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.
Pompous, clear-cut, irritating, frightening, oppressive, siege mentality, bunker atmosphere, reinforced concrete, hard, sharp – the aesthetics of Hitler and Stalin. Those were my associations when I listened to Bela Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra (BB 123, SZ. 116) for the first time, more than two years ago. A brutal piece, a fascinating piece, one that I have grown fond of over time.
April 2015: I am at the Opéra Bastille in Paris and the final curtain on Antonin Dvorak’s opera “Rusalka”, Op. 114 has just fallen. An exhilarating experience. I remember I left the opera in a kind of trance, perpetuated at least for some time by a glass of wine at the opera restaurant. The magnitude of the performance, directed by Robert Carsen and conducted by Jakub Hrusa, probably was the main reason why I never resolved myself to write a post about it even though I had one scheduled for autumn 2015. I was worried that the unique impression of music, the acting and the stage design would dwarf anything I would feel when listening to a mere recording and prevent me from rendering justice to Dvorak’s work (the casting is available here).
Bela Bartok is a challenge. His music – I love it. But to write about it… It took me a long time to warm up to his language, but once I had summoned the courage to explore his works in detail, I was greatly rewarded. The String Quartets recorded by the Emerson String Quartet – what a fascinating universe! Bartok is unique in his style and perhaps in his ambitions as a composer. Transcending the principles of the Vienna classics era, blending the teachings of the past, serialism* included, with folk music elements and composing principles from different ethnic backgrounds, forging thus a contemporary music style that compares to no other – how daring! Chapeau.