- Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf (Baldreit Edition, 1995)
Content: Illuminations du brouillard I, II and III / Die Schlangen der Medusa / succolarity / Rhizom / Solitude-Nocturne / Mikrotomie / differance II
This CD can be ordered here.
- SurPlus live auf Solitude (Edition Solitude, 1997)
[ Animato ACD 6024-3 ]
Content: Trio basso
Contact: Akademie Schloss Solitude
- Deutscher Musikrat - Edition zeitgenoessische Musik: Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf (2000)
[ Wergo ]
Content: Medusa / Kammerkonzert / "il faut continuer" / Trema / memor sum / 5 kleine Lakunaritaeten / Pegasos
- Deutscher Musikrat – Münchener Biennale (2003)
[ RCA 74321 73630 2 ]
Content: Angela Nova
- In Nome – The Witten In Nomine Broken Concort Book (2004)
[ KAIROS 0012442KAI ]
Content: resquiescant in pace
- Deutscher Musikrat – Moderne Ensembles 1990-2000 (2005)
[ RCA 74321 73621 2 ]
- Pynchon Cycle (= Mahnkopf Edition 1) (2011)
[ NEOS 11036 ]
Content: D.E.A.T.H. (Experimentalstudio des SWR) / The Courier's Tragedy (Franklin Cox, Violoncello) / The Tristero System (Ensemble SurPlus, Leitung: James Avery) / W.A.S.T.E. (Peter Veale, Oboe, und Experimentalstudio des SWR, Joachim Haas und Claus-Steffen Mahnkopf, Klangregie)
In the summer of 1998 I felt a double need: firstly, I wanted to work on two entirely contrasting work cycles in order to expand the range of my music and to be able to probe its extremes. One of these cycles would be dedicated to the composer György Kurtág. Secondly, I wanted to dedicate a homage to one of my favorite writers, Thomas Pynchon. I realized immediately that if I was to respond with a Hommage ŕ Thomas Pynchon, it would have to be every bit as exceptional and eccentric as Pynchon's work and particular circumstances, such as the fact that we have no knowledge about the author, most obviously not even his appearance. I thus had to thoroughly modify my manner of composition – in its material, its techniques, its sound world and its ultimate performative character in concert – at least for this purpose. It would have been too simply merely to invent a music whose character suited Pynchon's semantics, a semantics that posits significatory relations on all sides while simultaneously contravening them. My approach would have to be fundamental. It first of all required a sound world capable of giving expression to the destructivity of today's society, especially that of the mega-metropolises. This was only possible with musical electronics, so I turned to the Experimentalstudio of the Heinrich Strobel Stiftung of the SWR (Freiburg) in order to learn the necessary skills. Then I required a hypertrophic form. I decided on a poly-work consisting of several works that served different functions within the overall form. The Pynchon Cycle consists – in addition to the composite piece Hommage ŕ Thomas Pynchon – of the following:
1. the ensemble piece The Tristero System, whose instrumentation of two pianos, two percussionists, two bass clarinets, three trombones and four piccolos offers sufficiently repellent post-urban sonic material;
2. the solo cello piece The Courier's Tragedy, which literally depicts, musically and above all performatively, the tragedy of the soloist who fails in the attempt to control, in fact to defeat an inhuman machinery.
3. the harmonically ugly tape piece D.E.A.T.H. (8-track), which literally presents the final decomposed state of the material resources employed (D.E.A.T.H. is a acronym by Pynchon: "Dont't ever antagonize the horn");
4. finally the piece W.A.S.T.E. for oboe and live electronics, which is not actually heard during Hommage ŕ Thomas Pynchon, yet whose sound material slumbers in the computer's memory as an unconscious layer, occasionally taking effect in a shifted state (W.A.S.T.E. has a partner piece – W.A.S.T.E. 2 – for oboe and 8-track tape) (W.A.S.T.E. is a acronym by Pynchon: "We await silent Tristero's empire").
The form of this poly-work had to be conceived as a shattered one from the outset. I decided to take this to its extreme and make the work infinitely long – a music without any temporal end, one that made the greatest possible demands on the art industry, a permanent threat: an untreatable paranoia, as it were. Strictly speaking, the spatial dimension would also have to be extended into the infinite. It should sound not only in a single performance location, but virtually the whole city, the whole region, the whole world. For pragmatic reasons, which can unfortunately not correspond to artistic ones, the duration is limited, and the space even more so. One will inevitably have to organize a "concert," an event with a fixed time and a predefined location.
The four works listed above can be performed independently. Hommage ŕ Thomas Pynchon incorporates the first three works. The work is simultaneously ensemble music, musical theater and a music installation, and this combination is therefore innovative in so far as it makes use of the newest technology to do something that would previously have been impossible, simply because these resources had not been sufficiently developed: the initiation of a real-time computer-assisted compositional process that sounds like composed, not algorithmic music, which latter composers in that field were previously forced to content themselves with. I was not concerned with presenting the latest craze in live electronics, quite the opposite: it was only through the fact that that live electronics now possessed a sufficient capacity for complexity and differentiation – and that also means: the possibility of polyphony – that I was able to become creative in this genre.
I did not simply take narrative threads from Pynchon's body of work – in this case I was using the novel The Crying of Lot 49 – and translate them into music. The dramaturgy of the cello piece in particular is identical to that of the systematic murder of all the protagonists in that novel's "Jacobean Revenge Play" between Faggio and Squamuglia. I attempted to incorporate as many connections as possible at an abstract, and therefore musically absurd level: I scanned the entire text of the novel and converted it into hundreds of thousands of numbers, which, turned into algorithms, determined the sonic and musical flow of Hommage ŕ Thomas Pynchon with its parallel identities. Admittedly, I had to push the absurdity of this abstract material application to such an extreme that it would take shape and – paradoxically – could almost become as meaningful as Pynchon's novels, which, read in the right manner – i.e. repeatedly – enable us to read and thus experience the world, this so damned dichotomous world of ours, like some great Borges-esque library.
Hommage ŕ Thomas Pynchon is of an extremely performative character. At the start, the 18-minute ensemble piece The Tristero System is played in the main performance space (the "concert hall") as if one were attending a normal concert. At the same time, the Pynchon architecture with its computer program is started. It creates an "automatic writing" based on the material sounding on stage. The sound technician fades in – in an improvisatory fashion – this electronically-altered music via the hall's loudspeaker system. As the instruments of the ensemble form its initial sound material, the two layers mingle well, avoiding any interruption once The Tristero System is finished and the musicians leave the stage unapplauded. Now the central concern is the deliberate simulation of a continuation of this ensemble music with other means.
After a while, the cello soloist appears and attempts to counteract and ultimately defeat the electronics with his piece The Courier's Tragedy (in five acts with a prelude and a postlude). He fails, and must fail, because the cello piece follows precisely the same dramaturgy. He may be able to manipulate the sonic events, but is ultimately "killed" by them. He too leaves the stage, exhausted. After an hour the situation changes: the hall doors are opened, and from a distance the 28 loudspeakers in the four acoustic spaces announce to the audience that the music is also playing elsewhere. At the same time the continuation of The Tristero System, i.e., the sound-processed material of the "automatic writing," is turned off (it is now heard in all four acoustic spaces), and D.E.A.T.H. is played instead in the concert hall and looped indefinitely.
Because of the specific performative character of Hommage ŕ Thomas Pynchon, which is heard in five (or several) separate acoustic spaces, a CD documentation is not possible.
The performance of my works makes great demands on the performers. I would therefore like to extend my special thanks to the soloists Peter Veale and Frank Cox, for whom the solo pieces were written; the Experimental Studio, where I was able to work over the course of several years, its then director André Richard and the music computing specialist Joachim Haas; and finally Ensemble SurPlus, together with its director James Avery, for decades of support.
- Piano Works (= Mahnkopf Edition 2) (2012)
[ NEOS 11207 ]
Content: Beethoven-Kommentar / Kammerminiatur / Kammerstück / Le ręve d'ange nouveau / Prospero-Fragmente; Rhizom / 5 kleine Lakunaritäten (Ermis Theodorakis, Klavier)
Two ideas come together in Rhizom. Hommage á Glenn Gould: a sonic-pianistic and a compositional-semantic one. The genius of Glenn Gould's piano playing lies most of all in viewing the piano consistently as a “pointillistic” instrument on which a note, once struck, can no longer be manipulated because of its rapid decay. The different steps between molto legato and staccatissimo are therefore decisive for the timbres and thus the clarity of the polyphonic fabric, and consequently a blurring of sonorities through the pedal must also be avoided. Thus the (right) pedal is used very sparingly in Rhizom. At the same time, all of Glenn Gould's other pianistic achievements are incorporated into the organisational and morphological structure of my piece. The idea for Rhizom was to push the polyphony so far that the subtle differentiation of event layers involved (thirteen in this case) would lead to an internally schizophrenised simultaneity not only of different elements, but also different temporal levels with diverging event complexes. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari have suggested terming this a “rhizomatic labyrinth.” For me, complex polyphony means that completely opposing, sometimes overlapping elements and networks of connections are simultaneously – i. e. in a form that has been forced together in whatever ways – captured, via more subterranean referential contexts, in an overarching work totality without foregoing an expressivity that is in this case more “formative” and less tied to the individual meanings of the details, consisting instead of forces between heterogeneous elements. This manner of “complexist” compaction means a simultaneous collision of things that normally follow in succession. The compositional question in Rhizom was how far the material and the techniques intended for it would have to be polyphonically separated before polyphony could come about, albeit without destroying the unity of the stylistic vocabulary. In Rhizom I went so far as to give each of the thirteen layers – vectors that are temporally directed and scattered like Mikado sticks, seemingly chaotically, through the (semantic) space – not only its own morphological material, but also its own compositional technique. Thus not only the textures, but in fact the entire compositional technique is organised polyphonically. I consider this “schizothymic organicism” an expressivist reaction to the “constitution” of contemporary inwardness in an increasingly “disseminative poly-plurality.” It is ultimately up to the listener to find their own, highly individual path through the labyrinth, a path whose purpose is to lead not to the exit, but rather to themselves.
5 kleine Lakunaritäten is a small work comprising several movements. I was interested in the fractal geometry of Benoît Mandelbrot, most of all lacunar phenomena (I had already investigated this in succolarity for solo flute, and would take up the subject again in Trema for solo percussion). I decided on five movements to avoid any obvious parallels to Schönberg's op. 9. Each one represents one variety of lacunarity in accordance with fractal geometry, in the following order: succolarity, fractal dust, fractal foam, trema and finally fractal sponge.
If polyphony is taken into more and more extreme areas, this leads to an increase in complexity that lies in the musical fabric's potential for differentiation. The subtle differentiation of the polyphonic voices results in their increasing separation while maintaining harmonic control of overall events. From a certain point onwards, composing these voices creates the possibility that they, shaped very precisely and independently of what goes on around them, can also function as solo voices, and thus outside their original location of reference. Then it becomes possible to for one work to incorporate further works, as it were – with a work consisting of several works that can be performed simultaneously (as a polyphony of piece) or separately (as individual works). I call this conception of polyphony the “poly-work.” My third poly-work is the Kammerzyklus, consisting of five pieces connected in the following way.
Kammerkonzert is a piece for obbligato piano and chamber ensemble, the latter consisting of three woodwind and three string instruments – a chamber piano concerto, one could say. The piano part contains a roughly one-minute cadenza that can be performed separately, in which case it bears the title Kammerminiatur. This piece contains, highly compressed, the entire musical substance of Kammerstück, which in turn forms the rest of the solo piano part (leaving out the cadenza) and can likewise be performed outside of the cycle (with slight agogical modifications). The music of the ensemble's two halves – the woodwind with alto/bass flute, oboe d'amore/cor anglais and bassethorn/bass clarinet (i. e. the lower members of their instrumental families) and the strings with viola, cello and double bass (likewise the lower members) – was also used to form separate works, Bläsertrio and Trio basso. Here the pitch material and rhythms of the ensemble voices were taken in their complete form (without the gap of the solo cadenze), while all other parameters (in particular articulation, dynamics, tempo and timbre). As far as the expressive characteristics are concerned, the dark colours in the ensemble form a stark contrast to the scintillating and provocative high register of the virtuoso piano part; I was specifically aiming for this harsh irreconcilability.
One indication of the constitutive function of the number 3 in my Angelus Novus Cycle is the fact that it consists of three ensemble and three solo pieces. The latter are La vision d'ange nouveau for cello (1997/98), La terreur d'ange nouveau for flute (1997/99) and Le ręve d'ange nouveau for piano (1999). All three pieces were developed using the same compositional principles. They share three types of material that can be superficially described as “harmonic”, “melodic” and “rhythmic-motivic” respectively. Each piece is dominated by one of these types, while the other two form secondary material. In the piano piece, with the instrument's large range and pedals, the harmonic-sonic aspect is dominant, in the cello piece it is the melodic and widely arching quality, and in the flute piece it is the rhythmic-motivic-repetitive character. Because the form of each piece, as well as the intervals and parts of the rhythmic material, was constructed in the same way, I made sure to give each a particular character. The cello piece consists of up to three layers which the player, mediating back and forth, must co-ordinate polyphonically. The flute piece is torn up into smaller fragments, so to speak. The piano piece, in addition to motivic material, works with broad expanses of sound whose shaping demands particular sensitivity to sonority on the part of the player.
Upon being asked to compose a contemporary variation on the Diabelli waltz made famous by Beethoven, I decided to act in a similar manner to Beethoven – and completely ignore the original. And as Beethoven presented the “better” version of his source at the end of his ingenious cycle in the Minuetto, I decided on a recomposition of that same final Diabelli variation by Beethoven. At the same time, I planned to craft the piece in such a way that it would sound at the end of my piano concerto Prospero's Epilogue (2004). As the pitch structure in the latter is based on the most stupid of all twelve-note rows, however – the chromatic scale –, I was forced to compose my Beethoven-Kommentar with precisely this stupid and largely unusable material, which can only produce worthwhile results if used somewhat flexibly and with great expertise. Hence the work's character, in a sense both classicistic and ambiguous, is perhaps not unwelcome.
For the piano solo Prospero-Fragmente I extracted a certain number of fragments from the piano part of Prospero's Epilogue for piano and orchestra; abandoning their original order, I rearranged these into a new constellation and combined them with sections of sonorities that are meant to be interpreted very freely by the performer. As in the Shakespeare, this music is concerned with the question of forgiveness. Forgiveness is an extremely complex process, because it concerns not only the act of forgiving someone else, but also – and most importantly – being able to forgive oneself. And what does this mean at a collective level, in conflicts between peoples, nations and religious communities? What I find particularly disturbing is that one day, German culture will have to forgive itself for what it inflicted on the world through the Third Reich – a process that is only conceivable as an active one. How will that take place?
The idea of tracing an active process of this kind found its way into the formal conception of the piano concerto. Alongside a prologue and an epilogue, it consists of three parts, of which the first represents something that needs to be forgiven. Accordingly, I attempted to depict something that, while not evil, was still shameful – a musical insult of sorts. The middle section attempts to deal with this and come to terms with it in a conciliatory fashion, forgiving the offence by assimilating it into a state “beyond.” This is followed in the third part by an idyll, a nature-like serenity, a calm sequence. Its form is based on Beethoven's cycle of thirty-three Diabelli Variations, of which the thirty-third follows on directly from the Beethoven-Kommentar in the piano and leads into the epilogue.
- Angelus Novus Cycle (= Mahnkopf Edition 3) (2012)
[ NEOS 11211-12 ]
Content: Angela Nova (Monika Meier-Schmid, Sopran, und Ensemble SurPlus, Leitung: James Avery) / Angela Nova 2 (Almut Hellwig) / La vision d'ange nouveau (Franklin Cox, Violoncello) / La terreur d'ange nouveau (Carin Levine, Flöte / Le ręve d'ange nouveau (Sophie-Mayuko Vetter, Klavier) / Solitude-Sérénade (Ernest Rombout, Piccolooboe, und Ensemble SurPlus, Leitung: James Avery) / Zweite Kammersymphonie (Ensemble SurPlus, Leitung: James Avery)
The Angelus Novus Cycle consists, along with the soprano solo Angela Nova 2, of the six works that comprise the poly-work Angelus Novus, a music theatre piece based on Walter Benjamin (premiered at the Munich Biennale on 5 May 2000). The music theatre piece is based on the following text:
“There is a picture by Klee called Angelus Novus. It shows an angel that looks as if it were about to move away from something at which it is starting. It eyes are wide, its mouth is open and its wings are spread. This is what the angel of history must look like. Its face is turned towards the past. Where we see a chain of circumstances before us, it sees one giant catastrophe piling wreckage upon wreckage and throwing it at the angel's feet. It presumably wants to stay a while, wake the dead and put the pieces back together. But a storm is blowing from paradise; it has taken hold of its wings, and is so strong that the angel can no longer fold them up. This storm pushes it inexorably into the future, on which its back is turned, while the wreckage before it rises to the heavens. What we call progress is this storm.” (Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History, IX)
The aim of Angelus Novus is to liberate what was once called 'opera« from the contraints of doubling the narrative substrate of the music on the stage. The work calls for an open-minded production team willing to become the author of a stage language, so to speak, that combines with the music. Angelus Novus is non-narrative. That is to say, there is no “plot” underlying the temporal progression of the musial form. Instead, the form should be understood as a sequence of specific aspects that attempt to come to terms artistically with the subject matter of Benjamin's Angelus Novus text. The realization of this form follows the score, which is fixed for all performances. As this music does not follow a “plot”, however, but rather thematic “kernels”, the production, both in its smaller parts and for the overall form, can nonetheless be narrative. This “narration« would have to be invented from scratch, however. The present CD contains the works as they sound separately, i.e. without a stage or stage sounds.
As the number three is constitutive for the cycle at many levels, there are three ensemble pieces alongside three solo pieces. Angela Nova for solo soprano and ensemble is not, one should note, a setting of the Benjamin text. It serves as the basis for a structural reading that progresses in five parts: I: the consonants are used to form chains of phonemes; II: the vowels are used to form chains; III: the phonetic elements of the individual words are merged to form “lumps” of phonemes; IV: retrograde reading of the text; V: the punctuation marks in the text are translated in to “mini-dramas”.
The “themes” of the five sections are five emotional states fundamental to human existence; the singer follows their respective “emotionality” in her interpretation and vocal technique – a highly expressive, thoroughly “anthropological” music. Section I: The “theme” is fear, loneliness, inability to express oneself, emptiness, uncertainty, primal state, embryonality. The music comes out of nowhere – literally, by beginning with quiet, unpitched sounds, and metaphorically, in the sense that the voice must first struggle to attain the ability to speak and sing. The music thus develops from a state of vocal inability. Section II: The “theme” is joy, openness, free singing, large breaths. Joy means openness, forgetting time, extroversion, singing everything out purely, an enjoyment of presence. Musically, it consists of self-sufficient vocalises. Section III: The “theme” is hope; this means the emerging of shapes out of shapelessness, developments beginning only slowly, but with no recognisable goal, let alone any reaching thereof. The music consists of mini-developments in which the initial “blurrings” disappear. It is important here to distinguish between the different degrees of clarity (voiced/unvoiced, fricative/approximant/vowel etc.). Section IV: The “theme” is sorrow/pain. The music tends towards descending lines; the energy fades, both in the smaller units and the overall development. The music shifts to songlessness, tending towards suffocation (almost up to one point reminiscent of section I). Section V: The “theme” is despair, catastrophe, destruction. The music consists of a series of “mini-dramas”: introverted, gradually fading ones and extremely extroverted, in the end hysterical ones. The ensemble consists of four violins, piano, guitar and harp. Angela Nova 2 is the solo version of Angela Nova (with a slightly altered ending).
Zweite Kammersymphonie (a chamber orchester of 16 soloists) is based on the following compositional principles: 1. a superimposition of three formal processes taken from historical works: the instrumentation/division into instrumental groups is the retrograde of that in Carceri d'Invenzione I by Brian Ferneyhough (though the instrumentation of the trigger impulses follows the original order); the morphological material – consisting of 19 elements – follows Schönbergs First Chamber Symphony; division of movements, tempo structure and character of movements follow my own Kammersymphonie: I – flowing, linear, introductory; II – block-like, rhythmic; III – escalation towards a climax; IV – reduction of intensity, then “Grande Adagio”; V – tumult, complexity; VI – “reflection”, epilogue. 2. It is decisive that the work thematicises the relationship between presence and absence on three levels. “Absence” is produced through sudden reduction (in the first movements through actually audible rhythmic impulses, notated in the lower staves in the first four movements) – in three different ways: sudden pppp (extremely quiet), either in one instrumental group or for the entire orchestra; sudden silence of all instruments in a group except for the main instrument; sudden halting of rhythmic activity with the sequence of sustained notes. As in all my chamber symphonies, I strove to achieve the greatest possible symphonic drama and multi-perspectivity.
Solitude-Sérénade is the ensemble version of the piccolo solo Solitude-Nocturne (1992/93), which is here surrounded in a harmonic shell. Two literary sources come together here: firstly, the psychoanalytical-anthropological view of Lou Andreas-Salomé on eroticism (“…and that two can only be one if they remain two”), and secondly, an aphorism on happiness from Adorno's Minima Moralia that describes the state of happiness as including the forgetting of time, both the moment and the act of coming in and finding out, meaning that happiness can only be consciously experienced as a grateful memory. The music, composed with strict eighth-tone melodic material and a small selection of multiphonics, attempts to trace this temporal progression, which is intended to arrive at a form of “forgetfulness of time” in the middle: linear, “organic”, non-conflicting.
La vision d'ange nouveau for cello, La terreur d'ange nouveau for flute, and Le ręve d'ange nouveau for piano: these three pieces were all developed using the same compositional principles. They share three types of material that can superficially be described as harmonic, melodic and rhythmic-motivic. One type predominates in each piece, while the two others form secondary material. The piece composed for the piano, with its large range and pedals, is dominated by the harmonic-sonorous aspect, the cello piece by the melodic and widely-spread aspect, and the flute piece by the rhythmic-motivic-repetitive aspect. Because the formal, intervallic and (partly) rhythmic structures in all three pieces were developed in the same way, I made sure to give each piece a special character. The cello piece consists of up to three layers which the player, mediating between them, must co-ordinate polyphonically. The flute piece is “torn up” into smaller fragments. The piano piece, alongside motivic material, works with large-scale static textures that require a particular sensitivity to sonority on the part of the player. The three works follow three temporal types: the flute piece, with its nervous and hectic manner, relates to the present. The piano piece – dream-like, alogical, anamnestic, permutative – awakens memories and concerns the past. The cello piece, with its drawn-out cantilenas, looks to the future. In a certain sense, these three temporal types also apply to the ensemble pieces. Zweite Kammersymphonie concerns the past, a view on the complex civilisation of the 20th century; Angela Nova attempts to ask what the human being is today; and Solitude-Sérérade approaches a messianic perspective of a state beyond our irrational and antagonistic world.
- Hommage ŕ György Kurtág (= Mahnkopf Edition, Vol. 4) (2013)
[ NEOS 11307 ]
Content: Hommage ŕ György Kurtág (Jürgen Ruck, Österreichisches Ensemble für neue Musik, Johannes Kalitzke, Conductor); Kurtág-Duo (Elena Cŕsoli and Jürgen Ruck)
In accordance with the three temporal modes, one can divide artists into three types. The first lives in remembrance of what has been and what has passed, usually mourning what has been lost; the second lives in expectation of a possible, “better” future, seeking to anticipate or help prepare for it through his work; the third lives in the here and now and cannot really understand the other two. I must admit that I do not belong to any one type alone; I am in two, perhaps even three minds as an artist. In contrast to the title of a late work – La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura – by Luigi Nono, however, whom I greatly revere, I abandoned the endeavor to reach a “synthesis” of these three attitudes in my work some time ago. Up until Angel Novus, the music theater work I composed at the Dantesque midpoint in my life, i.e., in my mid-30s, I had felt it necessary to do justice to all facets of my artistic existence – albeit in highly individualized ways – in every composition. I was interested in a consistent style referred to – hastily, and partly provoked by my own statements – as “complexist,” though I had always viewed my complexist style as one element of what, following on from Beethoven, whom I consider the greatest composer of all, could be termed multi-perspectivity: the ability to compose a Fifth Symphony and a Sixth Symphony in tandem.
After Angelus Novus, I reached a fork in my path. I felt the need to work separately through the different expressive areas I had previously sought to combine, in the form of cycles specifically conceived for this purpose, in order to gather the necessary experience so that, one day, my musical language would once again be able to reach some form of (higher) synthesis. Among these is my Kurtág Cycle, the first and essentially complete one.
Kurtág represents this sad, mourning, remembering, “nostalgic” consciousness in relation to past culture. The miniaturization and concentration of material is reminiscent of Webern, while his roots in folk culture call Janáček to mind. He writes – using conservative means – a music whose conservative nature is experienced as non-conservative; no other composer achieved this. He is a miracle in the midst of modernity. It was in early 1998 that I recognized Kurtág's central importance for my work. I was speaking to my friend Bernd Asmus – who went on to publish an instructive analysis of Kurtág's music in issue 13 of Musik & Ästhetik – and the conversation came around to the subject of Kurtág's music; I told him that it had lately become very important to me because it stood like no other for the remembrance of the culture of great music that had essentially been destroyed, and thus for the culture of humanism, because it was a non-conservative music created with conservative means, and hence a paradigmatic expression of that lost era. A few days later I learned that Kurtág had been awarded the Siemens prize and I was also to receive a grant. This and the encounter in Munich – both his joint performance with his wife of his own music and Bach's and the awards ceremony itself – made a lasting impression on me. After returning to Rome, where I was living in the Villa Massimo, I had a vision of a very long piece that would be both melodic and harmonic, modest and unspectacular. This reawakened different old ideas: to write a piece over an hour long, and to write a guitar concerto for Jürgen Ruck, something we had agreed on some time ago. The fact that the very work by Kurtág that had been most important to me was a "guitar concerto," in fact one that Ruck had premiered, suited the situation wonderfully.
At the end of 2000 I composed the Kurtág-Duo, after which I moved on to the other parts of this “poly-work,” which reached their provisional completion in summer 2001. The Kurtág-Duo was premiered on 12 July 2002 by Elena Casoli and Jürgen Ruck in Darmstadt, Hommage ŕ György Kurtág was given its first performance by the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra of the SWR, conducted by Johannes Debus and with Jürgen Ruck as the soloist, Todesmusik II was premiered on 27 August 2003 in Salzburg by the Austrian New Music Ensemble, conducted by Johannes Kalitzke, with the premiere of Hommage ŕ Mark André by Jan Rokyta in the same concert. Kurtág-Cantus I (composed in 2005) was premiered on 19 December 2006 in Berlin by Jörg Widmann. The cycle consists of nine works:
Hommage ŕ György Kurtág for guitar and ensemble [65'],
Kurtág-Duo for 2 guitars [12'],
Todesmusik I for 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, cimbalom and percussion [11'],
Todesmusik II for 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, cimbalom and 2 percussionists [11'],
Hommage ŕ Mark André for cimbalom [8'],
Kurtág-Cantus I-IV for clarinet in A; piccolo; violin; horn [12'].
The Kurtág-Duo feeds off a dichotomy of expression, even language, distributed between a guitar with a quartertone tuning, playing virtusoic, aggressive and highly gestural music, and a guitar with six identical, but microtonally-displaced strings, which enable the production of eighth-, sixth-, twelfth-tones and other divisions within a narrow range – its character is melodic, quiet, delicate and introverted, almost absent-minded and lost. Five sections of the first type and eight of the second alternate without any transitions.
The centerpiece, Hommage ŕ György Kurtág, is a homage to Kurtag's Grabstein für Stephan (for guitar and orchestra) and comprises the following layers:
– 13 guitar inserts corresponding to the sections of the Kurtág-Duo (with one change of order);
– 13 brass interjections, accompanied by bass drum and cimbalom;
– 5 cantilenas, connected freely in canon and divided into two sections, for piccolo flute, piccolo oboe, E flat clarinet, horn and violin; these use a reordered version of the melodic material of my piccolo oboe piece Solitude-Nocturne (1992/93);
– 6 blocks containing restless percussion sounds, which act as an accompaniment to passages of “nothingness” as composed silence;
– 3 + 13 harmonic fields with arpeggios by the harmonium, harp, celesta and cimbalom;
– 3 passages with sustained brass chords;
– 4 passages in which the “death rhythm" sounds;
– large-scale harmonic processes carried by the (seven) string instruments (without violins).
These layers of events are distributed within a non-dramatic overall dramaturgy according to idiosyncratic proportions (distorted Golden Sections [i.e., no longer golden]), leading to a non-developmental constellation in which length, stamina, slowness, but also intensity, a solid harmonic foundation and insistence are central.
The remaining eight pieces are derived from the concerto. The Kurtág-Duo – which now has two guitarists sitting mutely opposite each other – consists of the solo material from the Hommage. The four Cantus pieces are free rearrangements of the corresponding cantilenas. Todesmusik I combines the interjections and sustained passages of the brass with the “nothingness” material in the percussion; Todesmusik II is a variation of this in which a second percussionist independently plays the death rhythm quietly and continuously. Finally, Hommage ŕ Mark André is an extract from Todesmusik; this time the sections are connected by sustained resonances; this piece was intended as a little gift for a true composer friend whose wild cimbalom outbursts have imprinted themselves deeply upon my memory.
- Luka Juhart: Deconstructing Accordion (2014)
[ NEOS 11407 ]
Content: deconstructing accordion (Luka Juhart)
- void (= Mahnkopf Edition, Vol. 5) (2014)
[ NEOS 11417 ]
Content: humanized void (Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Roland Kluttig, Conductor); void – kol ischa asirit (Radiosymphonieorchester des Süddeutschen Rundfunks, Rupert Huber, Conductor); void – mal d'archive (Experimentalstudio des SWR)