The text of Beckett and the music of Kurtág were born from the anxiety over the incapability of expression. Its source is the artists' feeling of helplessness in face of a reality that one is no longer able to comprehend, a feeling common since the Romantic era. With What is the Word Kurtág created a new attitude toward musical composition, and through these structural novelties gave a new dimension to this modernist anxiety as well. Kurtág creates a process, which instead of playing with the listener's expectation, is based on fantasy and meaningful association. Kurtág realized a new concept of motivic connection. In this piece, motivic connection manifests itself less in a concrete musical-structural aspect than in the connection among attitudes, gestures, theatrical motions and so on. This network of connections, the associations that emerge out of the infinite possibilities, and the emotions they evoke become part of a highly individual game of both the composer and the listener. This musical-structural technique finds its reflection in the dramatic design. Parallel to the playing out of distress over loneliness and the incapacity to speak, another play takes place: the singer explores her many voices and the piece explores associations. Thus the incapability to speak becomes the protective shell within which one explores, through fantasy, the mystery and the beauty of existence.
The story of Bartók’s pantomime is usually understood as the clash between the cold-blooded brutality of the city — represented by the tramps — and the force of primeval passion — represented by the mandarin. Within these opposing forces stands the girl — whose character, however, is not obvious. In the first complete manuscript version (piano four-hand), immediately before the ending of the piece, there existed a scene depicting a confrontation between the girl and the tramps. This scene, whose main actor is the girl, is crucial for the drama and reveals Bartók’s view with regard to the girl’s character. Yet when Bartók began orchestrating the work in 1924, he deleted this scene. The present article provides, for the first time, an in-depth analysis as well as dramatic interpretation of this scene. Considering also the original text by Menyhért (Melchior) Lengyel (which contains this scene) and the totality of the final version of Bartók’s pantomime, the article proposes a characterization for the girl and offers a hypothesis for the reason for the omission of this scene from the final version.
The basic style of East-European Jewish (East-Ashkenazic) prayer chant (davenen), even when it might seem to be simple on paper, in transcription, has a complex and unique system of micro-structure. This micro-structure, which is evident in subtleties of rhythm and melody, voice quality, form, techniques of variation and ornamentation, is inventive and daring, and creates a compelling aesthetic and spiritual effect in the auditory experience. The present article discusses the question of how this creative compositional practice might have evolved. The article claims that the uniqueness of davenen results from the fact that children begin learning this “art” at a very early age, before they are able to speak and conceptualize the phenomena of the surrounding world. With davenen, a spontaneously felt languagebeforelanguage is learnt: a language in which words and melodies, rhythms and musical gestures and effects, emotions and fantasies and associations are merged into one whole. As a result, in the realization of prayer chant, even in the case of professional prayer leaders, originality and tradition, copying and fantasy occur together in a continual fusion of memory and forgetfulness. This article discusses Eastern European Jewish prayer chant and its learning process on the basis of its author’s decades of fieldwork and of literature and memoirs from before WWII.