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Kurtág on Stage? Between Pure Music and Latent Musical Theatre
In July 1985, Kurtág interrupted his work on a piano concerto, which he had started in 1980, in order to give a master class at the Bartók Seminar in Szombathely. At the same time he began to work on Kafka Fragments op 24. This break is visible in the general rest of the Kafka Fragment No. 17 and in its title, beneath which we read: “Ígéret Kocsis Zoltánnak: lesz zongoraverseny.” 1 From the perspective of the author and the addressee Zoltán Kocsis is this sentence, which in contrast to other annotations is not translated into the score‟s primary language German, in their common mother tongue, from the perspective of the recipients, who don‟t speak this language, it is in the secret language Hungarian. In English it would read: “Promise to Zoltán Kocsis: there will be a piano concerto.” With reference to this history of the Kafka Fragments Alan E. Williams speaks of them as “forbidden fruit”.2 Following the suggestion by Williams, we can find a further violation of a ban. He referred to an interview, which István Balázs has led with singer Adrienne Csengery in 1985. In this interview, Balázs assumes a latent, or as he puts it, “repressed” theatricality of the music of Kurtág. Csengery first points out that she and Kurtág have never spoken about this issue and that Kurtág was not interested in the stage at all. In the course of the interview, however, she concedes that Kurtág's music is latently theatrical and even goes so far to speak of “camouflaged operas”. She confirms Kurtág's interest in opera, even in writing an opera. On the other hand, she speaks explicitly of the prohibition of theatrical means: At the rehearsals of op. 17 Kurtág had regarded all kinds of theatrical and gestural means as “forbidden”, everything had to be expressed through the voice alone. In "Kafka Fragments", however, Kurtág explicitly calls for the use of gestures, facial expressions and - graphically notated in fragment no. 12 in the third part of the work3 even proxemics.
Kurtág György: Kafka-Fragmente für Sopran und Violine, Op. 24, Editio Musica Budapest, 1992, p. 18 Williams, Alan E.: Music Theatre and Presence in Some Works of György Kurtág, in: Studia Musicologica Scientiorum Hungaricae 43/3-4 (2002), pp. 359-370, here: p. 366 3 Kurtág: Kafka-Fragmente, 1992, S. 44-51
identity layers figured as doubles are staged both musically as different pitches of 4 5 Williams: 2002. but at the same time has to walk around the singer on the stage to access his new location left-hand of the singer. in: Fischer-Lichte.Figure 1: Kurtág: Kafka Fragments. (ed. Aufl. 143 2 .It has to be remembered once again that the "Kafka Fragments" represent a multi-layered.e. wait there for the violinist. 12: positions The graphic instruction there can be read as follows: set up two music stands left and right of the singer. with the change between Schumann‟s famous two characters. This change of the violin and the site coincides. About halfway through the piece the violinist has not only to replace violin II with scordatura with violin I in normal pitch. i. in the specified pitch different to the normal one. No. Erika et al. violin I must be already on site 2 throughout the first part of the piece and. But this proxemic direction to change violin and to walk across the stage is not only the visual representation of the two characters. The violin with the scordatura in contrast has to be laid down by the violinist in the middle of the piece in order to be able to take up the other violin and to continue playing on her. 129146.): Inszenierung von Authentizität (= Theatralität Band 1). 367 Cf.. Part I. Zenck. Tübingen und Basel 2007. übera. the laying down of the first played violin and the picking up of the second it arises a kind of mini-drama about latency and activation. p.5 Latency and activation. pp. The violinist stands initially at right-hand side of the singer from the position of the audience and plays the violin II with scordatura. Martin: Inszenierung von Authentizität in den Kafka-Fragmenten von György Kurtág nebst einem Prolegomeneon zu einer Theorie der Authentizität im musikalischen Kunstwerk. as Williams notes. complex autobiographical production including the game with doubles. the objectiveobserving Eusebius and the subjective-emotional Florestan. Then of course there is no possibility to retune the violin during the piece.4 but with the presentation of the waiting violin. as Williams observed. so to speak. 142. 2. here: pp.
Thus whereas in the Troussova cycle Kurtág refused all theatrical gesture. Part I. 366 3 . it would be wrong to see a simple reversal in this. she sings it before on the three notes b-flat'. as we must emphasize. a' and g-sharp'. Figure 2: Kurtág: Kafka Fragments. in order not to create the wrong impression that all or even most of the fragments would contain similar instructions. In this way the theatrical comes to the fore in the "Kafka Fragments" in places. Restless Since the dynamic indication of this passage is forte with crescendo. The former clearly dominates overall. here Kurtág allows only the theatrical gesture. but even for the 4th fragment Williams can only maintain his reversal hypothesis at the expense of a philological mistake: It is not true that the singer only breathes the word “restless” at the end of the piece. Nevertheless.the instrument and proxemic-theatrically as change of the instrument and relocation of the musician. when he writes regarding the fourth fragment in the first part: The only aural contribution the singer makes is the final „breathed‟ ruhelos. requiring that everything should be expressed through the voice alone. p. there is no reason to believe that the singing here should be inaudible. No.6 Of course Kurtág doesn‟t prohibit the musical and aural in the Kafka Fragments instead of the gestural-visual. as it seems to be the case with Williams.7 It thus seems plausible to me that the ban is not simply 6 Williams: 2002. 4.
who too was suffering from aphasia after an open heart surgery. But already Beckett's English text “What is the word”. New York. Chaikin's theatre work was from the start marked by illness and his dealing with it. director and author. Georgia. as a consequence of which he then suffered from partial aphasia. 2002 Happy Days. Los Angeles. 8 Cf. the result of a rheumatic fever at the age of 6. as Beckett could not recall having written it. but that the original ban on the theatrical remains in force. 30a with the Hungarian title “Siklós István tolmácsolásában Beckett Sámuel üzeni Monyók Ildikóval:” [Samuel Beckett sends a message through Ildikó Monyók in István Siklós's translation] goes far beyond such transgressions in relation to the theatrical. who first was a member of “The Living Theatre” until he founded his own “Open Theatre” in 1963. Due to a chronic and ultimately fatal cardiac disease. Too. 1994 Waiting for Godot. was written for an actor. The permeability and keeping open of the border between work 7 Cf. Taper. Op. 7 theatres. During his third open heart surgery in 1984 he suffered a stroke. New York. antithetical one. which starts with the fact that it was written for an actress. but is violated several times. on which the Hungarian translation is based. The English text again goes back to the French text “Comment dire” written by Beckett after a hospital stay due to an unspecified illness with aphasia-like symptoms. 2000 Texts for Nothing. whose name is mentioned in the title. Laura: 'What Is the Word': Beckett´s Aphasic Modernism.repealed and replaced by a new. in: Journal of Beckett Studies. who reading "Comment dire" thought of the actor Joseph Chaikin. It was Ruby Cohn. Atlanta. his physical vulnerability and frailty. It is obvious that despite the indication “senza voce” something should be expressed here by the (failing) voice. New York 4 .with Bill Irwin. The Joseph Papp Public Theater. 1995 Endgame. 1990 Waiting for Godot. Texts for Nothing . Atlanta. Kurtág: Kafka-Fragmente. Salisbury. p. Even after the disbanding of the Open Theatre Chaikin staged pieces by Beckett 9 and in 1981 he along with Steven Kent compiled and recited a production with passages from Beckett's prose work entitled “Texts for Nothing” with the permission of the author. In addition the “restless” that is to breathe senza voce in the last bar is notated as Sprechstimme in three eighths with decreasing pitch.8 Joseph Chaikin was an American actor. Number 1-2 (2008). Manhattan Theatre Club. 7 theatres. Vol. But she had to send Beckett a copy of the French text. and suggested that Beckett should write an English version for him. 17. 1992. 4. Atlanta. 78-12. The Cherry Lane. which he disbanded 10 years later. 7 theatres. pp. here: p. In 1969 he played the role of Hamm in a production of “Endgame”. 79 9 1979 Endgame.
See under “bokatörés” on: http://gportal. She played herself. we as persons are also present and the performance is a testimony of ourselves. but also of his artistic practice. In general. I don‟t set translations to music. Not until 1999 she had been able to talk coherently and fluently in a conversation again.hu/gindex.Monyók then describes 11 more beneficent effects of drugs by the company in question and all this under the heading “ankle fracture”. acting promises to represent a dynamic expression of the intense life.the above facts for the accident and the illness seem to be credible to me. She had a car accident after-effects of which remained until today. when it comes to Chaikin's recitation of “What is the Word”. but in this case I immediately started working. where she had to stutter. Most fascinating for me were her exciting breaks. where he writes: “Acting is a demonstration of the self with or without disguise. We may also speak of such an aphasic recitation in the case of Ildikó Monyók. But since this “miracle” is by no means the focus of the text and especially its pragmatic intention .php?pg = 19895089. but only say “yes” and “no”. 12 This tension rests in Monyók's lecture will be the starting point for the composition of Opus 30a. Each role. in which she sustained an injury of her left brain. as Kurtág reports.and life is in the case of Chaikin an important part not only of his view of acting and directing. 76.10 In this sense. each performance changes us as persons. p. It is a way of making testimony to what we have witnessed [. we can´t determine. In striking contrast to this drama of unbearable 10 Both can be understood reading his book: The Presence of the Actor (1972). Programmbuch der Salzburger Festspiele. And after that accident. She stated that after the accident she could not speak coherently.. but in no relation with the accident of 1982 . each work.): Ligeti und Kurtág in Salzburg. she fell silent for seven years. even several times – she in fact got herself back on stage. where in the first eight bars there are long pauses between words or syllables. without Ildikó Monyók. I came in contact with her and later she sang two of my songs for voice for me. Residenz: Salzburg 1993. for whom Kurtág has not only written his opus 30a. 12 Dibelius. where aphasic performance ends and acting begins. And a few days later I received the Beckett-text What is the Word in Hungarian translation. She had however been able to sing. after seven years of silence.” (p. accessed on 12 September 2009. when we saw her for the first time in an avant-garde piece. Because we live on a level drastically reduced from what we can imagine.she walked through the fire barefoot. She was fantastic.11 Even before that final breakthrough. The whole piece is also to perform at an extremely slow pace. Finally with the utmost energy she gathered all her willpower and using some Eastern meditation practices . 5 . new edition: Theatre Communications Group: New York 1991. In April 1982 Ildiko Monyók suffered an accident.]” (p. Ulrich (Hg. which in fact is discussed briefly.. but whose name he has integrated in the title of the work. she started to learn to speak again: The whole Beckett-piece would be unthinkable without the reciter. 6) 11 This regaining of the ability to speak Monyók describes in a promotional text for a food product of controversial efficacy as a miracle that had occurred several months after taking the product during a conversation with the inventor and distributor. 2) and: “When we as actors are performing.
where I can play it. Finally. I wrote it for her life as a portrait. The dramaturgy of unbearable waiting is joined by the dramaturgy of support followed by the piano part. that is simply nothing […]. that Monyók's silence was not due to the injury caused by the accident. we might say.13 In addition to the fact that the somatic disease is reinterpreted into a psychic one. Idéale Audience International: Paris 2006 (= Juxtaposition 6). (From 42:12). Now is the most important thing. 6 . Then she returned and she stuttered. who conducted the world premiere of opus 30b. 14 In the documentary on Kurtág “The Matchstick Man” from minute 44:05. then Kurtág appears in the role of the man. here: p. It almost seems as if he had wanted to rush to help Monyók to put right what somebody else had done wrong to her. I´m no more pianist. I wanted to have a piece. First we have after Monyók's accident seven years of silence. he appears as the better director.14 13 The letter is in the Kurtág Collection of the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel.waiting is the dramatic acceleration of Kurtág's report on the genesis of the work. If Monyók was not by chance made silent due to an injury because of an accident. but to the brutality of a director afterwards. 38. in an undated letter to Claudio Abbado. who atones for this guilt by seeking to compensate for it. in: Mitteilungen der Paul Sacher Stiftung 13 (2000). really. and I can play it with one finger almost of all time. It´s not the same to stutter in life and not the same to do it convincingly in singing. She claims that for Kurtág nothing is impossible and that after three years he wrote her a Beckettpiece. at least this is suggested by Kurtág‟s statement in the documentary “The Matchstick Man”: She is allways telling that she lost her possibility of speaking for seven years. Overall the piece gets an almost ritual character through the acts of atonement and compensation. The corresponding passage with Kurtág„s view of the real cause of Monyók„s silence is cited by Kunkel. 38-43. Monyók herself says in the documentary that after the accident she felt the wish in her heart that Bartók should write something for her and Kurtág too. Peter Eötvös: The Seventh Door. he writes opus 30a in just three days (13 to 15 March 1990). The documentary is available on DVD: György Kurtág: The Matchstick Man. Two documentary films by Judit Kele. you understand. then Kurtág sees her on the stage by chance. Michael: “Das Artikulierte geht verloren” Eine Beckett-Lektüre von György Kurtág. pp. my transcription. But it has also ritual character as a kind of rite of passage for Ildikó Monyók. Kurtág writes. the question of guilt is raised for the first time and with it the question of atonement. “later” she sings two pieces of him and “a few days later” he accidentally discovers Sipos's translation of Beckett's text. that was like a kabuki training [Monyók laughes out loud here]. but rather because of the – independently of his intentions – culpable behaviour of a man. She is an actress and not a singer. For to learn this piece she had a very hard working to learn to be herself in art.
conduct “towards the hall”. on the top of which. But most of the musicians are placed in the audience. This conductor. on the other hand. The intimacy of the dramatic events that are going on in Opus 30a between the reciter and the pianist is on the one hand preserved on the stage of Opus 30b. there is the pianist pointing towards the hall. representing the 7 . the fact that conducting is always a performance for the audience as well.e. is placed together with the pianist on the podium.an observer of the ritual presented on the stage. until the reciter has to come in. On the one hand. Ildikó Monyók or the actress embodying her. in which op. where there is a separate line for him between those for the drums and the strings.. on the other hand it is extended to a triangle by the conductor. which is indicated by the instruction that he should take a position. The reciter of Op. but the conductor acts thus towards the audience as well. If the pianist in bar aaa (after Kurtág‟s unusual bar numbering method in this work) counts the notes he strikes. This has indeed also quite functional reasons because most of the instrumentalists and the choir are positioned in the hall. In this way special emphasis is placed on the theatrical aspect of conducting. stages the latter in the truest sense of the word. as Kurtág indicates. who has to perform with his back to the audience. however. By this arrangement a scene takes place on the stage. at the two sides and the rear. in which it is prescribed with the help of numbers what he has to beat. where the reciter and the pianist can see him. has not only to fulfil his function. Op. i. which Kurtág calls “Scène”. he embodies a role for the audience. He should. it seems as if he helped her not to miss her entry. He therefore plays the role of an auxiliary conductor and he plays this role effectively in the first place for the audience. Together with the reciter and the pianist he builds a triangle on stage. he becomes an actor in the broadest sense of the word. 30a. 30b. The fact that the conductor in this case is seen as a kind of actor is reflected in the score itself. These “actors” of op. the conductor becomes here a performer of a “voice” in the same way as the other musicians. because there is a conductor whose job it would be to bring in the reciter. 30a is integrated as whole. 30a are joined on this stage by the conductor and four instrumentalists. since the mimic interaction of reciter and pianist remains partly hidden from the audience. “if possible at a height” so that the audience gets included by the music . but has a role to play as well.After highly emotional rehearsal excerpts Kurtág speaks about the breaks as the critical element of the piece for the self finding of Monyók on stage as a stuttering artist.
a theatre of voices and a theatre of emotions. who has to take up position in the middle of the hall. where the latter has to be produced with the means of the first. gestures and movement on stage would get involved. Assuming the role of a concert choir. at least if the director is reading the score. but a set of instructions can be found in the score which read like the secondary text of a play and generate beginnings of elementary roles. These instructions create two levels of theatricality. movements. childlike” and for alto and baritone “aggressive”. because opus 30b it is not an opera. Martin: Beckett after Kurtág. Even in bar u it says for the chorus “quietly telling.musical and spatial expansion of the work on the stage. in bar s the tenor is requested to sound “wie ein Froschen-„Quak‟ [sic!]” “like a frogs-„croak‟ [sic!]”. Towards a Theory of Theatricality of a Non-theatrical Music. This task falls mainly to the choir. Such almost crude humour can be found already at the beginning.e. The members of this choir are not specifically instructed to act as actors. it is unclear whether the theater of the emotions has to be generated only by the voices or whether facial and gestural devices are permitted. then the instructions aiming at emotions focus on the voices. to embody roles with the help of facial expressions. the frog imitation brings in a comic element. 8 . 420). The volume ranges from “barely audible whispers” to “half-whispered” to “louder and louder” to “screeching”. on the other hand. Even more differentiated is the field of quality which includes singing. speaking”. but between them a range of gradations. It is no coincidence that Martin Zenck just at the end of an essay about Opus 30b came to distinguish between two kinds of music drama. but a latently dramatic musical work.15 Requested from the choir members‟ voices there are not only extremes of volume and quality. i. But the “dramatic” events do not remain confined to the stage. Thus. facial expressions. but also the imitation of animal sounds. for the soprano “astonished. gestures. as if the tenor made fun of the others. the various voices represent here obviously different emotional states. dolce” singing of the reciter in bars w and x is answered 15 In fact. With the disappearance of “folly” from the text the funny interjections of the choir also disappear from the piece. various types of speech. which he calls “latent theatre” and “explicit theatre”. At this point he “croaks” “what” to the almost soundless “folly from all this”. when the “very low” and stretched “spoken” “fooo-[a]-lly” of the bass is answered by the other voices “giggling” and “bleating” (bar d). the “legato. they latently embody different roles. p. the three actors on the stage are included by instrumentalists in a similar manner as the audience in the hall. in the previous two bars the instructions for “what is the word” are for the bass “like a verdict”. 411-420. (See: Zenck. in: Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungarica 43 (2002). but are expanded into the hall. On the one hand. but is mainly in the range of the quiet. here p. Precisely this openness is probably the decisive factor. At the same time. but if we imagine the choir as an opera chorus.
it is now closed. they now approach silence. But the chorus interacts not only with the reciter and the individual voices of the choir not only interact with each other. Therefore op. 30 is not to be considered as a break with the aesthetics of transgression of the ban on the theatrical. we can actually say: Kurtág has arrived on the stage. After all that Kunkel's remark of Kurtág's “realization of his long-suppressed plans for a music theatre piece”16 in op. The majority of theatrical elements come from within. 109-127. which is done by the reciter alone. Michael: „… folly for t[w]o …”: Samuel Beckett´s What is the word and György Kurtág´s mi is a szó Opus 30. the choir says nothing in bar nnn and sings at the same time as “musically” as never before. the repetitions of known musical characters and emotional states before and the laid-back singing of the end the “arioso” of the Omaggio a Bartók appears like an island. in: Contemporary Music Review. Vol. but the choir also interacts with the music. However. 123 9 . Between the half-whispered parts. The choir‟s part ends before the final sequence of the text. but as their consistent development. The choir has no text to sing. which only partly comes from the outside through the dedicatee and protagonist of the piece.30b doesn‟t seem exaggerated. the instruction reads: “bocca chiusa. pp. Part 2 + 3 (2001). Paradoxically.by the chorus “almost in a flat voice”. from the latent theatricality of the music itself. 20. His being shocked at the end of bar f is to be understood as a playful response to the preceding ff of the brass and the sff of the piano. have the vocal productions of the choir until now been more or less clearly audible. Have it up to now always been different ways of opening the mouth. this is a theatricality. which follows the “folly for to” prosaically spoken by the soprano. here: p. in measure z the two finally meet in the “doloroso” of “what is the word”. 16 Kunkel. quasi niente”. This island is initially characterized by silence. In this sense.
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