Minimalist Art for Piano, Viola and Clarinet

combo-kurtag-schumann final
From Schumann to Kurtag. © Charles Thibo

It took a minute until I understood: R. Sch. Hommage à R. Sch. Robert Schumann. It was late at night, I was tired and my last intellectual effort of the day dealt with the 10th anniversary of the Japanese music festival Viola Space in 2002. One of the pieces performed there was György “Hommage à R. Sch.”, composed in 1990 for clarinet, viola and piano, Op.15/d. Schumann was an avid reader of Romantic books, like those written by the German novelists Jean Paul and E. T. A. Richter. Kurtag, a contemporary Hungarian composer, wrote this piece as a reverence to Schumann, the fictive persons Eusebius, Florestan and Master Raro, two of them being used by Schumann as pen names, and the Kapellmeister Kreisler that gave Schumann’s “Kreisleriana” its name.

Don’t expect anything Romantic however. The recording compiled by the organizer of the festival, Nobuko Imai, features Ichiro Nodaira (piano), Yuji Murai (clarinet) and Junji Suganuma (viol) and the music is minimalist. Some eleven minutes of delicate music, reflective, expressive, mysterious. “Every note counts”, Paul Griffiths, the music critic of the “Times”, writes about Kurtag’s music. “A direct and tense expression resolves in one stroke all the hurdles of musical communication that appear unscalable.”

The piece has six section: 1) The bizarre pirouets of Kapellmeisters Johannes Kreisler, 2) Eusebius: The Limited Circle, 3) Florestan: … and again my lips are itching painfully…, 4) Felho Valek, Mar Sut a Nap…, 5) During the night and finally 6) Departing (Master Raro discovers Guillaume de Machaut). make no mistake, you need to be familiar with Schumann’s essays on music and Hoffmann’s satirical novel “The Life and Opinions of Tomcat Murr” to understand the names of the sections, but no knowledge of that kind is needed to enjoy Kurtag’s music.

As so often with contemporary classical music, you need to listen and to listen again, and then you need to let your mind drift freely. The ideas you associate to the music are your interpretation and neither Kurtag nor Schumann would contradict you. Let yourself be stimulated, become part of the creative process – that is what contemporary classical music is about. For example the minimalist approach of the composer gave me the idea to have the portraits of Schumann and Kurtag juxtaposed, with just the contours and marking features of their faces visible. Reduction to the essence of expression.

Kurtag made a first draft of this work in the 1970s. It includes references to different works by Kurtag himself, Schumann and Machaut, music from the late 20th century, the 19th century, and the Middle Ages. Machaut was not only a composer but also a poet, while Schuman was a composer, editor and music critic. The interdependence of music and literature, both food for thought and products of human creativity, is a phenomenon that fascinates me again and again. Otherwise this blog would make no sense.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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