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Recollecting his youth, which was shared with György Ligeti, in 1993 György Kurtág recounted his compulsory folk music studies at the Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest as follows: Hungarian folk music was [a] compulsory [subject] for all students at

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The study discusses, through analysing György Kurtág's setting of Paul Celan's poem, extreme notions of the lyrical, especially in terms of the rendering of non-sense, noise and silence, as one of the characteristic preoccupations for post second World War continental artistic enquiry. Raises the issue of fomlesness and speechlessness, seen to determine the very structure of the works in question, as the sign for language - both poetic or musical - to be overwhelmed by the historical events associated with the Holocaust.

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The use of the theatrical in music is an important way in which György Kurtág reminds us of the music's ontological status as deferred presence, and marks an ever-growing awareness of this status on the part of the composer himself. It must be recognised that the performers in Kurtág's theatre of music are themselveses part of the process of signification. Thus the music informs us that it is not itself fully present: its presence is, in the deconstructionists' sense, 'deferred'. This is a different situation from normal music theatre. The realisation that a truly original - and therefore fully self-present - music is impossible, therefore, gives Kurtág the ability to adopt a number of masks with varying degrees of irony, even to the extent of adopting the mask of the dramatic orchestral tutti.

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The major influence on the music of György Kurtág and Péter Eötvös can be seen in Bartók's compositions. Both composers described his music as their ”mother tongue”. Results of an interview with Eötvös, an analysis of his composition ”Kosmos” and sketches of Kurtág, lead to the conclusion that both composers' view of Bartók is heavily influenced by Lendvai's theories. Kurtág's Opus 30a serves as an example for the use of Lendvai's theory at a harmonic level.

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György Kurtág's Officium Breve in memoriam Andreae Szervánszky (op. 28) for string quartet, is a remarkable synthesis of varied compositional techniques, musical sources, and extramusical associations. Its sources in the music of its dedicatee and that of Anton Webern provide the basis for an original work. Kurtág not only quotes Webern, but makes extensive use of his compositional materials and practices. Kurtág also includes a quotation from Szervánszky's Serenade for String Orchestra. Kurtág's work reflects Webern's serial thinking in general, is the construction of a musical structure reflecting multiple or combined uses of material. Kurtág combines sources from two different musical works and two different minds to fashion a new and very moving work of his own. The Officium Breve is emblematic of one of Kurtág's primary creative outlets, the homage.

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The gestation period of György Kurtág's Hommage à R. Sch. op. 15d covers a period of approximately fifteen years (1975-1990).  Using sketches and drafts conserved in the Kurtág Collection of the Paul Sacher Foundation, this paper seeks to examine how compositional style and technique change over time and how these changes effected the composer's work concept.  Over the past thirty years, sketch studies have opened up new avenues of research, promising wider knowledge of compositional processes and providing insights into the genesis of specific works.  Nonetheless, they also render problematic our ability to circumscribe work identity.  Rather than focusing on the finite nature of the completed composition as it appears in the published score, the study of sketch material sets the work in a compositional process, revealing not only sources but also half-realised possibilities and unrealised potential.  For all the problems it brings to the study of music, such an approach seems particularly apt for a better understanding of Hommage à R. Sch., which appears to emerge out of a network of both complementary and contradictory tendencies.

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After the political and cultural seclusion of the 1950s young Hungarian composers turned to Western European new music. While learning contemporary compositional techniques they were searching for a new Hungarian identity in music. The musicological discourse about new Hungarian music concentrated on the ‘Hungarianness’ of their music too. Composers used Hungarian literary texts, and referred to Hungarian music culture with musical allusions. They inherited the idea of the combination of the up-to-date Western European compositional techniques with the old Hungarian tradition from Kodály and Bartók, i.e. they were aware of the primacy of tradition. György Kurtág’s (1926) concerto for soprano and piano, The Sayings of Péter Bornemisza (1963–1968) represented for Hungarian musicians the paradigmatic example of new Hungarian music, modern and traditional at the same time. It was based on an old Hungarian text from the 16th-century, like Kodály’s Psalmus Hungaricus (1923). The vocal part, however, refers to Webern’s melodic concept, the piano part follows Stockhausen’s piano writing, and Kurtág quotes neither Hungarian folk music nor old Hungarian art music. The paper investigates by means of musical analysis the question why contemporaries felt that Kurtág’s piece represents unambiguously a Hungarian identity. Kurtág — as well as his contemporaries — uses symbols, allusions connected to certain words and word-paintings while concentrating on the picturesque elements of music. The source of this compositional attitude is Kodály’s oeuvre, foremost the Psalmus Hungaricus. From this angle Kurtág’s The Sayings stands for the new-old Hungarian musical tradition.

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In regard to the aesthetic and stylistic phisiognomy of the music of both Sándor Veress (1907-92) and György Kurtág (*1926) it is instructive to focus on their treatment of the melodic dimension. For both the melodic statement remains a basic necessity, even in the context of the post-war avantgarde. Yet in contrast to Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály, and especially their epigones, composing for Veress and Kurtág often means “seeking melody” in which the sought after object cannot appear in its “pure” form. Veress' position is discussed in the light of Orbis tonorum for chamber orchestra (1986). On the basis of two Beckett pieces of Kurtág - Mi is a szó (1990), What is the Word (1991) - and his Életút (1992), aspects of his aesthetics and the melodic treatment are examined.  

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The Ligatura-Messages, op. 31b reveals an important aspect of the fragmentary mode of writing of György Kurtág: the meaning of the message which is to be expressed by music resides within the framework of a fundamental dialogic exchange between the author (the source) and the listener (the recipient) through the mediation of the instrumentalist (here, a violoncellist using two bows simultaneously). The stylistic features (the ligatures, which remind one of the partiality of the composer for Gregorian plaint-chant) are woven into the very fabric of the meaning; this is the way in which Kurtág enhances the value of the fragment, the Ligatura-Message which is also the haunt of memories, a place of remembrance both from the autobiographical viewpoint and the viewpoint of musical historiography. In this particular piece, the music of uncertainty can be perceived through the paradoxical pattern of the answered unanswered question, which may suggest that the piece is an answer to Charles Ives's Unanswered Question. The study of the similarities and differences between the two works tends to underline the dual essence, the open-endedness of the Kurtágian fragment.

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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.

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