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.
To examine the dynamics of incompletion that characterizes many writings by twentieth century authors, the following essay
investigates the possibilities to visualize (1) switches, (2) shuffles and (3) shifts in modern multilingual manuscripts with
digital philological tools. (1) Jerome McGann’s notions of the bibliographical and the linguistic codes were originally not
coined in relation to manuscript studies, but they can be applied to a particular form of “code switching” between an image-based
and a text-based approach. (2) Another phenomenon that typically marks the writing process of literary texts is the practice
of shuffling textual segments when their definitive position has not yet been fixed. (3) Finally, transtextual shifts in multilingual
manuscripts are not only limited to intertextual references, but often have a language-related dimension as well.
György Kurtág's vocal oeuvre is connected to lingustic criticism, which allows language only as one definite sign for information and ignores all other articulatory and pre- and metalinguistic aspects of language. These forms of linguistic criticism have been pronounced by two fundamental lines in the 20th century. Kurtág's songs for one voice can be seen as a third stadium, which frees tonal, gestural, and rhythmic aspects of articulated and sung language by keeping the discursive character of language and not by phonetic dissociation and pulverisation. Threee central aspects are discussed: 1. Beckett's text What is the word; 2. The merging of the song for one voice from op. 30a into the instrumental piece for several voices of op. 30b; 3. Imaginary theatre in op. 30b - the concept of theatricality of non-theatrical music.