance and written for players he has never met, seems utterly foreign to his sensibilities....

More sympathetic for Kurtag are the dozens of pieces he has written in homage to friends and colleagues, or in memoriam. These short works can sometimes resurface as the kernels of much larger pieces, as with "Stele," whose final movement is based on Kurtag's "In Memoriam András Mihály" - a piece he wrote to honor a composer and conductor who had been a cherished friend and early champion of his music.

In halting tones, Kurtag recounted how he had visited Mihály in the hospital just days before his death. The man was no longer conscious but Kurtag sat at his bedside, matching the rise and fall of his own breath with that of his friend. Even after he left the hospital, the rhythm of the breathing was still with him. He began to write immediately. "From such things I can compose," he said. ...

With that said, Kurtag seemed suddenly eager to play the piece at the piano. With a slow deliberate motion, he shifted from his desk to the keyboard, and began playing with uncommon subtlety. The piece opens with giant, hushed chords of immense stillness. On Kurtag's muted piano, they sounded with a surreal cloudiness and a distant glow. As he struck each chord, he audibly released a breath. The playing continued for one minute, or possibly five. It was impossible to know....

The second movement is described in the score as a wild, desperate lament, with the trumpets sputtering out edgy rhythmic figures and the strings burrowing downward in long sorrowful lines. The winds and brass heckle until the textures begin to smear, the volume builds to a deafening climax. Then comes the strangest moment in the piece: a breath of silence out of which six flutes appear with a gentle, quiet music that seems drawn from another universe. The orchestra begins mustering its old attacks but the flutes have focused their collective gaze somewhere else.

Sitting at his desk, looking down at the score, Kurtag grasped for words to explain this sudden congregation of otherworldly flutes. Whatever it was, it seemed to be of vital importance and personal resonance. He ultimately leaned on an image from Russian literature.

This is music, he said, of someone lying wounded on a battlefield. "The fighting rages all around him, but he sees only a very clear, very blue sky." Kurtag paused, again searching for words. "His feeling is that nothing is as important as this sky.""

Jeremy Eichler "The Purist: The forces of history have helped shape Gyorgy Kurtag's uncompromising music" The Boston Globe November 11, 2007

The Berlin Philharmonic performs music by Kurtag and Mahler
Nov. 19, 2007 at Symphony Hall, Boston
presented by Celebrity Series of Boston [sic]
Tickets: $87-$187

Image credit: (c) Editio Musica Budapest
Victor Hugo street 11-15
1132 Budapest
Phones: +36 1 2361-100
Fax: +36 1 2361-101


Post a Comment

<< Home