What is the word

when musicians speak

Renee Jonker 2021

research paper in the Master of Music program of the Royal Conservatoire The Hague

research supervisor Paul Craenen


‘What than is music? – Music is language.’ Composer Anton Webern was quite outspoken in 1932 [1] : 'A human being wants to express thoughts in this language, but not a thought that can be transferred into an idea, but only into another musical thought.’ Almost sixty years later composer Wolfgang Rihm isn’t sure whether music is a language but states in his speech 'Was ‘sagt’ Musik/ What does music ‘say’?:’ if music is saying something, than the first what is addressed to us is: speak! Music wants to make us speak. That’s what music says!’[2]

That raises the question whether music can be referential or carry meaning just as language can. A question that has made many speak and filled libraries of studies. Cognitive psychologist Aniruddh D. Patel[3] writes in 2008: ‘A natural place to turn for help in defining musical meaning is the work of music theorists and philosophers of aesthetics’. After summing up a dozen publications on the topic since Webern made his statement, Patel reports: ‘No consensus has emerged from these writings for a definition of musical meaning.’

There is a lot of evidence in linguistics that qualities attributed to musicality contribute to language being the carrier of meaning. So what about the other way around? Can language help to understand what is experienced as meaningful in music?

Language itself is an indicator that qualities inherent to language are often given to music. In German the word Interpret is used for instrumentalists performing music. The Dutch language has the word zeggingskracht that attributes power to music. 'Zegging-’ stems from the verb zeggen (to say), ‘kracht’ means power. Zeggingskracht was one of the three criteria to assess the work of composers by the Fund for the Creation of Music (Fonds voor de Scheppende Toonkunst ) in The Netherlands.[4] When the power to speak is inhibited and people stammer or lose their speech suffering from aphasia, it has been said that “only music, can do the calling.”[5] And it’s almost a cliché to say that music can express what can’t be given words.

Music is not a language but often sounds like one. What do musicians that are ‘speaking’ that music have to say about meaning in music, singing, performing or creating what composer Louis Andriessen describes as ‘talkative’[6] music? Or the stammering that composer György Kurtág calls his mother language? How do musicians give words to those moments when their music does the talking?

What is the word is the last text that Samuel Beckett completed at the end of his life when through a stroke he periodically suffered from the disability to finds words, commonly diagnosed as aphasia[7]. The Irish author inspired many to explore the zeggingskracht of music. Precise as he was, Beckett left out a question mark in the title, both in the original French version of Comment dire[8] and in his English translation. That the title of Samuel Beckett’s last text is not posing a question but may provide us with an answer, is the hypothesis of this research.

Is what the word?

audio example 1: György Kurtág Samuel Beckett What is the word Op. 30b

dramatis personae

Samuel Beckett an author stuttering
György Kurtág a stammering composer
Martá Kurtág the stammering composers wife
Renee Jonker a student asking questions

and in order of appearence:

Mr. N. an elderly gentleman with aphasia
Lucy Payne a cellist
Misha Mengelberg a composer/improviser
Han Bennink a drummer
Wolfgang Rihm a composer
Reinbert de Leeuw a pianist/composer/conductor
Niels Meliefste a percussionist
Gerard Bouwhuis a pianist
Loes Dooren a violinist
Octavian Lup a cellist
Viola Cheung a singer
Karlheinz Stockhausen a composer
Kathinka Pasveer a flautist
Maite van der Marel a singer/composer
Albertine Zehme an actress
Gerrie de Vries a singer
William Forman a trumpeter
Quirijn van Regteren Altena a double-bass player
Nimrod Moloto Molokkomme a conductor
Vera Beths a violinist
Luciano Berio a composer
Yaw Dela Botri a flautist (atenteben), singer, drummer
Olivier Messiaen a composer
Louis Andriessen a composer

1. prologue

In my first year studying classical percussion at the conservatoire, a neighbor threw a brick at the window of the studio in which I was practicing a solo work for percussion by Karlheinz Stockhausen. The brick was sending me a clear message. It was meant as a strong invitation to start a conversation with my neighbors about how they perceived hearing me practicing a piece of contemporary music many hours a day.

Ten years later I saw myself confronted with the challenge of introducing …quasi una fantasia Op 27 Nr.1 by György Kurtág[9] to a group of secondary school pupils in the large hall of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. This work opens appena sentito with an almost inaudible descending melody for the piano solo played ppppp. It had been my major concern that these young people in the audience would be attentive and above all silent in order not to miss this magical opening of a piece of music. In the weeks before, I visited six secondary schools around Amsterdam to raise the curiosity of the pupils in the hope they would attend the performance of this work. Describing a venue they had never visited before that was large enough to seat sixteen-hundred with a phenomenal acoustics that, as I promised the pupils would allow even those seated in the backrow of the balcony, to hear a needle being dropped. Many of these young people showed up on the day of the concert. Before the concert started with the pianist playing her very first delicate notes, I welcomed the audience and in particular the young people and demonstrated as promised that actually the dropping of a needle on the stage of the large hall of the Concertgebouw can be perceived wherever one is seated. It created the perfect silence from which the music of Kurtág could be born. For the purpose of the presentation of this research, the Concertgebouw allowed the filming of a repetition of this test thirty years later when the venue was closed due to the COVID pandemic.

video example 1: hearing a needle drop on the stage of the Concertgebouw
fig.1 Kurtág, G. (1989) ...quasi una fantasia... Op. 27 Nr. 1 © Universal Music Publishing Editio Musica Budapest. Reproduced by permission.

On a Friday morning in March 2014, the living room of residential home The Bridge for elderly people in The Hague is packed with some twenty people and musical instruments. In this secluded part of The Bridge the people that live here have no longer the freedom to go out just by themselves due to progressed state of their dementia. Many people are in the room and the atmosphere is dense. Yet the leaders of a music workshop have managed to create some serene calmness in the inner circle formed by eight residents of the home, care staff and three musicians. They are encircled by observers doing their best to be a fly on the wall not to disturb what is going on. Resident Mr. N. has just been invited to use the baton and conduct cellist Lucy Payne to lead her in an improvisation. In the previous weeks, Mr. N. has hardly spoken a word. Being diagnosed with aphasia he seems frustrated not to be able to find the words that will make people listen to him. Although he has given signs to appreciate the music that has been created in previous workshops, he was not yet engaged as participant and has avoided eye contact. Given a baton today and being close to the cellist and her instrument, Mr. N finds his role. With increasing enthusiasm and clear as a conductor can be, he inspires a breathtaking musical moment given sound by Lucy bowing her cello. Clearly indicating that the piece is over, Mr. N. expresses his gratitude to Lucy for her performance.

Everybody present is speechless. But Mr. N himself starts a conversation in English and continues to do so. In the remaining four months before he passed away, Mr. N kept his ability to speak.

It is a Friday evening in March 2011. Two Dutch musicians touring the world as founders of the ICP (Amsterdam based Instant Composers Pool) seek their place on the stage of a venue in winter cold Philadelphia. Pianist Misha Mengelberg starts what sounds as trying out the piano. Drummer Han Bennink joins him but chooses not to use the drumkit that is waiting, but is carrying with him the empty box in which the pizza was delivered that apparently was consumed just before the concert. A conversation between two musicians is unfolding. One seeming to neglect that other people are in the room, including the drummer, the other doing his best to provoke any kind of response drumming on an empty pizza box.

Needles aren’t made to make people silent as bricks aren’t to make us speak. They are objects that are not even meant to produce sound. Neither are a conductors baton or a pizza box. Yet depending of the person projecting them or using them to produce sound, they can become the carrier of meaning and deliver a message.

This study is trying to find words to describe music that is being perceived as meaningful. What was going on between Bennink and Mengelberg in their Philadelphia improvisation? We can’t ask Misha Mengelberg who passed away in 2019, the last two years of his live his brilliant mind fading away behind Alzheimers desease. But we can ask Han Bennink. And how would cellist Lucy Payne describe the music she created under the guidance of Mr. N’s baton? This research also includes composers and in particular György Kurtág who allowed three interviews at the high age of ninety-five years. For Kurtág giving meaning to music has been a lifetime struggle.

Based on Samuel Beckett’s last published text What is the word, Kurtág created a piece that turned out to be pivotal in his oeuvre. Not aware that Beckett wrote this text recovering from a period of aphasia, Kurtág[10] by instinct choose to compose Samuel Beckett: What is the word Op. 30b (1991) for Hungarian actress Ildiko Monyók (1928-2012) who had lost her ability to speak. In a long process of revalidation, she managed to overcome her aphasia. In the words of conductor Reinbert de Leeuw who led the recording of this work[11]: “The whole piece is about finding the right word, searching in despair. The piece is breathtaking, dramatic, obsessive. All use of language is stammering and stuttering. In fact the whole music is stammering.”[12]_The endless search for the right expression of wordless music and words set to music, has been a constant factor in this composer’s oeuvre. What words does György Kurtág use to describe this aspect of music?

2. motivation, case studies and playgrounds

2.1 why?

As a performing musician, I found myself in many situations in which I had to speak for the music that I was playing in moments the music could not speak for itself. Triggered by protesting neighbors I tried to explain why Zyklus by Karlheinz Stockhausen[13] sounded as it did with forty-one loud rim-shots on the drums and why this music needed extensive rehearsal time. Sometimes I had to be ambassador representing the domain of the unspoken, in others the salesman to trigger venues to program concerts with music that still had to be composed. I was the presenter in pre-concert talks for instance introducing the work of György Kurtág to an audience of young people not familiar with contemporary music. Finding words to activate the hearing and the listeners ability to co-create a piece of music, can be part of the musician’s profession as I found out after I graduated as a percussionist at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague.

In another career as a teacher in the same institution, I saw programs change over the years into a direction with an increasing call on the ability of musicians to verbalize aspects of performing music. Students are no longer exclusively subject to teacher assessment, but are invited to ‘reflect’ on their own performance and give ‘feed-back’ to peers. It is therefore relevant to study how musicians speak about their own performance of music.

The sixteen musicians that speak up in this study, create and perform their music in a society that only to a certain degree is prepared to support the making of that music. Approximately ninety percent of what is called the music industry is profitable thanks to copyright and neighboring rights and the revenues of streaming platforms. This study represents a performance practice of music that can’t rely on those sources of income. The ability of musicians to answer the hypothetical question 'is what the word’? may be a decisive factor in the discourse whether our society needs to continue investing in the performance practice of music and music education.

2.2 how?

Can music be referential and carry meaning just as language can? That question has opened large domains of knowledge of which music philosophy doubtlessly is the most borderless one. Music always has had a spell on philosophers. No stronger trigger for a philosopher than a medium that may be carrier of meaning but does not create semantic concepts or formulates theory. Those who start studying what philosophers and musicologists have written about this question, will soon find that from Adorno[14] to Zuckerkandl[15] a new language needs to be learned. A language that in order to describe music is detached from the subject itself.

There’s a vast body of knowledge collected by other scientists trying to answer this question as well. Aniruddh D. Patel[16] makes a distinction between semantics and pragmatics when it comes to the relation between music and language: 'Pragmatics refers to the study of how listeners add contextual information to semantic structure and how they draw inferences about what has been said.’ Patel states that there’s neural evidence that music can evoke semantic concepts and that ‘the semantic boundary between music and language is not categorical , but graded.[17] Patrick N. Juslin and John A. Sloboda describe how ‘the communicative content in music performance includes the performers ‘interpretation’’.[18]

The psychology of music and music cognition are fascinating areas of research that can teach us Zappa appaZ. Anticipating that the reader of this text may not have seen this ultimate alphabetic palindrome coming, this last sentence demonstrates that violation of expectation not only raises attention but according to David Huron[19] in his ITPRA theory is crucial for the arousal of emotions when listening to music. Just as the concept of mirroring in the neuro system[20] as explained by Katie Overy and Istvan Molnar-Szakacs teaches us about the ability of music to communicate social and affective information and to create the feeling of being together.

This study gives priority to what those musicians that create and interpret music have to say. It will only briefly tap in on the fields of knowledge developed within the philosophy of music, psychology of music and music cognition and collect it’s data mainly from a chorus of musicians speaking. Musicians that speak in the flow of an interview with little time to prepare their answers and thus expressing themselves in a way that is close to the act of singing or playing an instrument. Five interviews were held applying the Stimulated Recall Method[21]. In this method musicians are invited to listen to a recording of their own playing. Recordings made a few minutes ago, but also recordings made in the past. Sometimes seven to ten years and in one case forty eight years ago. Recordings these musicians did not listen to before. Two interviews were part of two case studies. Other interviews were inspired by so called playgrounds that were set up as a test, to further explore the vocabulary of musicians that performed an improvisation in a specific setting. And finally words were collected from published speeches of and interviews with composers and performing musicians. From all words and texts collected an essayistic narrative was the result of this research illustrated by visual and auditive examples.

Being the first author trying to describe the difference between music and language in his Πολιτεία (The Republic) the Greek philosopher Plato[22] interestingly used the dialogue as a form to express his thoughts in writing. Inspired by how György Kurtág structured his opera Fin de partie after Beckett’s play, this exposition is composed from a prologue, three monologues, a dialogue and an epilogue.

2.3 case study 1: having lost the word

2.3.1 Introduction

Since 2013, the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague is offering a Master elective course Music & Dementia. The program brings students into residential homes for elderly to make music according to a model developed by Music for Life in the United Kingdom. In 1993 Linda Rose founded Music for Life. An initiative that brought classically trained musicians into residential homes for elderly people with dementia. The project was adopted by Jewish Care and the venue Wigmore Hall in London in partnership with the organization Dementia UK. It soon developed into a program offering people with advanced dementia a musical experience that was different from music therapy or attending concerts given in their homes.

Composer Wolfgang Rihm (1952) makes a strong claim[23] for music in such a context:

“Music reaches our physic more directly and more complex than any other art and therefore penetrates areas and centers that are particularly hardy armored and no longer serve the flow of energy but block it. Therefore music is also applied therapeutically and not to calm down but to address where emotional immobility and speechlessness reign, to mobilize the dormant potential to move.”

The intensive musical interaction between residents, care staff and musicians in the Music for Life project seemed to have impact. Rineke Smilde researched[24] this practice and made the concept developed by Music for Life starting point for launching elective courses for Master students at the Prince Clause Conservatoire in Groningen and the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague. For eight weeks in a row, musicians and music students were led by experienced Music for Life musicians to apply this concept in a setting with eight residents and three care staff members. Every session was attended by a group of researchers and those responsible for developing the Music & Dementia curriculum, seated as observers in a circle surrounding the inner circle of residents, care staff and musicians.

Once the residents walked or were wheeled into the room and being given a carefully selected place in the circle, a strictly designed program would enfold every week according to the Music for Life protocol.[25] The three musicians in the circle would start a so called framing piece. This piece of music has been composed by the musicians and allows them full freedom for improvisation. The framing piece is followed by a welcome song, also created by the musicians, given a text and sung by the leader of the musicians and addressing each member in the circle individually. After this ritual, the leader would pick up one of the many percussion instruments that are displayed on a small table in the circle and hand it over to one of the residents, inviting the person to explore what sounds could be produced. When the resident starts exploring the instrument given to them one or more musicians will improvise an accompaniment. In these so-called person-centered improvisations, musicians try to respond not only to sounds produced with the instrument or voice of the person, but are also attentive to the smallest signs of non-verbal utterances. The musicians have to practice a ‘micro-responsiveness’[26] in their improvisation. In almost every occasion, residents respond to this invitation. Intimate musical interactions of sometimes half a minute, sometimes six minutes or more fill the room getting the attention of all present… Passing on the instrument in the circle, one by one residents and also care staff would be given a chance to explore the sounding possibilities and become part of a musical improvisation. At other occasions, a resident would be given a conductor’s baton with the invitation to lead one or several musicians to create a piece of music. The baton gives a specific sense of control and empowerment allowing the residents an active dialogue and immediate co-creation of the music that is improvised on their indications.[27] An hour after the beginning, the framing piece is performed once more, to indicate the ending of the session.

Within the succession of these workshops over a period of eight weeks, remarkable changes with the residents and care staff can be observed at many levels. Changes that are sustainable and can be described as ‘transitional learning’.[28] The behavior of the residents, indicators for their well-being, their degree of engagement and to a certain extent also that of the care staff members are developing. Residents seeming to be very isolated, or agitated or showing no signs of communication in the beginning, often show remarkable differences in their behavior in the course of the program.

How music can affect the treatment of aphasia caused by brain damage has become a particular field of interest in neuro-psychology over the last decades. According to Patel[29] these studies give evidence that 'although musical and linguistic syntax have distinct and domain-specific representations, there is overlap in the neural resources that serve to activate and integrate these representations during syntactic processing.’ Neural networks that due to brain damage or illness can no longer be activated for speech and finding words, still can be activated when they are triggered to fulfill musical tasks.

This may be illustrated by one particular moment in the pilot program Music and Dementia in The Hague in 2014. Students and staff of the Royal Conservatoire were involved in the fourth session in a cycle of eight. Music for Life English cellist Lucy Payne, flown in from London to lead the session and instruct the other musicians is volunteering to be conducted by resident Mr. N. Although this gentleman has shown signs of appreciating music and the creation of it in the context of previous sessions, he has hardly spoken a word. Mr N. is suffering from aphasia that has become more and more a burden to him. Having been in a high position in his professional life, he is used to people giving value to his speaking and listening to what he has to say. In the first sessions Mr. N has given the impression of being very uncomfortable no longer being able to speak and respond to what is happening in the circle.

In this fourth session, when being handed over the baton, something is changing. Mr N. is firmly taking the lead and becomes very expressive both with his baton and using eye contact helping cellist Lucy Payne to play the cello. The interaction between conductor and cellist lasts several minutes, part of it being captured on film. Mr N. finishes the improvisation, showing his gratitude to Lucy to than start a conversation in English with the cellist.

video example 1 Mr. N. conducting

Everybody else in the room is silent. Many express later to have been deeply moved by this moment. More remarkable is that Mr N. after finishing his conversation with Lucy, remained able to speak during the four months before he passed away. Mr N. in those precious months was able to speak with his wife and children. It was their initiative to allow the use of the recording made in the Music & Dementia session for research purposes.

2.3.2 interview Lucy Payne

When invited to review the short recording of her improvisation with Mr. N., cellist Lucy Payne had not seen the short film made with a mobile phone by one of the observers in the session. Although it had been seven years since this took place, she still has clear memories to this moment. After seeing back the film Lucy can remember in detail what her considerations were in her improvisation.

" I just remember his presence in the moment becoming very big and feeling like I needed to match that in sound and the music that I was creating (…) He took the leadership and he took the space. And I remember internally a kind of feeling like I needed to step up and to match that. (…) Then I think he was also both responding and initiating the next musical phrase in his movements. (…) I interpret that through using the harmonics and trying to use some silence so that we wait to see what happens next again, to give him that kind of sense of choice and empowerment, to wait for him to initiate it rather than be filling all the spaces. I remember that being a conscious decision. (…) then he suddenly has these moments of recognition when he realizes that he’s kind of in control or that we are making it together. And so the first time I really saw it was after the big melodic phrase came to an end. And then he changes the way he uses the baton and he clocks that I am responding differently. And he connects then. So I think there’s this kind of recognition that what he’s doing is connected, is connecting to what I am doing in a different way.

And then the other really obvious example is at the end and he actually finishes the piece.(…) I’m doing something that could have carried on. (…) He looked at me, decided that that was the end. So he looked at me kind of two bars if you would notate it before the end and then at the end (…) he was finishing it, which is just always an amazing moment when someone chooses to finish the piece and does it in such a clear way." [30]

2.4 – case study 2. no words needed

2.4.1. Introduction

In 1967 Willem Breuker (saxophones), Han Bennink (drums) and Misha Mengelberg (piano) founded the Amsterdam based Instant Composers Pool (ICP). 'Han came over every afternoon to my parents’ place to play, just to develop the music, see what we can do. Sometimes Misha promised to come over – I had a piano – but he never did. He was off playing chess or whatever. When Han and I made the first record, we called the label Instant Composers Pool, ICP, and Misha said to us, ‘I also belong to the Instant Composers Pool’.’[31] Since that day, the ICP has been one of the most prominent groups for improvised music in The Netherlands and abroad. After the split-up with Breuker in 1974, who started his own Willem Breuker Kollektief, the ICP grew into a steady collective, calling itself an orchestra with Dutch, German and American musicians playing an unusual combination of instruments such as viola, cello, double bass, trumpet, trombone, saxophones , clarinet and at the heart of the band drummer Han Bennink and pianist Misha Mengelberg.[32] The term instant composing had a political connotation as Mengelberg and Breuker had strong views on the equal position that improvised music should have to composed music. Mengelberg studied composition with Kees van Baaren at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague and had together with his former fellow students Peter Schat, Reinbert de Leeuw, Louis Andriessen and Jan van Vlijmen been member of the collective of composers that created the opera Reconstructie (1969). Both Mengelberg and Breuker were strong advocates for having improvised music being included in the Fund for the Creation of Music (Fonds voor de Scheppende Toonkunst) that was founded in 1980 as a result of initiatives of activist Dutch composers.

The ICP successfully toured the world for decades with numerous concerts and recordings of what international music journalists would call New Dutch Swing.[33] Mengelberg, who also was the author of poetry and a collection of absurdist short stories,[34] wrote Hello Windyboys (1968) for the Dutch Wind Ensemble. This composition consists of a set of rules for two groups of instrumentalists including penalties for playing wrong notes, was described by journalist Kevin Whitehead as: 'in his ‘60s game piece two wind quintets variously engage in call and response, communicate in musical code, interrupt or block each other, or seduce their rivals into cooperating. They did formally what ICP’s musicians now do informally.’[35]

2.4.2 interview Han Bennink

Touring the United States of America in 2011, Bennink and Mengelberg performed an improvisation anticipating the entrance of the whole ICP orchestra at a concert in the frame of Ars Nova Workshops Philadelphia.[36] As this improvisation holds many characteristics of a conversation, it is a meaningful moment and very inviting to be studied. Misha Mengelberg passed away in 2017 after his enlightened mind faded away over a period of two years due to Alzheimers disease. We can no longer ask him what may have gone on in his head while improvising with the drummer with whom he had shared the stage for half a century.

An interview with Han Bennink took place in his home on 20 February 2021. Bennink was invited to respond to reviewing the recording made on 4 March 2011 in Philadelphia. Beforehand Bennink had no special recollections to the event that took place almost ten years ago, being one of over three thousand performances he must has given as a drummer and still active as a performer up to this day. Nor did he know this recording.

Invited to comment on watching the performance, Han shared his observations. In the recorded performance we see Misha Mengelberg entering the stage. The composer/pianist was notorious for being late, preferring to finish a back-stage chess game first, no matter if an audience was waiting. But in Philadelphia Mengelberg is the first to appear on stage. After playing a few notes of what seems testing the grand-piano, Bennink has his own entrance drawing a lot of attention to himself.

"I begin by making a mess. Something another drummer would not do. You enter the stage, a bit bewildered. A kind of Dada. A kick on the bass-drum. I drop stuff, can’t decide where to sit. For me that already is a kind of improvisation" [37]

video example 2: Bennink & Mengelberg in Philadelphia

Whereas Mengelberg gets acquainted with the piano, Bennink’s chosen instrument is a pizza box, apparently emptied minutes ago in the dressing room.

“I hear him play, but we had a reputation for nagging each other”(…) And then all of a sudden he stops playing. And consequently, so do I. Taking the pose of a good school-boy. I begin to imitate him.

video example 3: Bennink & Mengelberg

“Then I set up a very high tempo, too fast for Misha to play. At high speed he becomes very un-rhythmical. I do that to irritate him, to nag him. But as you can hear, we get together in the end.” [38]

video example 4: Bennink & Mengelberg

This kind of interaction between pianist and drummer over the years had become a recurring element in the ICP concerts. It wasn’t an act. As Kevin Whitehead describes how bandmembers of the ICP after a concert in Utrecht in February 1995 see Bennink telling road stories, having the attention of a laughing Mengelberg and much to their surprise witness how 'Han and Misha are actually enjoying each other’s company.’[39]

As Bennink puts it:

“Misha wasn’t a nice guy. If you think we were friends? On the contrary.(…) I found him a spoiled son of a bitch. He always knew better. He couldn’t stand to lose a game.(…) A difficult man, but incredibly interesting and maybe even a genius. He had thoughts that made you think, wow, there’s something in there…”[40]

Recalling the Philadelphia performance at 3’59":

"At this moment, he is playing the song The Jump, oh romance of the hares .[41] You can see that I immediately copy his tempo recognizing the tune after all the gibberish he has been doing so far. It’s one of my favorite songs. This is where it comes together. Since we both have been aiming for this item, all of a sudden it comes together. Then it becomes (making a grand gesture) something like ‘ah that’s what it is all about’."[42]

video example 5: Bennink & Mengelberg

2.5 playground 1: playing without words

Percussionist Niels Meliefste and pianist Gerard Bouwhuis are both classically trained musicians and not hindered by that upbringing able to improvise freely on their instruments. They were invited to participate in a musical test. Niels was asked to bring a set of brushes and drumsticks, not knowing what percussion instrument would be available. In the studio a brand-new upright piano was available for Gerard, an empty pizza box for Niels. Both musicians did not know the 2011 ICP improvisation of Han Bennink and Misha Mengelberg in Philadelphia.

Niels and Gerard were invited to do a one and a half minute improvisation in which anything was allowed and no further instruction was given. Their improvisation was recorded. Quite unexpectedly but apparently intentional the improvisation ended abruptly. Immediately after, both musicians were invited to try to repeat the improvisation they had just performed as precise as possible. Also this repetition of the improvisation was recorded.

After this repetition, they were both invited to listen to the original improvisation and its repetition and to comment on both and be specific about choices made and considerations they may have had during their playing.

Both recordings show large similarities between repetition and original improvisation, much to the surprise of the musicians that were not prepared for this repetition.

video example 6: Bouwhuis & Meliefste improvisation
video example 7: Bouwhuis & Meliefste improvisation repeated

Tip: both videos can be activated simultaneously

The interview with stimulated recall led to the following comments on their original improvisation:

Niels: “The first sound I produced with my thumb on the box, that was an impulse. I remember I did not plan to do that.”

Gerard: “So I first have to see what you are playing on. My first thought was, in any case the piano needs to be closed because his pizza-box was closed too. Thus I will also play on a box.”

audio example 2: improvisation Meliefste & Bouwhuis beginning

Niels: “It’s funny how things get together without you even trying.”

Gerard: “Yeah. If it would be intentional you wouldn’t get it that precise. That’s all instinctive.”

Niels: “Some things happen because it just feels nice to play them. Here I’m certainly not responding to his playing. And then I opened the box. I have a lid just like the piano.”

Gerard: “Niels opening the box made me try to add a chord on the piano but I wasn’t convinced it would merge with the box sounds.”

audio example 3: improvisation Meliefste & Bouwhuis unfolding

Niels: “That’s when I thought let’s react to that.”

Gerard: “Yes, that’s when we start to make music. Now I can go into the higher registers, although I don’t have a clue what you are doing.”

Niels: “And that’s when I pick-up a drumstick, also changing my options.”

audio example 4: improvisation Meliefste & Bouwhuis unfolding

Gerard: “Niels is getting wild.”

audio example 5: improvisation Meliefste & Bouwhuis end

Niels: “Yeah I react to your high notes.”

Gerard: “That was my trigger to throw in a pulse.”

Niels: “That ending, that was just a co-incidence. Just to stop that abrupt and together.”

2.6 playground 2: playing with words

Loes Dooren and Octavian Lup took part in an intensive course to enhance their improvisational skills at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague in 2012 open to students from five different conservatoires in Europe. Both versatile players on the violin and cello and educated to become instrumentalists in the classical tradition of their instruments in The Hague and Bucharest, displayed a great liberty to use their instrumental and musical skills in an environment that encouraged improvisation. Octavian Lup:

“It was a beautiful project. I never had done something similar before, I mean applying improvisation. So this element of being part of something very new and fresh and interesting made me be very present, very active and very responding to the situation, so to speak.”

The students in the project accepted the invitation to meet a class of pupils from the Johan de Witt College, a secondary school in The Hague. Thus meeting fifteen teenagers with a background of families that immigrated to The Netherlands only one generation ago, some of them brought up with the concept that music is haram (‘foul’ according to an interpretation of some readers of the Koran). None of the young persons in the room had ever seen or heard a cello or violin being played for them live. As an audience they were not conditioned to the conventions of classical music performances.

The pupils of the Johan de Witt College were introduced to the idea that music sometimes can carry meaning and were invited to test this concept by giving an assignment to the music students in the room. The first assignment was formulated by one of the boys, asking violinist Loes to act out that pianist Lester would ask her to marry him. Much to the excitement of the audience, Loes rejected Lester’s romantic and in the style of Rachmaninov articulated invitations on the piano. Than the girls in the audience defined an assignment for Loes and cellist Octavian: Daddy, shoes are on sale! Can I go out shopping, please…?

video example 8: improvisation Dooren & Lup

Reviewing the recording made eight years ago, Loes remembers how that assignment given by the girls, helped her to instantly create a role and a character for herself and find musical means to express those.

Octavian had a similar response and described the role he created for himself on the spot as:

“I imagined this father, that just came home from work. You can tell that he is not very communicative. He is not in for chatting and plays 'leave me alone notes.”

audio example 6: improvisation Dooren & Lup

The improvised interpretation of this scene by a violinist and a cellist, caused very strong reactions in the audience that picked up sentence by sentence the imaginary conversation between a father and a daughter.


“I’m thrilled and very excited. I have seen these beautiful shoes and they are on sale. I feel joy and a slightly childish form of excitement and I’m making a proposal.”

audio example 7: improvisation Dooren & Lup

“So I get nothing back from him and have to try something else. I first try to please him, to loosen him up. With double-stops I create harmony and a sense of happiness.”

audio example 8: improvisation Dooren & Lup

“His response is still zero and that irritates me. So that’s where I say ‘yes hello there’ and I bring in my powerplay. To strengthen my position: I’m making musical full sentences and all you produce are some ugly grunts.”

audio example 9: improvisation Dooren & Lup

" Than his response is again nèh-nèh and also musically speaking irritating me."

audio example 10: improvisation Dooren & Lu

“Finally he is responding, although he is imitating me and you can hear the kids respond. They like that. The effect is that it brings us a bit closer to each other.”

audio example 11: improvisation Dooren & Lup

“After he has raised his voice in imitating me, I feel I should not overdo. There’s nothing to win for me if I cry louder. So I start to sound pitiful to play with his emotions. But he finishes the discussion and I’m giving up. This sounds like a clear ending, but surprisingly he hasn’t finished yet. He clearly wants to have the last word in this.”

audio example 12: improvisation Dooren & Lup last word

Both playgrounds show how precise musicians improvising in a dialogical setting can describe their intentions made in split seconds and responding to audience reactions.

3. first monologue: György Kurtág

3.1 introduction

How to introduce composer György Kurtág? In his own words:

"Sometimes, I manage to make something good out of nothing quite by accident. But more often than not I don’t"[43]

Kurtág was born on Friday 19 Februari 1926 in Lugoj (Banat, Romania) and is a Hungarian citizen since 1948. In 2002 he also received the French nationality. At the age of five he had his first piano lessons. During his childhood he often played piano fourhands with his mother, reading through transcriptions of Haydn and Beethoven symphonies and overtures of Mozart operas. Listening to a radio broadcasting of Schubert’s Unvollendete Symfonie at the age of eleven made him decide to become a composer. Kurtág has spoken very little about his life during the Second World War. In an interview with Bálint András Varga he refers to being called a Jew and being beaten throughout his four years in gymnasium.[44] After having had composition lessons from Max Eiskovits in his hometown Timisoara, it wasn’t until September 1945 that he was admitted to the composition class of Sándor Veress at the Ferenc Liszt Academy in Budapest, to pursue his ambition to become a composer together with fellow student and lifetime friend György Ligeti (1923-2006). His studies included piano lessons and chamber music. That is how he met fellow piano student Márta Kinsker (1927 --2019) with whom he married in 1947, mother of his son György Kurtág jr.(1954) and lifetime companion.

During the Hungarian uprising in 1956, György Ligeti fled to Austria and later to Cologne in Germany. Kurtág and his young family tried as well to escape Hungary, but missed the last train to Vienna.[45] Only in 1957 he was able to travel to what was called ‘the free west’ for a residency in Paris, leaving his wife and son behind. In Paris he studied with Darius Milhaud and attended the theory classes of Olivier Messiaen[46]. This period was marked with a deep personal crisis and a creative block for which he consulted psychologist Marianne Stein (1913-1994), born in Hungary but based in Paris. She gave Kurtág the insight that simplicity allows for direct, personal expression. In fact, Stein suggested the controlled exploration of music within clearly defined limits, even if that limit happened to be only two notes. In a similar crisis of being creatively blocked, his friend György Ligeti earlier found back his voice as a composer, writing his Musica Ricercata (1951-53)[47] a set of eleven pieces for piano solo. The first piece of nearly three minutes using one single tone only, the second using two tones and so on, until in the last movement eleven pitches are at the disposal of the composer, enabling him to write a fugue. Quite similar and starting with permutations of shapes formed by matches on the kitchen table of his small apartment in Paris in 1958, Kurtág found back his musical voice and created musical miniatures that shaped the movement for a first string quartet worthy of carrying an opus number one.[48]

Back in Budapest, Kurtág became professor for chamber music at the Ferenc Liszt Academy. It was easier for Kurtág to talk about the music of others and teach, than to compose himself. His compositional output in those years is very fragmented, including a series of piano pieces called Jatékok[49] (games) for children and beginning pianists. Other pieces are inspired by literature and poetry.

3.2 languages of a composer

The era and region he was born in, determined that Kurtág grew up with Hungarian as his mother language and Romanian and German as his second and third language. The composer himself would use the word mother language often in a musical context:

“Bartók was my mother language and his mother language was Beethoven.”[50]

When visited in Budapest in August 2021 and although he had not brought this up in one of the three interviews held before, Kurtág remembered that he was also taught to read and recite Hebrew in preparation for his bar mitzvah. Immediately after this religious initiation ceremony for a twelve year old boy he forgot what the Hebrew letters stood for as he was still unaware of the meaning of the sentences he was trained to recite. Also the German he learned as a child faded during his adolescence, only to be revived when he joined a group of rebellious young people during the war and had to distribute flyers in German as an act of resistance against the nazi’s.

On the instigation of his mother, he also took lessons in English:

“There was this lady teaching English. She was very pretty and with my mother sitting next to me I was totally paralyzed. Even worse, the lady was the sister of Ernest Földwary, a pianist just graduated from the Budapest music academy. I was lost.”[51]

Speaking in English remained difficult for György Kurtág, but it did not hinder him to read:

“a lot of Shakespeare, almost everything. And then Joyce and finally Beckett.”

Being able to read works of literature, more specific the works of Dostojevski, Tsjechow and Tolstoi, was the driver for Kurtág already at the age of fifty to learn Russian, notably the language of the oppressors of Hungary in 1956.

“My son Gyuri had to learn Russian for twelve years and still doesn’t speak a word. But in those days it was common to sabotage learning Russian.”

Kurtág stated that while studying Russian, the language became for him "almost a sacred language like Latin for Stravinsky."[52] During his stay in Paris 1957/58 Kurtág learned to read and speak French fluently and in his seventies during his residency in Amsterdam he took lessons to be able to read source texts in old-Greek.

3.3 birth of an opera

scene 1

It was a cycle of twenty one poems by Russian poet Rimma Dalos (1944) set to music by Kurtág that brought him his first international acclaim as a composer. Messages of the late Miss R.V. Troussova Op. 17[53] commissioned by Pierre Boulez and premiered by Ensemble Intercontemporain in 1981, was a breakthrough leading to more commissions and conductors like Peter Eötvös, Sylvain Cambreling and Claudio Abbado advocating his music.

Kurtág’s almost obsessional devotion to setting words to music is given a new chapter when in 1987 a jury on behalf of the Eduard van Beinum Foundation in The Netherlands decided to commission the Hungarian composer to write a stage work for the Dutch National Opera. This jury consisted of composers Luciano Berio, Jan van Vlijmen and conductors Riccardo Chailly and Reinbert de Leeuw. Kurtág had been a lover of opera ever since he played through piano four-hands transcriptions of Mozart opera’s with his mother. His friendship with Ligeti and his later to be wife Márta in post-war Budapest started with grabbing every opera score they could lay their hands on and playing it through on Sunday evenings in their small apartment, Kurtág sight reading the score at the piano and Márta, György Ligeti and mutual friend Franz Sulyok filling in the vocal parts. At the age of sixty Kurtág had developed a deep knowledge of the canon of opera including the works of Wagner and Verdi. Just weeks before Pierre Audi was taking over the position of Jan van Vlijmen as artistic leader of this opera house Kurtág decides to give back the commission.

“They came first to visit us in Budapest to discuss this and we than had to come to Amsterdam to sign the contract. The night before that was supposed to happen, I told Márta that if I would sign the contract, I could be certain to never write an opera. So we went, everybody festively dressed and it turned into a festive not signing a contract.”[54]

A two year residency in Amsterdam[55] ten years later (1996-98), offering Kurtág time and space to create whatever he wanted to compose did not result in something even faintly being the beginning of an opera. It wasn’t until György and Márta in 2001 moved to a small village near Bordeaux in France to live close to their son and grandchildren, that Kurtág started to compose music based on Beckett’s play Fin de partie.

fig. 2 manuscript of the opening bars of Fin de partie, dated 21 December 2013 © Paul Sacher Stiftung, reproduced by permission

scene 2

The Irish born author Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) who spend most of his life in France and wrote both in French and English was known for being notoriously precise and protective when it comes to bringing his work to the stage. Yet according to his biographer Beckett had an 'attitude to musicians who wanted to adapt his work (…) much freer than it was to stage or film directors wishing to do the same thing.’[56] Although expressing to Morton Feldman that 'he did not like opera.’ [57] Beckett gave permission to this American composer in 1975 to set his sixteen line poem Neither to music[58]. Swiss oboist and composer Heinz Holliger also gained permission to compose music for three Beckett pieces: Not I,[59] Come and Go [60] and What where [61] premiered as a triple bill in Frankfurt am Main in 1989 with the student in this study performing one of the two percussion parts.

To this point the texts of Samuel Beckett set to music by Feldman and Holliger were quite minimalistic. As was What is the word. The composition Samuel Beckett: What is the word Op 30b is a pivotal work in the oeuvre of György Kurtág. The text is a permutation of only twenty four words. Beckett conceived the text in French with the title Comment dire when recuperating in a hospital from being injured by a fall most likely being caused by a stroke in his home in July 1988. His notebook shows how the text is developing in seven successive entries written over a period of two months. His biographer James Knowlson only vaguely hints to a condition of aphasia that the author may have suffered from: ‘The spidery handwriting is very moving – precisely because Beckett is rediscovering words again.’[62]

fig. 3 manuscript notebook Comment dire MS-UoR-3316 pag. 2v. © Samuel Beckett Estate reproduced with permission

Beckett scholar Laura Salisbury is more explicit about the condition of Beckett[63]: 'Ruby Cohn, who read the poem and its seven drafts, certainly saw a clear connection with the faltering poetics of aphasic speech. She thought immediately of the actor and director Joseph Chaikin who had worked with Beckett’s drama since the 1960s, but who had also been left with aphasia after open-heart surgery in 1984. Cohn recounts*: ‘Since Joe knows no French, I asked Beckett to translate the poem, but he could not recall having written it. After I sent him a copy, he dedicated his translation to Joe. It was Beckett’s last creation.’*[64] Beckett dictated this English translation in the summer of 1989 to his assistant Barbara Bray, who typed it on her computer and printed it out for him as What is the word. It would be the very last text Samuel Beckett authorized for publication.[65]

scene 3

During Kurtág’s residency in Paris in 1957/58, he got in contact again with Hungarian art historian Robert Klein (1918-1967) who settled as student in the French capital in 1948. They had been friends since they met before the war in the Romanian town of Timișoara where Klein studied medicine. Now converted successfully into an art historian, Klein took the composer who lived of a minimum rate of daily expenses every Sunday morning to a museum or gallery and out for lunch. And one day to the Studio’s des Champs-Elysée in which Fin de partie of Samuel Beckett was performed.

Robi was a passionate pedagogue and took me to “Fin de Partie” that had been premiered only a few months before. He bought us tickets and we saw it together. Afterwards he told me it was ‘very, very strong’ but I had hardly understood a single word of it. I had had some French in primary school, but what was spoken on stage, I could barely understand. But immediately after, Ligeti wrote to me that while being in Paris, if there would be any chance to attend “Waiting for Godot”, I should go and see it, because it was the work of a genius. So that evening I bought myself a copy of both “Waiting for Godot” and “Fin de partie”. And then I started to read and could understand. Ever since, Beckett has become for me the most important.[66]

With permission from the Estate Samuel Beckett to use the integral text of Fin de partie, Kurtág set out on a mission impossible to compose music for the entire text of one of Beckett’s mostly acclaimed plays. Many of his close friends that were allowed a glimpse into the process of creation were full of doubt. Yet calm, critical and solemnly reviewing all of his sketches Márta stood by the composer by day by day, copying sketches of endlessly revised versions. Thus Kurtág worked on his opera for over ten years until Salzburger Festspiele intendant Alexander Pereira commissioned the composer in 2013 for the second time to write an opera. Fin de partie was premiered at 15 november 2018 in the Teatro alla Scala in Milano in a co-production with the Dutch National Opera and directed by Pierre Audi. In its final version, Kurtág had set approximately half of Becketts text for Fin de Partie to music. The composer nor his wife Márta, already in a bad health condition where able to attend any of the staged performances of the opera.

3.4 how to notate silences?

An important element in the performance practice of music in general and that of György Kurtág in particular, is the absence of precise indications to notate crucial aspects of using language in music such as timing and expression. For pitch, dynamics and duration of tones, a refined system of notation has been developed since medieval times. Phonetic writing leaves no doubt about the right pronunciation of text. Yet how long exactly a pause must be in a dialogue or the time needed in a monologue to find the next word, can’t be captured in a generally accepted and standard notation. Kurtág invented a few signs himself indicating the length of a pause or fermata, but they are just as multi interpretable as his own and typical Kurtágian spoken instructions such as: "Pianissimo but fortissimo!".

fig. 4 György Kurtág Samuel Beckett: What is the word Op. 30b. pag. 7, © Universal Music Publishing Editio Musica Budapest. Reproduced by permission.

Conductor Reinbert de Leeuw described this problem after recording Samuel Beckett: What is the word Op. 30b:

“How to notate those pauses that create this sense of stuttering of the leading voice? For me it is essential that every single musician in the ensemble is sharing this stammering. Even the tuba player that only has a few notes, very distant from the stage due to the spatial set up of the piece and with extremely delicate notes to play. This stammering is indicated in the score by little pauses, fermata’s of all sorts. Finding the right timing for those is the most difficult of all.”[67]

The composer himself is the first to admit his being inapt to put on paper what he has in his head. Kurtág preferred to work intensively with the musicians interpreting is work, always assisted by Márta who had developed in their lifetime collaboration strong antennas for what was on the mind of her husband. More than once the composer rejected recordings that were made of his work, since they did not match his intentions. During his residency in Amsterdam Kurtág received the first copy of the Deutsche Grammophone recording of his largest orchestral work ΣΤΉΛΗ Stèle Op.33 [68] performed by the Berliner Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado. The student in this study remembers how apparently in dismal the composer handed over the CD of this prestigious recording to him with the words "Better use this as coaster for a hot pan."

Not only the precise timing of delivering the text but even more the right expression is an element that hardly can be captured in standard music notation. There’s an end to the Italian words that composers have been using through the ages ('adagio’,‘andante’,‘dolce’) and even to Kurtágs own vocabulary for describing the expression that he has in mind (‘unbearably slowly’, ‘in a whisper’, ‘nasal-palatal’, ‘in a whisper, frightened’, ‘drily’, ‘chaotically, screeching, high’, ‘astonished, childish’, ‘like a dogs barking’, ‘like a Chaplinesque delayed reaction’)[69] in order to have his music sound as he imagined it.

fig. 5 György Kurtág Samuel Beckett What is the word Op.30b pag 2 © Universal Music Publishing Editio Musica Budapest. Reproduced by permission.

4. second monologue: who has the word

4.1 who is speaking

Much to his regret, György Kurtág in his attempt to set Fin de partie to music, could not include the complete text of Samuel Beckett’s play in his opera. At the instigation of his wife Márta who told him it would take too much time, the composer left out what he called the dog motif in Beckett’s text.[70] The play dog is an object of Hamm that besides Hamm, Clov, Nell and Nagg could be seen as a fifth personage in this play. His (the dogs) role becomes prominent when Clov hits Hamm on the head with the play dog, leading to Hamm’s complaint that he could have accepted to be hit with a wooden gaff or an iron axe, but not being hit by the play dog[71] apparently the only object of his affection.

Dogs had to wait until October 2020 to be portrayed by György Kurtág sr. when he wrote Le Chien[72] for the 66th birthday of György Kurtág jr. His son always wished to have a dog, but grew up with cats only. His father offered him this composition in which the pianist should play the instrument sounding like a barking dog. Asked what the piano should bark about, Kurtág replied[73]:

“I did not get to that point yet. I still have to compose what the dog should be barking about.”

fig.6 score György Kurtág Le Chien (fragm.) transl. of dedication: to Gyuri 66 from his father. © Universal Music Publishing Editio Musica Budapest. Reproduced by permission.

That the one speaking not necessarily has to be human, is a recurring theme in the works of Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink. Enkele regels in de dierentuin [74] (Some rules in the zoo) is a collection of texts in the tradition of Dada and Fluxus by Mengelberg in which many animals mount the stage.[75] Mengelberg wrote De sprong, oh romantiek der hazen (The jump, o romance of the hares) a text inspiring a composition that became standard repertoire for the ICP Orchestra. Another composition Mengelberg recorded and published is an improvisation with his parrot Eeko.[76]

Drummer Han Bennink remembered how difficult it was to talk about music with his live time partner on stage Misha Mengelberg:

“It made no sense to discuss music with Misha. We always talked about other stuff. About Kurt Schwitters or Marcel Duchamp or his parrot, whatever, or the piranha of his wife Amy that she kept in a small square bowl.”[77]

Yet the animistic approach of Mengelberg was not unfamiliar to Bennink himself:

"That’s when I let the chair play the drums, because most chairs never in their whole live had a chance to play with their legs on a cymbal."[78]

And before leaving this bestiary, this is what Wolfgang Rihm has to say [79]

“Who poses the question ‘what does music say?’ has no doubt that music is saying something. But couldn’t it be that just by this way of asking, the perspective gets a somewhat slanted position as if one could ask ‘what do cats bark?’. ‘What howl the birds and what quack the bees’?.”

4.1.1 the presence of the speaker

The notebook in which Samuel Beckett scribbled his first draft of Comment dire offers an insight in the creation of this text. Comment dire was written in a process of eleven versions before the English translation was made. The first words quelle-tête and répos were written on what looks like a title page and were crossed out. They may refer to the condition of the author after the stroke:

fig. 7 manuscript notebook Comment dire MS-UoR-3316 pag. 1
© Samuel Beckett Estate

The next word folie (folly) was not crossed out and became the opening word of the final text. The page of the entry in this notebook dated 10 September 1988 and written in the hospital Pasteur in which Beckett was recovering from his stroke, shows almost the full body of the final version and contains the verb forms est, il n’y a, voire, croire and dire (is, there isn’t, see, believe and say) and ends with répos (rest) with no specific indication of a subject. “Keep ! for end” is what the author noted as a header. Whereas in the 29 October 1988 draft, other verb forms are added: donné, vu, entrevoir and vouloir (given, seen, to get a glimpse and to want). The combination vouloir croire entrevoir (wanting to believe to get a glimpse) is repeated. All these versions are so to speak screaming for and full of options to add a subject that does not appear. What does not change in the French versions in his own handwriting and in the English translation that Samuel Beckett dictated to by typed out by his assistant Barbara Bray is the use of the dash ( - ) as the only sign for interpunction.

fig.8 manuscript notebook Comment dire MS-UoR-3316 pag. 2r. dated 10 September 1988
fig.9 manuscript notebook Comment dire MS-UoR-3316 pag. 4r-2 1988
dated 29 October 1988
© Samuel Beckett Estate

According to Beckett scholar Laura Salisbury this dash shuts off: ‘the presence of the speaking subject or its fictional hypostases. Without the appearance of any personal pronouns–‘folly for [me] to’, ‘folly for [him] to’,‘folly for [us] to’–aphasia resists localization and the ‘folly’ involved in the hopeless search for the right word refuses to be bound in any straightforward way to the suffering transcendence that can be attached to self-expression.’[80] Although the only verb in the text (‘seeing’) suggest there is a subject, the text itself doesn’t allow any identification with a speaker. Beckett’s last text therefore may have been less of a therapy for the author to overcome his aphasia than the actual expression of his illness. The expression of a subject that cannot know itself and suffers from that not knowing. As Salisbury describes it:’ a sense of the subjectivity that cannot know itself in its suffering, yet still feels enough to witness the process of becoming something other, something it cannot recognize. (…) As readers of Beckett’s work have come to expect from its most insistent metalanguage, within ‘What Is the Word’ the sense that there is any ‘I’ to express is relentlessly compromised, despite the insistence of some unnamable compulsion or perhaps an obligation to express.’ [81]

4.1.2 what identifies the speaker

Can the speaker always be identified? It is an ongoing discussion in literature whether a character created by an author even in an autobiographical novel can and should be identified as being the author of the text. The words spoken by Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest[82] ‘our revels now are ended’ have been interpreted (Alexander, 1939)[83] as words Shakespeare (1564-1616) himself a few years before his death may have used realizing the end of his productional life as an author was nearing.

Although characters in music appear in different and more fluid forms (the idée fixe of Berlioz, Wagner’s Leitmotiv and Stockhausen’s Formel ) similar questions of identification in literature and drama arise when personages are being brought to the stage in music. This is how György Kurtág described Nell, the only female character in Beckett’s play Fin de partie, crippled without legs in a dustbin next to her husband Nagg:

“In fact, Nell for me was the embodiment of Márta. When I saw Nell for the first time in the theatre, I somehow knew that I had fallen in love with this character.”

Nell is the only character that dies in the play, leaving her mourning husband Nagg behind. The composer who lost his wife Márta in 2019, answered the question if this identification of Márta with Nell would imply that he himself would be in the role of Nagg:

“Yes, but as composer I have to be all four of them.”

Commenting on his meticulous work to set the monologues in Fin de partie to music, Kurtág stated:

“The monologues of Beckett are so fantastically composed, that they contain different persons. It is not one person speaking or even two, but sometimes a memory or something tied together from different thoughts. There’s always a whole world behind.”[84]

Cellist Lucy Payne remembers how strong the input was of Mr. N. when conducting her improvisation. Although her cello at that point was creating the only sound in the room,

“The challenge was the thing that was between us and that he was playing as much as me in a way.”[85]

Soprano Viola Cheung, born in Hong Kong recognizes other aspects of identification. In casting roles in classical opera not only the voice but also the physical appearance of the singer is a factor. This artform inspired by the ancient Italian Commedia dell’arte is offering audiences worldwide only a limited line up of characters to identify with. This line up is the mix of people one may have found in seventeenth century Venice when Claudio Monteverdi (1576-1643) invented the genre opera. A line up in which a single black person thanks to Giuseppe Verdi (1818-1901) in Otello slipped into the stage-door of the opera house and some Japanese personages that Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) created in Madama Butterfly [86] were added. Match these characters with the tall blond and blue-eyed Nordic archetypes that Richard Wagner(1813-1883) brought to the tableau and it is fair to say that the genre of classical opera exclusively offers a stage to personages with a predominantly European appearance. As Chinese singer Viola Cheung recalls: [87]

“When I started singing opera I was told that maybe I should sing the role of the Japanese girl Cio-Cio-San in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly because I look like ‘these people’…”

In 1984 Beckett objected an American Repertory Theatre Company’s production of Endgame in which two black actors were casted as Hamm and Nagg, which according to an ART report added a 'dimension to the play that Beckett had not put there.’[88] Four years later Beckett instituted a ban on all productions of his work in The Netherlands after he lost a lawsuit against theatre company Toneelschuur Haarlem that had earlier produced Waiting for Godot with all male characters performed by actresses only.[89]

In 1970 Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007) composed MANTRA for two pianists[90]. In this work he introduced what he called a Formel: a musical formula that like a string of DNA contains in nuclear form all information needed to create the complete seventy minutes for this piece of music. He developed the concept of the Formel further in his opera cycle LICHT die sieben Tage der Woche (1977-2003). The three protagonists in this cycle, Michael, Lucifer and Eve have their own Formel and the entire twenty-seven hours of music that Stockhausen composed for the seven opera’s that constitute LICHT are derived from these three musical formulae. As a listener, one becomes familiar with the sounding appearances of these Formels and how they lend their characteristics to particular scenes or the music that is performed.

In the words of Stockhausen[91]:

“The dramatical genre that I’m interested in, encompasses cosmic powers and spiritual principles that materialize and become manifest. My theatre hence is not a theatre of manners or representation but a theatre of the future in which spirits become manifest, attributed with extraordinary skills and superhuman artistic talents. When you see them on stage, you immediately wish to be equal to them. I have set myself the goal to form such creatures and put my music into their hands and mouths.”

Dutch flautist Kathinka Pasveer not only became the leading interpreter of all works Stockhausen created for the flute, but also his life time companion together with clarinetist Suzanne Stephens ever since Stockhausen met Pasveer at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague in 1982. In 2021 Pasveer is overseeing the musical heritage of the composer on behalf of the Stockhausen Foundation and in 2019 she was musical leader of the internationally acclaimed Holland Festival/Dutch National Opera/Royal Conservatoire The Hague production Aus LICHT. About the three Formels in the opera cycle LICHT she states:[92]

"The music we play in LICHT most of the time is a mix of material from all three formulae or two and only rarely just one. It’s just a matter of playing the music with perfection in order to free the ‘cosmic powers’ and give Eve, Lucifer and Michael their voices.(…) So it is not me becoming Eve, Lucifer or Michael in every note I play. In the best moments, I am an instrument for their music. (…) Of course, you recognize what material comes from what formula, but that does not mean that for every note I have to do something special. I only have to play what is written. The music will speak for itself."

However when asked how much Kathinka Pasveer is required to give the appearances of Eve, Michael and Lucifer in the opera a voice, Pasveer answered laughing:

"Well, a lot of Kathinka in KATHINKA’s GESANG as LUZIFERS REQUIEM[93]. Just kidding. Essentially it takes a great musician with a small ego to give these protagonists their voices."

How some of that Kathinka slipped into the musical material Stockhausen applied in this requiem for Lucifer, is illustrated at the end of section 23 in the composition when the flute soloist utters a provocative and extra-formular “ə hə” (written in phonetics). According to Pasveer this goes back to the creation of the work, when composer and flautist both madly in love spend months together in a beach resort in Zanzibar, working on the piece every day and the habit Pasveer had developed to always comment on Stockhausens remarks with a girlish ‘a ha’. Thus provoking the composer to the point where he threatened that if she would ‘a ha’ him one more time, he would make that part of the flute solo.

audio example 13: Karlheinz Stockhausen KATHINKA's GESANG
fig. 10 Karlheinz Stockhausen KATHINKA's GESANG pag. K 14

4.1.3 The authority of the speaker.

What authority has the speaker? When interviewed by filmmaker Carine Bijlsma, conductor, composer and pianist Reinbert de Leeuw at the age of seventy-three and always recognized as an interpreter of music with very strong views and opinions, surprisingly says: [94]

“Music is so incomprehensible. The older I get, the less I understand of it. In the past I knew it all, I knew everything. What was okay and what wasn’t. Well I got cured from that. That’s the beauty of it. It’s mysterious. The realization that you will never fathom why this one particular note is so insanely beautiful? The more you occupy yourself with that question, the more convinced you get that you will never know the answer.”

This raises the question of the credibility of the musician producing an 'inherently information-bearing medium, and its capacity to represent the world’ that is disputed by philosopher Roger Scruton when he describes [95] ‘the hypothesis that music represents things be vindicated.’ Which would imply that a theory is needed 'that assigns truth-conditions to musical utterances.’

When the musician is in the role of an interpreter, the interpretation by itself can be assessed as not doing justice to the intentions of the composer of the music, whatever they may have been. In fact this happens a lot and forms the bulk of music criticism with endless yards full of composers that so to speak are turning over in their graves.

But when the musician as a person her/him/themself is the source of expression, the authority of the speaker is rooted and can be recognized as being authentic. Composer and singer/songwriter Maite van der Marel worked for three years in refugee camps in the Palestinian areas occupied by the state of Israel and in a region in the north of Jordan close to Lebanon and Syria. In a context in which making music by women is considered to be haram (foul according to a specific interpretation of the Koran) Maite encouraged children and young people including girls and women to express themselves with ‘musical utterances’.

“If at all somebody sings in upper-Jordan, it is a man calling for prayer in the mosque. And that’s where it ends. This girl had a particular urge to sing herself, because she felt that this was where her truth was hidden. And that’s what she expresses with her whole heart: may my truth also exist? Being able to express that in music, by a young woman that had kept that wish as a long-kept secret, felt as an incredible statement of liberty. Music never lies.”[96]

This authenticity of the performer according to singer Viola Cheung is at stake:

"When you say something, something that’s really strong, in my opinion, you kind of need to act on it or you have to feel it. From your heart. Then you can really sing it out. It’s more internalized. So if there is a strong feeling upon something that I personally don’t feel, then it can be difficult to say it.".

György Kurtág underpins the authority of the speaker by emphasizing the intention with which is spoken:

"The stammering doesn’t mean that I’m inhibited, but that at all costs, I want to reach the end of my phrase." [97]

4.2 who is listening

Reviewing in 2021 an improvisation they performed in 2012 both violinist Loes Dooren and cellist Octavian Lup mention how the response of an audience is influencing their musical dialogue. Recalling the improvisation created eight years before, they both mention that the apparent response of the people in the room made them make musical decisions.

Violinist Loes Dooren:

"He is getting a lot of response because he starts to imitate me, jumping to a high register and portraying me as if I am a whining kid. That really comes across with the audience and makes it hard for me to respond. I have to try something different." [98]

audio example 14 Loes Dooren & Octavian Lup

In the words of cellist Octavian Lup:

"I was inspired by the reaction of the public (…) especially when you improvise (…) it’s even easier to get the feedback from the public because they laugh. (…) So they really helped me to be even more convincing in my role as stubborn father than I was." [99]

In the context of creating music with elderly persons with dementia cellist Lucy Payne, looking back on her improvisation with Mr. N. writes:

"I was struck when watching the video by the stillness in the room and how this moment was shared by the whole group. That there was somehow a shared unspoken sense that something meaningful was happening in their midst. I wonder if the fact that it was ‘witnessed’ added to its power? I wonder if it added to both mine and Mr N’s experience of it- perhaps it enabled him to feel (subconsciously or even consciously) even more seen and heard? That it added to the sense of his empowerment in the moment. That the real power of these ‘moments’ is held in the mysterious shared experience of both the performer/listener… "

Drummer Han Bennink is quite outspoken when it comes to interacting with audiences. As a sign of recognition he sticks up his brushes next to his head as soon as Mengelberg starts the song Oh jump, romance of the hares:

“With my brushes I imitate the ears of a hare. That I do deliberately”.[100]

4.3 the speaking

4.3.1 tacit music: the medium is the message

References in music can become manifest through the instrument itself that is used to produce the music. Drummer Han Bennink choses to play on an emptied pizza box:

“This is something people have not seen before. Some sort of crazy Dutch country boy that starts to play on a pizza box he has emptied instead of a nice drumkit. Everything is possible.(…) I use the cardboard. When I open the box, these cardboard ridges, they also produce sound. I don’t make it easy for myself. Of course you can also sit behind the drumkit and play along.”[101]

At some point, Bennink uses the box to turn it around a drum stick like a windmill, a reference made to an American audience underpinning the fact that he is Dutch and born in Holland.

Cellist Lucy Payne describes how the conductor’s baton used by Mr. N. becomes an instrument by itself:

“I think he was using these big gestures that partly came from him mirroring my bowing arm (…) it was almost that he was playing the instrument. (…) It felt a little bit like the two of us became one with the instrument and the cello was in between.”[102]

Both violinist Loes Dooren and cellist Octavian Lup have stated that the tessitura, the pitch range of their instruments played an important role in the perception of their improvised conversation. The nature of the conversation was an assignment given by their audience of young people. Loes was asked to play a daughter, Octavian to play the father. Not only were their roles gender defined but also the pitch range and size of their instruments were significant. Both the violin and the cello had been introduced to this audience previous to this improvisation exercise. The sound of the violin was apparently associated with the voice of a young female person, that of the cello as one fitting the range of an adult male voice. In the words of cellist Octavian Lup:

"And then when we evolved into the musical speech, then I started to imitate her and when I got into the A string, which is a higher string, I started to sound like she was, you know, to imitate her, to make a caricature of her own request."[103]

That instruments as objects producing sound in their representational appearance influence how music is perceived is also illustrated in the performance practice of Composition No.2 Dies Irae [104] by Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006). The piece is part of a tryptic. Composition No 1 Dona nobis pacem[105] is set for piccolo flute, tuba and piano. Composition No 3 Benedictus qui venit[106] is set for four flutes, four bassoons and piano. Composition No 2 is orchestrated for eight double basses, wooden cube and piano.

The percussionist of the Schönberg Ensemble who at this point can be identified as the student asking questions, prepared the first performance outside Russia of Ustvolskaya’s Composition No. 2 Dies Irea after its premiere in Leningrad 1977, had the 1980 edition by Sikorski Verlag Hamburg at his disposal.[107] The 1980 edition is more ambiguous about the instrument than Sikorski edition of the same work published in 1993 that is dedicated to Reinbert de Leeuw.

Idiophones from all over the world including the local junkyard[108] and mallets varying from the ‘Hornschlägel’[109] to the ‘grosse Hammer’[110] have become part of the contemporary percussionists collection of instruments and tools to beat them. But a wooden cube to be hit by wooden hammers as desired by Galina Ustvolskaya is anno 1992 not yet included in that collection. As the printed part for the percussionist in the first Sikorski edition of the work indicated the instrument only with the Russian word куб, the percussionist consulted a friend able to read Russian. She told him that a ‘wooden box’ was required. A translation that missed the actual meaning of куб being a cube. Handwritten instructions in the score that was available (the 1980 edition) were contradictory. Wooden hammers should be replaced by timpani sticks and the wood by cardboard. The percussionist decided to design his own box.[111]

audio example 15: the sound of Ustvolskaya's куб
audio example 16: the sound of the box used by the Schönberg Ensemble
fig. 11 Galina Ustvolskaya Compostion No. 2 Dies Irea edition 1980 © Sikorski Verlag Hamburg

The percussion part is prescribing an extreme range of dynamics playing the куб. From ppppp till ffffff and almost every single note containing the composers encouragement to play ‘espressivo’. Given the fact that the instrument has to be played with wooden hammers and in order to avoid damaging his own wrists and the ears of bystanders the percussionist choose to use a hollow wooden structure in the shape of a marimba key suspended on the nodes. Thus the instrument could vibrate and would allow not only the contact sound of the hammers hitting the surface but also give way to the resonance of the inner space of the box. It wasn’t until the rehearsals with the Schönberg Ensemble and pianist/conductor Reinbert de Leeuw for the Amsterdam première of this Dies Irea took place in 1992, that the constructed and suspended instrument was perceived as resembling the shape of a coffin.

This launched a new connotation to the instrument with large consequences for the perception of this music. It added up to the image that composer/author/musicologist Elmer Schönberger (who initiated the attention for Ustvolskaya’s work in The Netherlands) created of Ustvolskaya as The lady with the hammer).[112] This allusion to the ultimate communist symbol of the hammer, Ustvolskaya’s background as former student of Dimitri Shostakovich, her suffering during the years of the Soviet regime and her unbroken power to create a unique and deeply religious oeuvre soon became an image inseparably connected to her work.

According to Andrei Bakhmin, scholar of the works of Ustvolskaya and curator of the website ustvolskaya.org:

'The coffin jokes went on since then, Ustvolskaya laughed at them first, then she became exasperated: “I did not write music for coffins!”[113]

4.3.2 voiced music

When asked how he would describe the role of the vocal soloist in What is the word Op. 30b György Kurtág had to think long and came up with the French word diseuse. A word that describes a type of declamation of poetry developed in nineteenth century in French salons de littérature and in the first half of the twentieth century often applied by actresses and actors in German cabaret.[114] Kurtág is explicit that his writing for the voice, that he describes in the score as recitation is different from the Sprechgesang that Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951) introduced in his Pierrot Lunaire (1912)[115]

Writing Pierrot Lunaire was a commission by Viennese actress Albertine Zehne who paid the composer fifteen-hundred German marks and was also the soloist in the first performance in Berlin and solely entitled to be the soloist in the first thirty performances of the work. In his foreword to the score[116], Schönberg states the pitches of notes should not be kept constant for the full duration and the singer: ‘immediately abandons it by falling or rising. The goal is certainly not at all a realistic, natural speech. On the contrary, the difference between ordinary speech and speech that collaborates in a musical form must be made plain. But it should not call singing to mind, either.’

fig 12 contract commission Arnold Schönberg by Albertine Zehme © Arnold Schönberg Center Wien (Gertrud Schönberg Collection, 31.50) reproduced with permission

Many have studied what exactly Schönberg may have meant with his blend of speech and singing: "His instructions demand relative pitch, his notation implies absolute pitch."[117] Some theories make a relation with the declamation Schönberg must have heard when working in the Überbrettl cabaret in his Berlin years (1901-1903). Ever since the premiere of Pierrot Lunaire by Albertine Zehme, the vocal part has puzzled many and interpretations of singers or actresses have often been criticized as either too much sung or too much spoken.

According to musicologist Peter Stadlen: ‘The difference between singing and speaking is by no means, as Schoenberg assumed, restricted to the contrast between steady and sliding pitch. It also depends - and not at least - on tone production.’[118] Schönberg was influenced by actress Albertine Zehme who commissioned the piece and was known for her articulate views on the declamation of texts:

"The words that we speak should not solely lead to mental concepts, but instead their sound should allow us to partake of their inner experience. To make this possible we must have an unconstrained freedom of tone. none of the thousand vibrations should be denied to the expression of feeling.(…) The singing voice, that supernatural, chastely controlled instrument, ideally beautiful precisely in its ascetic lack of freedom, is not suited to strong eruptions of feeling – since even one strong breath of air can spoil its incomparable beauty. (…) Life cannot be exhausted by the beautiful sound alone. The deepest final happiness, the deepest final sorrow dies away unheard, as a silent scream within our breast, which threatens to fly apart or erupt like a stream of molten lava from our lips. For the expression of these final things it seems to me almost cruel to expect the singing voice to do such a labor, from which it must go fourth frayed, splintered, and tattered. For our poets and composers to communicate, we need both the tones of song as well as those of speech."[119]

The words of Zehme align with how Dutch singer Gerrie de Vries describes[120] her giving voice to Kurtágs What is the word Op.30b:

“It is not really singing. Nothing is sung. You have to get away from singing. It is about something else with Kurtág. Only if you can let go of the singing, you get where he wants you to be. It is always about the emotion that needs to be expressed. For every single note. One note still extremer than the other.”

The subtitle of Kurtágs Op. 30b is Samuel Beckett sends words through Ildikó Monyók in the translation by István Siklós. After Ildyko Monyók, the actress suffering from aphasia and for whom Kurtág wrote the piece, passed away in 2012, the composer banned any further performances of the work that in his view had lost its voice. It wasn’t until he got to know Gerrie de Vries in 2013 that György and his wife Márta, who always had a strong voice in casting soloists, that the composer decided a new performance and the authorized recording of the work could take place, now exclusively given voice by Gerrie de Vries.

De Vries worked extensively with the composer, preparing her interpretation of the piece.

"So we worked a full day on how to bring the text. That was fantastic. We really went into the depths if not to the bottom of what I could do with my voice and I was surprised how much more meaning there was in saying these words. He then asked me to come back and the next day again we worked hard together with Márta to find the right expression. And if in the end I could give it my voice in the way he was looking for, he was so happy, clapping his hands!"

Singing the pitches as written in the score was crucial for Kurtág even to the extent that a pianino (a small and dampened upright piano) was added to the instrumentation, simply because Monyók as an actress had great difficulty finding the right pitches. As a souffleur in a theatre piece, the pianist softly anticipates every note of the vocal solo and at one point uses the voice to count out seven repetitions of the word hól (where). Overcoming Monyóks handicaps became part of Kurtágs musical vocabulary in What is the word Op. 30b.

The four singers in Kurtágs opera Fin de Partie have substantially richer tone material but the challenges for them are similar. It is the expression only that counts for the composer. Not having attended any of the performances of this work in Milano and Amsterdam, and based on recordings he received only, Kurtág expressed still not to be satisfied by how some moments were given voice. As he clearly identified Nell, the only female role in the opera with his wife Márta[121] it may be assumed that he personally identified with the role of Nell’s partner Nagg as the other one with no legs kept in a dustbin. The dramatic moment at the end of his monologue in which Nagg realizes Nell is no longer alive, a high C-sharp is given to the tenor for screaming her name in a descending glissando that according to the score should be 'cry-glissando that ends in a sort of moaning of a wounded animal’.

György Kurtág Fin de partie pag. 237 © Universal Music Publishing Editio Musica Budapest. Reproduced by permission.

In an interview taken fifteen months after Márta Kurtág passed away, György complaints about the performances given so far of this moment in the score and demonstrates with a cry that lasts over ten seconds, how the voice should sound.

audio example 17: Nagg's cry for Nell

5. third monologue

5.1 program music 1 (abstract)

In 1973 composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) gave a series of lectures in which he explored and explained the relation between music and language the title The Unanswered Question.[122] Both a reference and a salute to Charles Ives (1874-1954) composer of a work with the same title.[123] In the foreword of this composition Ives is giving a program to the music that has puzzled audiences, musicians and musicologists ever since it was premiered. Ives states that: ‘The strings are to present “The Silences of the Druids = Who Know, See and Hear Nothing.” The trumpet intones “The Perennial Question of Existence” and repeats it in the same tone of voice each time. But the hunt for “The Invisible Answer” undertaken by the flutes and other human beings, becomes gradually more active, faster and louder.’

As a trumpeter, William Forman has interpreted this perennial question of existence many times and in many different contexts. In his words, the ambiguity of the piece is enlarged by the different versions Ives has made of the trumpet part. The first sketches for The Unanswered Question were made in 1906. In those sketches the melody of the trumpet consists of only five notes, always ending ‘the question’ on the B-flat.

In the 1930s Ives set copyists to work to publish prints of the score indicating that the last note in the last of the seven repetitions of the trumpet melody, should be altered into a C-natural. [124]

fig. 14 Wiley Hitchcock, H., Zahler, N.(1988). Just What Is Ives’s Unanswered Question

In the first edition of the piece, published in October 1941, in the Boletin Latino-Americano de Musica, the last notes of the trumpet in the seven repetitions of ‘the question’ alternated: C B C B C B C. In the 1953 Southern Music Publishing edition, the alternation is: C B C B C B B, a very decisive choice for the ending .

According to William Forman[125], from the interpreter’s point of view, it makes a big difference to play the C or the B as the final note. After the woodwinds have screamed out ‘con fuoco’ their last and most bewildered response to the trumpets sixth version of the question, the silent druids in the strings, as Bernstein puts it[126] prolongate their G-major triad into eternity. Ending on a C in a G-major environment would keep the eyebrows raised, whereas a final B sounds more like the trumpet is resting this case.

audio example 18: Charles Ives "The unanswered question" trumpet melody ends on C
audio example 19: Charles Ives "The unanswered question" trumpet melody ends on B

5.2 program music 2 (depicting)

Charles Ives wasn’t the first composer giving a foreword to a score of purely instrumental music. At the premiere of his Symphonie Fantastique in 1830, Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) provided his audience in Paris with a leaflet, describing in detail the narrative underlaying each of the five movements of his symphony. Depicting an unanswered love represented by an ‘idée fixe’ (a recognizable short melody) the fourth movement is making the listener witness of an execution by the guillotine. A scenery not alien to French audiences in the early nineteenth century. The music is dramatic and clearly building to a climax in a march that Olivier Messiaen would describe as not rhythmical ("The march with its paced cadence and uninterrupted succession of equal values is un-natural.")[127] but according to Quirijn van Regteren Altena "is a march of which you most certainly don’t want to speed up the pace."[128]. Van Regteren Altena has a long career as principal double-bass player in symphony orchestra’s and in that capacity performed Berlioz’ symphony many times. In his words, orchestral musicians are not so much guided by the program of a piece of music if there is one, but by the information coming from the conductor. Even for Quirijn, with so many years of experience, the narrative Berlioz offered to understand his symphony is only vaguely known and in his perception it is for most other members of the orchestra.

Yet the meaning of the seventh bar after figure 59 in the fourth movement Marche au Supplice (March to the Scaffold) in the score of the Symphonie Fantastique can’t be mistaken. Van Regteren Altena:

"After the low pizzicato we play, there’s always one of us in the bass-group that will make the remark: there’s another head rolling in the basket"

fig. 15 Hector Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique , 4th movement , 7th bar in figure 59

This aligns with Nimrod Moloto Molokomme who as a conductor of a youth orchestra in Soweto/South Africa would often use metaphors and images to explain his musicians how he wanted them to give expression to the music:

“I would depict a rainbow to make them play to the end of a phrase. Or I would bring one of those plastic balls I took from a deodorant roller and would drop it, bouncing from the floor to show them what ‘staccato’ means.”[129]

Composer Wolfgang Rihm is quite outspoken when it comes to the depiction of images in music[130]:

"So often we seek shelter in images. They supply us with an immediate vehicle for what has not yet been brought into motion. We imagine and do so quite eagerly especially when the signs fail to represent the essence and images lend themselves easily to be enquired.

“In non-textual music one-dimensional images jump to the forefront. Euphemistically we call them associations. I see it as a dialogue interrupted whilst meanings are projected on screens hiding the music itself. Nothing can come to the front and nothing finds an entry. As if music without cinematographic imaging has become unbearable if not totally incomprehensible.”

5.3 program music 3 (hidden stories)

In 1973 Vera Beths performed the solo part of the Violin Concerto of Alban Berg. That was the first time she played the piece that she would later perform in over thirty concerts. Both Hans van Manen with the Dutch National Ballet and Jiří Kylián for the Netherlands Dance Theater made a choreography based on this composition that would therefore reach an exceptional large audience in many different venues. Her very first performance of the concerto however, with the Noord-Hollands Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Hans Vonk was recorded by the Dutch National Radio. Beths never kept a copy of this recording herself and in an interview that took place on 10 March 2021, it was for the first time and after forty eight years that she heard back her first interpretation of this monumental piece played at the beginning of her career, age twenty seven.

"I already wanted to play this piece ever since I heard it, still being a student at the conservatoire. But my teacher Herman Krebbers would not allow me to study this concerto. In his view this was decadent music."[131]

However Theo Olof, colleague of Krebbers and one of the first violinists in The Netherlands performing the Berg Concerto sympathized with the curiosity of the young and talented violinist and gave her a copy of his own part including his notations of how to set the fingers. Vera Beths:

" I identified myself enormously with the piece. I became obsessed with every single note. It had this tension and intensity, telling the story of an entire life.(…) The work was given the subtitle ‘to the memory of an angel’. I remember wearing a white dress in that performance and the looks of conductor Hans Vonk backstage, seeing me wearing that dress seconds before we had to go on stage. It gave me some power. Rehearing it now, I am reliving every note and immediately remember how I wanted to send that note into the world and how that note fitted the context."

Commenting on the beginning of the Concerto when the soloist is only playing the open strings of the violin:

" How can one start a piece with nothing, like a blank page? And then the enormous meaning the difference between a minor and major third can get. That is fantastic. You have to taste those harmonies, how they gain a different light.(…) And how beautiful the open strings blend with that long note of the clarinet played with no vibrato. And then the music gets a pace and I prepare for the high note that I am about to pick from heaven."

audio example 20: Berg Violin Concerto 1st movement bar 1-10

“Here you get the Viennese waltz. I would take that a bit faster now.”

audio example 21: Berg Violin Concerto 1st movement bar 175-200

" Music is of course abstract and autonomous. But in this piece the music is very intertwined with stories. And as a violinist your phantasy is activated. You need to discover the story in the notes. The notes are like words and the phrases are like sentences and that is how you can give the music content and make it a whole. Everybody knows it is about Manon Gropius. She was 17 when she died from leukemia."

"This is one big struggle. As a soloist you feel all these grasping tentacles from which you try to escape. That’s how I have experienced this passage. Not difficult to relate to that horrible disease."

audio example 22: Alban Berg Violin Concerto 2nd movement bar 1-28

“This is such a magical moment. It is over. You give up your struggling. The solo voice is no longer struggling with the orchestra. You merge into something larger than you. Just fill in your own interpretation of that.(…) And then in the end, you go straight into heaven. (…). That top note doesn’t have an end. It turns into dust.”

audio example 23: Alban Berg Violin Concerto 2nd movement bar 200-230

“But there are a lot of hidden secrets in this piece, including Bergs own secret love.”

Vera Beths is referring to what has been described as the secret program of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto.[132] The piece is dedicated to Manon Gropius, daughter of his close friends Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius. Manon died age seventeen. But it may be that this concerto is not only dedicated to Manon Gropius. Berg’s Violin Concerto bears signals that the composer himself realized this would be his swan song, the last piece he would be able to complete. Alban Berg composed this twenty-seven minute concerto for violin and full symphony orchestra in a remarkable short period of only three months on the 11^th^ of August, four months before his death on 24 December 1935. The quotation of Bach’s chorale Es ist genug from the Cantate O Ewigkeit du Donnerwort BWV 60 in the last movement is generally seen as a sign of recognition and even acceptance by the composer that his death was near.

That may explain why the Violin Concerto is full of other signals. The use of the proportions 10 and 23 throughout the composition are related by musicologists to Berg’s fascination for the numerological theories of his contemporary Wilhelm Flies. But also the pivotal role of the pitches H (the German note name for the B) and F could be seen as a signal, since they bear the initials of Hanna Fuchs, known as the woman the composer had loved throughout his life but was never married to. The Carinthian folksong that appears in the first movement and resonates in the second, has been identified as A bird on the plum tree has awakened me. A folksong referring to a person that overslept in ‘Mizzi’s’ bed. It is known that Alban Berg as a 17-year old young man became the father of an illegitimate daughter. Her mother being identified as Marie Scheuchl, kitchen aid in the home Berg’s family would rent in the summer. ‘Mizzi’ is a widely used nickname for Marie in Carinthia. It isn’t farfetched to assume that Alban Berg in his last composition realizing his life will soon come to an end is making a reference to Albine Scheuchl (born 1902) the daughter he never officially accepted and acknowledged.

When performing Berg’s Violin Concerto in 1973, Vera Beths could not be aware of that connotation of the Carinthian folksong that was first published in 1983. Re-hearing her first performance of the concerto, she has a strong response to an interpretation of the folksong in that context:

“I thoroughly dislike this kind of anecdotical approach of music. It doesn’t bring you anything.(…) What I picked up from this melody is a kind of being in love. Apparently I got that message right. I don’t need that other information. For me it is all about what do these notes tell me? It is so enriching to perform this music because it allows you to get to know something so beautiful and to understand the meaning of it from within yourself. And you have to stand behind yourself. That this is what you have understood.(…) In this way you learn more about the composer than what you may have learned from your own grandfather or father.(…) But in the end what it all means, you can only find in the notes.”

5.4 the sound of meaning

Soprano Viola Cheung has combined her passion for Western opera with singing Chinese pop songs in which she accompanies herself on the guzheng, an instrument with twenty-one strings played by plucking the string with one hand in combination with changing the tension of it with the other. The pitches the guzheng brings forward can thus constantly be bend. In playing the guzheng, Viola sees a reference with Chinese languages being tone-languages. Not only Mandarin, but in particular Cantonese are languages in which the bending of the tone applied to speaking a word is defining the meaning of that word. Two words using the same phonetics can have completely different meanings in Cantonese due to melodic changes in the voice. According to Cheung:

“In pop songs, it’s more common for Hong Kong music industry to first have the melody and then ask somebody else to make the lyrics on it.(…) When we talk in Cantonese, there’s already a melody in it, although it’s relative and not with perfect pitch.(…) So we cannot say that you make a poem and then I do a mood music on it. It has to be the other way around. First the melody, then text.”[133]

Composer Wolfgang Rihm points out:

“Sound is in itself already in word text an independent carrier of messages, full of information for the one that has ‘ears to hear’. Sound changes the meaningfulness of letters. From case to case the same word can express itself as harmless, ironical, hostile, desperate, joyful and so on.”[134]

Singer Gerrie de Vries illustrates the importance of expression referring to one single word in Samuel Beckett; What is the Word Op. 30b.:[135]

“It’s only 24 words in the whole piece that constantly return. For instance the Hungarian word ‘hiábavalo’ which means ‘in vain’ or ‘folly’ returns eleven times. And every single time with a different expression: disgusted, desperate, accepting…the whole scala. And with a minimum of tone material.”

In his continuous battle to make his fellow bandmember Han Bennink play softer, Misha Mengelberg would often ask the drummer to use ‘slifjes’. As Bennink recalls:[136]

"What I played was most of the time too loud. Then he started shouting: “Han, slifjes, slifjes”. He meant brushes."

The word ‘slifjes’ invented by Mengelberg is an onomatopoeia that precisely describes the sound that brushes on a snare-drum produce. In the Studio di Fonologia di RAI Milano, Italian writer Umberto Eco (1932-2016) and composer Luciano Berio (1925-2003) were fascinated by onomatopoeia in poetry and in particular the eleventh chapter of Ulysses by James Joyce.[137] In works as Thema (Ommagio a Joyce)[138] and Circles[139] Berio with the help of Eco created a continuum of sound and spoken word derived from the Sirens chapter in Ulysses.

“the text not as closed, unchangeable object but as one whose meaning and sound both allow the proliferation of new functions.” (…)“Poetry has always looked at music nostalgically – as though at an unattainable possibility. The associative mechanism of poetry tends to suppress the musical character of its sound. I was interested in how to bridge the distances between poetry and music.” [140]

György Kurtág underpins the importance of James Joyce for music:[141]

“In fact it was Joyce who invented modern music. Invented with this small introduction to the Sirens chapter in Ulysses. Everything that is important summarized in a few words in an almost incomprehensible way and then it becomes comprehensible when the chapter unfolds.”

fig. 16 Ulysses (Odysseus) and the Sirens. Wood engraving, published in 1880 © istockphoto

6. dialogue

6.1 who says what?

Ghanean multi-instrumentalist Yaw Dela Botri’s mother language is Ewe[142]. A substantial part of the traditional Ghanean music, ‘E-ha’ in Ewe is dialogical with a central role for the master drummer playing the drum with the largest body and accompanied by drummers playing smaller bodied drums, axatse (gourd rattles) and the gangoqui bells. The music is constantly shaped as call and response between the master drummer and the chorus of instrumentalists and dancers. Dela Botri explains how the rhythmical patterns and especially the ‘calls’ of the master drummer are strongly speech related by speaking a short sentence in Ewe indicating the wish "that the spirit may be given power" and demonstrating its rhythmical equivalent when played on a drum:

“Everybody speaking Ewe would immediately recognize this as the master drummer’s call for a liquid refreshment for the musicians. You know, they start playing at nine in the evening and don’t stop until early in the morning.(…) Of course each master drummer has his own way of saying things, but essentially his calls will always be understood. The answers with which the other musicians and dancers respond are based on tradition, musical and dancing gestures that are deeply engraved in our culture from early childhood on.”[143]

The expression of especially the rhythmical element, allows a mutual understanding of the messages the music is carrying that according to Dela Botri is shared by almost the entire sub-Saharan population with its large variety of local and regional languages. That is different from what he experiences himself when performing his own music for audiences in Scandinavia and France:

“They don’t literally understand deep, deep things that we are saying in the music but they understand the sound and the energy of the music.”

Letting instrumentalists ‘speak’ is intentional in the work of György Kurtág. Referring to the orchestral beginning of his opera Fin de partie:[144]

“For me the instruments should speak. But that idea I took from Messiaen who at the time analyzed everything, including Mozart’s G-minor Symphony. He did not speak about themes or motives. He spoke about ‘personnages rythmiques’ (…) These ‘personnages rythmiques’ were in a continues conversation. That means one person is asking and the other is answering. And that is, how shall I put that, the most traditional aspect of my music, since it is always periodic. That means answer and question or question and answer.” (…) I discovered recently that in the St Matthew Passion the words of Jesus: “Nehmet, esset,” are the first part of a period. The answer is: “das ist mein Leib.” And that takes no more than three bars. That means that Bach invented Webern. So this conciseness, not needing eight bars to unfold a complete thought… The perfect periodic thought put in only three bars and everything is said that needs to be said."

French composer Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) often referred to himself as ‘compositeur, ornithologue et rythmicien’. Especially in his teaching that started 1946 in the cours d’esthétique at the conservatoire in Paris (it wasn’t until 1966 that he was nominated as professor of composition) Messiaen gave great importance to the element of rhythm. He analyzed with his students Hindu rhythms, rhythm in Gregorian chant, meter in music from antiquity, non-reversible rhythms, augmentation and diminution, asymmetrical sub-division. It was in this course that he introduced the ‘personnages rythmiques’:

"Here we take notion of an interesting element, the ‘development through elimination’ that is an example of ‘personnages rythmiques’ in the Rite of Spring. (…) I don’t know if Stravinsky himself was aware of the great innovation in the Rite that I’ve called ‘les personnages rythmiques’? I’m quite proud of that term since it seems really explicit to me."[145]

Messiaen explained his concept with a comparison to drama. One of the personages would take the stage in an expanding role (Messiaen describes the personage as male and brutal), another personage would show to be impressed and diminishes her presence (Messiaen describes this character as feminine) whereas a third personage standing by does not respond and stays unchanged.

In 1957 Kurtág attended as ‘auditeur’[146] the class in which Messiaen analyzed Mozart’s G-minor symphony. Lessons he would not forget. Like the lesson in which Messiaen elaborated his concept of the personnages rythmiques.:

“The greatest rhythmician of classical music most certainly is Mozart.(…) With Mozart we find groups that are masculine and feminine. The first ones move in one flight and end precisely in time, just like the masculine body and mind. The feminine groups are more flexible, like the feminine character and body and are more important and more characteristic. They carry a preparational period that we call l’anacrouse’, a summit more or less intense that is an accent and a decrease more or less weak (a wordless ending formed by different sounds of different durations.”[147]

With these observations Olivier Messiaen preluded what was formulated twenty five years later by Lehrdal & Jackendoff in their Generative Theory of Tonal Music[148] and Huron (2008)[149] amongst others about the bottom up and top-down processes to create structures that apply the principles of Gestalt psychology (‘chunking’ or grouping) of perceptual organization.

Examples taken from Samuel Beckett: What is the word Op. 30b and Fin de partie illustrate how Kurtág absorbed the teaching of Messiaen. In both phrases different ‘personnages rythmiques’ have mounted the stage. The first one expanding, the second diminishing, the third being unchanged. Both examples show how well these conversations match the text set to music: ‘hiábavaló adva mindettöl’ (folly given all this) and ‘à moi de jouer’ (It’s my turn to play).

Everything that needs to - be said - in one phrase.

fig.17 Samuel Beckett: What is the word bar m. © Universal Music Publishing Editio Musica. Reproduced by permission.
Fig. 18 Fin de partie piano reduction bar 25, 26 and 27 © Universal Music Publishing Editio Musica Budapest. Reproduced by permission.

6.2 Babylonian confusion

Viola Cheung may be the only soprano up to date that has sung the Queen of the Night arias in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) hitting the famous high F’s with ease singing not only in the original German language but also in Mandarin and Cantonese.

“I think the Mandarin version is more accessible. It’s more legato but there are more thick consonants that make it less crisp than the German original.(…) Whilst in Cantonese which is my mother language we always speak very low with very low pitch. We can have dinner and speak with a mouth full of food, but still by the bending of the voice, others will get the message when somebody is speaking. That is completely lost when you sing in the high register of the Queen of the Night.”[150]

Nimrod Moloto Molokomme whose mother language is Setswana points out an aspect of one of the other eleven official languages in South-Africa. In his view Zulu 'the Italian of Africa’ is the most musical, the most cantabile of these languages. Being the largest tribe in the region, the Zulu have a long history of battles. Singing has always been an important element in preparing these battles:

“That was also the case during the struggles. There was a lot of music coming from between and until right after apartheid. Nobody can tell you who composed it, but a lot of people were gathering and a lot of music came out of that.(…) The Zulu Nation is a very interesting nation in that. And I’m wondering if whatever the tribe does and if the tribe has got a lot of activities that go with music, that this influences the language.”[151]

Endless and painstaking rehearsals with musicians became part of Kurtágs practice as composer. Hard to satisfy and often contradicting what he may have instructed in previous rehearsals, always rediscovering and reformulating the meaning of his own writings, he has been as persistent in instructing how to interpret his own music as he has been when teaching the interpretation of a Beethoven string quartet. The trumpet part in the first recording of the fourth movement in the Brefs Messages Op.47 Bornemisza Péter: Az hit… was rejected by Kurtág. It made the composer desperately search for ways to indicate how this fanfare should be performed. He insisted on the trumpeter listening to a recording cellist Stefan Metz had made of Az hit in 2000[152]. Kurtág had worked extensively with the cellist on this less than two minute long solo that by itself was based on the melody sung by a soprano in the fourth movement Spring of the The Sayings of Péter Bornemisza Op.7[153]. The melody was a setting of the words:

Az hit nem álom, hanem eleven állat Thy faith’s not dreaming, but is a living being:

ki az Istent megragadja, és hathatos, to his Maker cleaves it ever,

és mint az világ világosságával embraceth Him, and as the daylight sheds light

másnak is világit; over all the world, it enlightens all;

a szívnek oly bizodalma, kivel a bünös in hearts such hope it engenders

az ö maga bocsánatát hiszi. _herewith the sinful their own pardon

may dare to gain above._

Péter Bornemisza (1535-1584) translation László András[154]

Both cellist and trumpeter, according to Kurtág need to be able to recite the Hungarian text ‘in their heads’ while playing their instrumental part.

audio example 24 Az hit sung by Erika Sziklay


audio example 25 Az hit performed on cello by Stefan Metz


After two Dutch trumpeters were dismissed, William Forman former member of Ensemble Modern in Frankfurt was flown in to record this part again.[157]

audio example 26: Az hit performed on trumpet by William Forman


Forman remembers:[159]

“I did learn the poem and I sat down with a Hungarian person and asked him to read me the poem and explain the different meanings of the words and also listening very carefully to the pronunciation.”

“And I actually learned to speak this text. I really practiced with the recording that I had.”

According to Forman, the phrasing in the Hungarian language by itself did not give him much to hold on for his phrasing of the melody on the trumpet:

“With the rhythm of the words and the melody of the words, if I remember right, at least according to the Hungarian speaker that I worked with, it was not one to one, the way it would be pronounced, either with the rhythms or with the pictures.”

Yet the poetic imaginary helped Forman:

“The words have to do with light. And as you heard it gets softer and softer this piece. And it has these very extreme soft entrances at the end of the song, it’s not a hard light. It says in the translation it is embracing and it’s not shining on someone.”

“I mean, it involved going into this mysticism and what these texts were about. So on the one hand, there’s a level that has to do with understanding language and poetic language. I have no idea how that gets translated into a musical gesture on the trumpet, but I think that it does. I think that as we meditate on texts, they inspire us probably in a similar way.”

The choice of the language in which a text is written or the choice for its translation into another language has according to György Kurtág large consequences. When speaking about his first encounter with Beckett’s What is the word:

"I first received the text in an Hungarian translation assuming the original text would be in English. A misunderstanding. Yet in English it sounds similar to Hungarian: what- is- the- word – mi - is- a- szó. All one syllable words. For a long time I was unaware the original text was in French. And when I finally read Comment dire[160] I realized I would have written a completely different piece, would I have used the original French text."

Similarly but in reverse, the choice for the French version of Fin de partie and not Beckett’s own translation of the piece in English, was made by Kurtág on purely musical grounds.[161] Reciting the opening of Clov’s first monologue:

audio example 27: György Kurtág speaking

And when suggested to him the English version would have been: ‘finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished…’ Kurtág replied:

“That could have been. But this repetition in French was in fact for me the germ for the whole composition.”

6.3 a stuttered language [162]

Two major compositions of György Kurtág don’t begin in his usual way of hesitant searching and carefully exploring the playground but with an affirmative chord for the whole orchestra. ΣΤΉΛΗ, Stele Op. 33 written for the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and its chief conductor Claudio Abbado, opens with a strong G major chord. Its orchestration may remind the informed listener of Beethoven’s Overture Egmont Op. 84 (in F) or even the first chord of his Second Symphony in D-major Op. 36. Yet that moment of recognition doesn’t last long in Kurtág’s opus 33. Within seconds, the chord crumbles into being mysteriously instable.

Samuel Beckett: What is the word Op.30b opens as well with a statement played fortissimo, involving all the instrumentalists. They bring the full spectrum of possible pitches and all of them playing their instrument in extreme and unusual ranges. The result is ‘a punch in the stomach’ as Gerrie de Vries experiences the beginning of this composition.[163] As Kurtág was not aware of the fact that Beckett suffered from aphasia when writing this text, an illness most likely caused by a stroke[164] this almost violent opening of the music can’t be referred to what may have been the cause for Beckett’s condition.

Yet the stammering that is so present in the text of Beckett may have resonated strongly with Kurtág:

“Stammering is my mother language.”[165]

In relation to other works of Beckett, Salisbury speaks of 'an oeuvre that is at times hyperactively repetitive’ in particular in Watt[166] and Molloy[167] in which repetition ‘deadens’ the words: 'Words that go dead as soon as they sound: it is this sense of the untranscendable materiality of language that persists, albeit in distinctive permutations, in Beckett’s work from the late 1930s until the final stammerings of ‘What Is the Word’.[168]

French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, quoted by Salisbury[169] described Samuel Beckett as a writer whose 'linguistic stammers and (…) whose exhaustive permutations ensure that’: ‘[e]very word is divided, but into itself […]; and every word is combined, but with itself […] Creative stuttering is what makes language grow from the middle, like grass; it is what makes language a rhizome rather than a tree, what puts language in perpetual disequilibrium’

Deleuze asks: 'Is there then no salvation for words, like a new style in which words would at last open up by themselves, where language would become poetry, in such a way as to actually produce the visions and sounds that remained imperceptible behind the old language?(…) A music proper to a poetry read aloud without music."[170]

György Kurtág may have understood that aspect of the writings of Beckett when setting What is the word to music:

" Even today I feel that in that work I came closest to Beckett"[171]

When asked whether stammering is an acceptable form of expression, the composer replied:

"I think it is acceptable. In any case for me. The pauses created by stammering create a big tension and therefore an opportunity to raise expectation.(…) It was a very important idea of László Dobsay[172] who published about the use of forms an periodicity in classical, mainly Mozartian music. He said that the very first tone in a phrase, should already know how long the whole phrase would last. And in what direction the phrase would go. That means, this anticipation is something very important to me.(…)

When I’m allowed to stammer, that makes it easier." [173]

Are these pauses and their lengths defined by what has been said before?

“Yes, but also by the option to change the theme. In German ‘das aber’? The what if? For a Schubert song, this ‘aber’ is the most important. That’s where something changes.”[174]

6.4 freedom of speech

Throughout his life Samuel Beckett has been extremely cautious that texts and instructions in his plays were performed and carried out to the letter. Numerous where his conflicts with directors and theatre companies that would make changes in the text or not obey his very precise indications about the characters, the props, the set and the dressing of the actors. The 1984 production of Fin de partie by the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts that Beckett strongly objected, did not follow the authors instruction for the theatre set and made use of music by American composer Philip Glass as an overture and musical interludes.[175] After his death, his nephew Edward on behalf of the Samuel Beckett Estate took over the role of overseeing if the works of the author would be performed according to his wishes. It was through this estate that György Kurtág received the permission to set Fin de partie to music.

It is not only remarkable Kurtág obtained the permission to do so leaving out large chunks of the original text but even more, adding some words of his own to the text of Beckett. When asked about these additions, Kurtág answered:[176]

" I started setting the first words of Clov to music. And then I realized I needed a bit more music. That’s why I’ve added a few words. “Fini, c’est fini, ça va finir, peut-être, ça va peut-être finir.” are the words of Beckett. “Ça va bientôt finir !” was an ingredient of mine."

More subtle Kurtágian ingredients will follow at the beginning of Hamm’s first monologue. Beckett’s opening move in the French version of this game of chess starts with a single repetition of the word ‘à’ separated from a yawning: À (baillement) à moi de jouer. The English version simply states: Me (he yawns) to play. Kurtág however repeats the word ‘à’ four times, before he allows Hamm to announce his opening move. Again it is the stammering, that makes it easier for Kurtág to begin, generously giving the credits for such an opening to Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi bringing empress Octavia to the stage in his opera Poppea[177] with the words: "A a a addio Roma."

In another key-scene, at the end of Nagg’s monologue when he realizes Nell has passed away, Beckett gives Hamm the text: 'Finie la rigolade. (Il cherche en tâtonnant le chien.) Le chien est parti.’ In the English version Endgame, Beckett choses slightly different words for Hamm: “Our revels now are ended.” (He gropes for the dog.) ‘The dog’s gone.’ This is an allusion to Shakespeare’s The Tempest[178], in particular the IV act in which Prospero is given the words “our revels now are ended”. Prospero’s famous words are often interpreted as a moment of realization that the actors role has come to an end and the play will soon be over. These words in the English version helped Kurtág who was running out of time setting the complete text of Fin de partie to music to leave out the dog-motif in Fin de partie.

"Yes that is because, in Beckett’s English translation there’s this quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and then I had this impertinence to falsify Beckett’s text and let Hamm say: my great-great-grandfather Prospero has said it, our revels now are ended. Because I wanted to make use of this link with The Tempest." [179]

A certain freedom of speech can be desirable when setting words to music. In the Transition au Finale in Kurtágs Fin de partie Clov and Hamm seem to get close to a sort of mutual understanding. They thank each other. Beckett is very clear in both the French and English version of the scene:

Hamm: Je te remercie, Clov. Hamm: I’m obliged to you Clov, for your services.

Clov: Ah pardon, c’est moi qui te remercie. Clov: Ah pardon, it’s I am obliged to you

Hamm: C’est nous qui nous remercions. Hamm: It’s we are obliged to each other.

In the entire text of both Fin de partie and Becketts own translation Endgame the author never lets the voices of Hamm and Clov sound together. They will always speak one after the other. Kurtág confesses[180]:

"Yes that is also an ingredient of mine. But for the purely musical reason to be able to create a duet from this. (singing) C’est nous qui nous remercions, qui nous remercions. C’est nous qui remercions. Again and again."

audio example 28 Fin de partie
fig 19 Fin de partie (piano red.) pag. 167 © Universal Music Publishing Editio Musica Budapest. Reproduced by permission.
fig. 20 Fin de partie (piano red.) pag. 168 © Universal Music Publishing Editio Musica Budapest. Reproduced by permission.
fig. 21 Fin de partie (piano red.) pag. 169 © Universal Music Publishing Editio Musica Budapest. Reproduced by permission.

György Kurtág:

“So it comes back time and again. I dare to say, it is the most ‘operatic’ about the whole story.”

6.5 who has the last word?

One of the iconic pieces in György Kurtágs longstanding performance practice as part of a duo à quattre-mains (piano four hands) with his wife and lifetime companion Márta is the short piece from the first collection of Jatekok (Games) with the English title Beating) or Verés in Hungarian. The piece clearly resembles a dispute between two people, performed on only the same three keys of the piano.

fig. 22 Verés from Kurtág, G. Jatékok Band I-IV © Universal Music Publishing Editio Musica Budapest. Reproduced by permission.

Márta and György Kurtág very often performed Verés as a part of their Jatékok interpretations combined with Kurtág’s transcriptions of compositions by Bach piano four hands. When asked if they always played the same part, Kurtág is hesitating[181]:

Kurtág: "I think we always played the same part. Márta orchestrated it a bit and she decided who was to play what. If I’m not mistaken, it was always Márta who started it."

student: So how about the last note, the F sharp. Who had the last word?

Kurtág: " That one we played with our four hands on top of each-other."

student: But that’s not in the score!

Kurtág: “No it’s not written. We made it that way. I wanted to keep that note, she wanted to keep it and then we beat it with four hands together. That makes it even more intense!”

Referring to the stammering that is so present in his setting words to music and the comparison he made between the opening of Hamm’s first monologue 'À, à, à, à, à moi de jouer’ and Octavia’s aria in Poppea, Kurtág was asked about what he often calls the ulterior motives behind text and words.

student: So what are the thoughts behind Octavia singing 'A a a addio Roma’? What could Monteverdi’s ulterior motives have been?

Kurtág: “There were no ulterior motives. It is simply very, very difficult to say the word ‘addio’”

audio example 29 Claudio Monteverdi *Addio Roma* from l'Incoronazione di Poppea

7. sinfonia [epilogo scenico]

The sixteen musicians that were interviewed for this study, were unanimously outspoken about what they bring forward creating or performing music. What they produce is music. They create music, they improvise music, they sing or perform music. That is the core of what they do and that is what they are best at. None of them described music as a language. Yet all of them spoke of what they experienced as meaningful in the music they sung, played or created. Meaning that goes beyond language. Maite van der Marel quotes[182] a young woman that took part in one of her music projects in a Palestinian refugee camp:

“I feel that this is a different way to express yourself. To make your inner feelings, the very hurtful feelings come out to the world in a beautiful way. They may be ugly feelings. But we can express them in a beautiful way. […] So if there is no art, when there’s no music, people will keep hurting each other, because they don’t have another way to express their feelings and their heart emotions. The result of that is what you see now happening in the Arab world. There is war everywhere, people keep killing each other.”


Unanimously these musicians made it clear that their making music is intentional. Into the smallest detail their music is brought with an intention and they are all very well able to describe these intentions even if they were asked to describe these intentions many years after a performance had taken place. Vera Beths tries to escape the grasping tentacles in Alban Berg’s music. György Kurtág wants to have the last word when performing his music with his wife Márta. Loes Dooren wants to convince Octavian Lup to change his tone of playing the cello. Han Bennink wants a response from pianist Misha Mengelberg and Kathinka Pasveer wants to tease her lover composing a new piece for her. And all of that without a word spoken.

It is the intention that charges the expression. A lot of talking and writing to describe what people experience when listening to music is about the expression that is perceived. But the expression is only the vessel, the carrier of the intention. Intentions that can be spontaneous and intuitive like Gerard Bouwhuis closing the lid of his piano in order to ‘have a box’ just like his mate percussionist Niels Meliefste or carefully prepared like Gerrie de Vries in long rehearsals with the composer giving voice to the word 'hiábavalól’.

The medium used can by itself influence the expression and thus change the translation of the meaning of the intention behind it. An empty pizza box or a wooden structure resembling a coffin instead of a cube can do that. Or an actress performing the role of a male character.

What is intended can come from another source than the musician performing. Performing artists are trained to be the messenger of an intention created or formulated by somebody else. Lucy Payne could play her cello to express the intentions of Mr. N. as it was her deepest intention to give Mr. N. his voice. Both Viola Cheung and Gerrie de Vries express that as a singer they need to be able to identify with and embody the intention of the composer to bring the message about.

When the musician her/him/themself is the creator of the music (the composer, the songwriter, the improviser) the intention is authentic by nature. As Maite van der Marel puts it, in those moments 'music never lies’.

So what is intended is the heart of the matter for these musicians. If their music is experienced as meaningful the what is decisive.

What is the word.

who is who

When composing Samuel Beckett: What is the word György Kurtág did not know the author of this text suffered from aphasia when writing the initial versions of Comment dire.[183] Kurtágs intuitive choice for an actress recovering from aphasia to stammer these words therefore adds meaning to Beckett’s last text like the coffin shaped box did to Galina Ustvolskaya’s Dies Irae. A misunderstanding. When visited in August 2021 in Budapest and after reading Beckett’s sketches for Comment dire for the first time, Kurtág repeated that he would not have set a text to music if it wasn’t the source text. It was by mistake that he kept the English translation of Comment dire for the source text. He also repeated that if he would have used the final version of Comment dire a completely different piece of music would have been the result and expressed how meaningful it was for him to learn out about the state Beckett apparently was in when the conceived Comment dire / What is the word..

Losing the ability to find the words to speak must be a frightening experience for any human being but especially for an author. Beckett’s first 'spidery’ scribblings of words in his notebook in the summer of 1988 trying to formulate Comment dire resemble the childish scribbling and handwriting of György Kurtág. What is most striking in these handwritings of Beckett and the permutations of the same groups of words, is the absence of a subject: the I that wrote this.

Beckett’s last text may not be meant to be another artful set of words and the product of an innovative writer. Instead it may give us insight in the abyss caused by losing the ability to find the words to speak. A loss that also implies losing the awareness of being a person, being a unique human being with a recognizable self. Kurtág had the sensibility to create music bringing to the forefront the intention of a person in that condition, frantically trying to regain possibilities to express oneself. A condition the composer was familiar with. The music that Kurtág composed to Beckett’s skeleton text does not only express what the word is, but connects the word with the who that is speaking.

fig. 22. Beckett in 1975 © Samuel Beckett Society
fig. 23 György & Márta Kurtág in 1981 © Budapest Music Center

when what is the word

The data collected for this study come from musicians speaking. Musicians reflecting and commenting on their intentions while creating or performing music. No claim for being original can be made other than putting this collection of spokespeople together and listening to what they had to say.

These musicians have made it clear that they can be very articulate and precise in describing what their intentions were and that the expression of this intention is always musical: a pianist closing the lid of the piano to create new options for playing, a particular energy flowing into the bowing of a violinist to escape from a particular musical environment, a color given to a word in Hungarian by a singer who is not supposed to sing that is different because it is the eleventh repetition of that word. Musicians are aware of this and have developed a vocabulary to describe what is essentially musical in words. Violinist Vera Beths addresses “the enormous meaning the difference between a minor and major third can get.” For trumpetist William Forman playing a C for a B is a complete change of the meaning that can be given to Ives’s Unanswered Question.

Musicians use and share this vocabulary to encourage themselves finding more meaning in music as Gerrie de Vries stated. They use these words when rehearsing to inspire each other. And they use these words when teaching. This study is an encouragement to use this vocabulary of musicians outside the practice room, classroom or studio in other contexts. It are these words that can raise the interest of new audiences and that open new domains in which music can be meaningful. It are these words that empower music when it can’t speak for itself and more specifically when the performance practice and creation of music is jeopardized. Jeopardized by a music industry that is primary profit driven and by a society that does not stand up against ignorant politics and reactionary politicians. Who would have expected that in the year 2021 one of the leading members in Dutch parliament is a politician that labeled the music of contemporary composer Willem Jeths as anti-art explicitly referring to the entartete Kunst of the nazi’s?[184]

As Beckett and Kurtág have demonstrated in music, what is said in music can’t be separated from the one speaking. This study therefore is also a plea for authenticity in music making and encouraging to bring out what is personal, individual and becomes intentional. And that by itself holds an important message for music education. Music education is not about his master’s voice. It is about making the single voice of the one learning to sing, play or create music audible as clear as possible.

The musicians that speak about their intentions in this study give evidence of how important it is that an audience responds. Even to the extent that it changes how they sing or play to project their intention in music.

This is where we meet what Paul Craenen[185] describes as luisterbereidheid , the willingness of audiences to listen: “The interest for listening can only be aroused when belief or confidence are present that there is something in the music that makes worth the effort of listening.”

This research has resulted in something that is mirroring the luisterbereidheid Craenen is addressing and that could be described in Dutch as the spreekbereidheid of musicians. A word that when translated into English not only expresses the willingness of musicians to speak but with another connotation of the Dutch word bereidheid also the preparedness of musicians to speak about the music they make.

Misha Mengelberg in a conversation with Louis Andriessen[186] hints to this preparedness and links it to audiences when he tries to give words to what music is about.

Andriessen: "So it’s about many things, but not about music?"

Mengelberg: "Music is always about something else. Music is about what surrounds us."

Andriessen: "Isn’t music about music?"

Mengelberg: "Music by itself is nothing. It starts to become something when confronted with a listener and referring to things that he is related to and referring to a language that is present within the listener."

fig. 24 Mengelberg and Andriessen in a performance in Amsterdam in 1979 © photography Pieter Boersma


Musicians are bereid (willing and prepared) to speak about music. When musicians speak they want to be heard as much as when they create, play or sing music. As it was the ultimate intention of Mr. N. and Samuel Beckett to be listened to in a state in which they were not yet able to create a consistent language. The experience that what is said resonates in other human beings, was and is of utmost importance not only to them but to all that have spoken in this study. The intention for making music is therefore essentially dialogical and calling for a response.

To conclude, may these words of eloquent composer Wolfgang Rihm resonate[187]:

“So if music is saying something, than the first what is addressed to us is: speak! Music wants to make us speak. That’s what music says!”

"The passive listener is deaf because he is muted. He does not hear music but sees only the movement of a pointer and concludes from this image the simultaneity of an event whose evolving is connected with this measuring of time and that is called music of which the message is, she’s beautiful. (Beckett isn’t far away). When we are determined that we can eavesdrop some saying from music, this is what could sound:

Music that says: "I am. Therefore to let me be: hear!

To let you hear: “Speak! Therefore when you speak, I am.”

lists of sources


György Kurtág, online, recorded in Zoom 25 January 2021

György Kurtág, online, recorded in Zoom 2 February 2021

Loes Dooren, live recorded in The Hague 14 February 2021

William Forman, online, recorded in Zoom 16 February 2021

Han Bennink, live recorded in his studio on 20 Februari 2021

Lucy Payne, online, recorded in Zoom 24 Februari 2021

Octavian Lup, online, recorded in Zoom 24 February 2021

György Kurtág, online, recorded in Zoom 13 March 2021

Vera Beths, live recorded in Utrecht, 14 March 2021

Yaw Dela Botri, online, recorded in Zoom, 15 March 2021

Quirijn van Regteren Altena, online, recorded in Zoom, 18 March 2021

Gerrie de Vries, online, recorded in Zoom 20 March 2021

Kathinka Pasveer, online, recorded in e-mails 29 March 2021

Viola Cheung, online, recorded in Zoom 4 April 2021

Nimrod Moloto Molokomme, online, recorded in Zoom 5 April 2021

Maite van der Marel, online, recorded in Zoom 6 April 2021

Niels Meliefste and Gerard Bouwhuis, live, recorded in the Royal Conservatoire The Hague 12 April 2021

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Being stimulated and supported by the same school that I graduated from more than thirty five years ago as an uitvoerend musicus (performing musician) to become a student again in a Masters program, fills me with gratitude. There’s little more satisfying than the sensation of learning and acquiring insights. I thank my supervisor Paul Craenen in the first place for his diligent coaching and patience. I’m grateful for the support I received from Roos Leeflang and Casper Schipper. I thank the musicians that allowed me an interview and shared their insights with me: Han Bennink, Vera Beths, Yaw Dela Botri, Gerard Bouwhuis, Viola Cheung, Loes Dooren, William Forman, Octavian Lup, Maite van der Marel, Niels Meliefste, Nimrod Moloto Molokomme, Kathinka Pasveer, Lucy Payne, Quirijn van Regteren Altena and Gerrie de Vries. And thank you Peter Brunt for not being interviewed but enthusiastically having been willing to be… I’m deeply grateful to György Kurtág for his time and wisdom, to Márta Kurtág whom we miss every day but for me in spirit is still sitting side-by-side to Gyuri, their grandson Johann to facilitate the interviews as well as his publisher Tünde Mozes-Szitha. Thanks Henk Guittart, Elmer Schönberger, Karolien Dons and Hans Van Regenmortel for your advice. A big thank you to Tom Dommisse and Johannes Boer for your critical reviews and input and to Ellen Corver for your encouragement.

video of research presentation

video presentation of this research on 25 June 2021

appendix: three interviews with György Kurtág in January/March 2021

interview 1 György Kurtág 25 January 2021

online interview per Zoom from 20:00 CET till 21:01 CET-- interviewer Renee Jonker

also present is Johann Kurtág, grandson of the composer, assisting to establish the zoom connection

the interview was taken in German, but sometimes the interviewee jumps to the French language.

RJ: Ich freue mich sehr das Du die Zeit nimmst um ein paar Fragen von mir zu beantworten. Ich bin wieder Student und ich habe meiner Forschungsarbeit die Frage gewidmet, wie sich Sprache und Musik zueinander verhalten. Das ist natürlich eine ganz große Frage, aber die trifft sehr besonders zu in Deiner Arbeit. So ich hab Dich unendlich mal beobachtet, wo Du versucht hast, Instrumentalisten erfahren zu lassen, dass deine Musik auch irgendwie gesprochen werden muss. Also die Beziehung zwischen Sprache und Musik in deine Werke interessiert mich sehr und ist in deiner Musik sehr prägnant. Wenn es dir recht ist, möchte ich mit Márta anfangen.

GK: Ja, ja.

RJ: Also so dein Leben mit Márta in allen Bereiche ist doch irgendwie eine nie unterbrochene Dialog gewesen. Also ein Gespräch, ein Zwiegespräch, ein mit sich umslingende Töne…

GK: Ja…das war der Sinn.

RJ: Und in die Jatekoks. Da gibt es dieses Stück Verés, Schläge, das sich unmittelbar anhört als ein Dialog, zwischen zwei Menschen…

GK: Sogar es ist Márta, die es ein bisschen orchestriert hat. Also sie hat wer eben spielen soll entschieden.

RJ: Ihr habt das sehr oft aufgeführt. Hat immer jeder die gleiche Partie gespielt? Oder habt ihr mal gewechselt?

GK: Ich glaube, wir blieben immer die selbe.

RJ: Und dann hat Márta immer begonnen?

GK: Das hab’ ich vergessen. Aber nein, ich…vielleicht ich habe begonnen. Aber ich bin nicht sicher.

RJ: Aber dann. Diese letzte gemeinsame Fis. Die muss zusammen gespielt werden.

GK: Ja, und sogar so dass alle vier Hände spielen dasselbe.

RJ: Ah, das ist nicht in der Partitur. Aber das ist wunderbar.

GK: Nein, es ist nicht geschrieben. Wir haben es so gemacht.

RJ: Das ist meine Frage. Wie schafft man das nach so einer Streit?

GK: Ich wollte sie halten, sie wollte sie halten und dann schlagen die vier Händen zusammen den einen Ton und dann ist es viel intensiver.

RJ: Ja. Und auch zusammen.

RJ: Aber diese Figur von Gruppen von drei Töne, zwei Töne, manchmal einen einzelnen Ton. Fin de Partie fängt auch an mit genau solche Gruppen von zwei, drei, einzelne Töne. Der Premier Monolog fängt genau so als ob man hört: “Fini”

GK: Also eigentlich. Kannst du mir als souffleur sagen was mein Text ist? Was den Text von Clov ist?

RJ: Der Text von Clov ist: Fini, c’est fini, ça va finir.

GK: Fini, c’est fini, ça va finir. Das war meine erste Idee vom Stück und das halte ich für das beste beinahe vom Ganzen. Also das ist mir echt Beckettisch. Und wie ich es formulieren konnte. Fini, c’est fini, ça va finir, peut-être, aber mit diese… das es immer Zweifel da bleibt…und am Ende ist die Behauptung wieder da.

RJ. Aber wenn es zum ersten Mal klingt in der Premier Monolog, ist es das Orchester, das diese Wörter spricht. So klingt es für mich, als ob das Orchester spricht.

GK: Ja, eigentlich für mich die Instrumente sollen auch sprechen. Aber das hab ich von Messiaen noch, weil er analysierte alles. Auch die Mozart G-moll Symphonie. Er sprach nicht von Themen und Motive. Er sprach von ‘personnages rhythmiques’. Ja, diese personnages rythmique. Es ist mir eigentlich… die waren immer in Gespräch. Und das heißt der eine Personage fragte und andere Personage antwortete. Und eigentlich ist das, wie soll ich sagen, das am traditionelsten in meiner Musik, weil es es ist immer periodisch. Das heißt, eine Antwort oder eine Frage und eine Antwort. Oder eine Antwort und eine Frage. Eigentlich ohne Perioden von acht Takte zu haben.

Ich habe neulich entdeckt, dass in der Matthäus Passion, die erste paar Worte von Jesus (asking in French assistence from his grandson Johann Kurtág, to find the words). Ja das ist es: “Nehmet, esset” c’est la première partie de la periode, la réponse, “das ist mein Leib”. Und das dauert eben drei Takte nur. Das heißt, Bach hat auch Webern erfunden. Dass diese Knappheit keine acht Takte braucht um eine Gedanke zu haben. Es ist eine komplette periode. (Sings the phrase). Also das ist die perfekte periodisch Gedanke in nur drei Takte und es ist alles gesagt, was wichtig ist.

RJ: Aber dann sind die Pausen da zwischen auch unglaublich wichtig.

GK: Ja, alles ich wichtig

RJ: Du hast mich einmal erzählt über Messiaen. Auch in Bezug auf den Mozart G moll Symfonie über die personnages rythmiques im Menuett, im dritten Satz.

GK: Aber, aber überall, (sings first movement) immer diesen personages.

RJ: Aber jetzt bin ich gespannt. Gyuri wie schaffst Du das in einer Monolog wo im Prinzip keine zweite Person ist?

GK: Die Monologe bei Beckett sind ganz fantastisch so komponiert, dass es nicht nur mehrere personnages sind, nicht nur ein oder zwei Personen sind, sondern etwas aus der Erinnerung, etwas aus Gedanken die geknüpft sind. Es ist hat immer einen großen Hinterland.

RJ: Du hast einst gesagt, das bei Dir, also die Vertonung von Texte oder Gedichte immer um die Botschaft geht, also die Botschaft von der Text. Aber wie? Wie siehst Du Deine Rolle als Komponist? Ist es Deine Rolle, die Botschaft zu entziffern oder zu übersetzen? Oder…

GK: Alles. Es kann übersetzen sein. Es kann auch einfach détecter la chose sein.

GK: Eigentlich meine Hölderlin Lieder sind einfach Versuche, die Gedichte, die ich vertont habe, zu verstehen. Und ich hatte sie so gern. Ich habe mehr verstanden als ich sie nachher komponiert habe und noch mehr verstanden, als ich an diesen Lieder mit Kurt Widmer gearbeitet habe, weil dann da musste ich doch noch erklären, was noch hinter den Gedanken ist.

RJ: Nun also was Du mit Beckett gemacht hast, war eigentlig sehr mutig wenn ich das so sagen darf. Weil die Texten von Beckett, von sich selbst eigentlich sehr musikalisch sind. Und er selbst immer sehr streng war als Autor, was mit seine Texte geschehen darf.

GK: Also er wollte keine Musik für Fin de Partie, aber ich glaubte was ich suche ist eben im Sinne von Monteverdi oder sogar von Falstaff oder manchmal auch von Tristan. Das ist…Was, was man sagt das soll ebenso wichtig sein als Musik, wie als Gesang. Das heißt nicht… Ich möchte sagen, mein Ideal für die Sänger ist nicht ein Wunder Sänger, sondern ein…

RJ: Ein wunder Sprecher …

GK: Es fehlt mir der Ausdruck. Es ist ja …mein. Mein Gehirn hört jetzt auf. (is asking for support from Johann again) Quelle est l’expression pour un chanteur de cabaret?

RJ: Sprechgesang?

GK: Nicht Sprechgesang…Diseuse. Diseuse! C’est a dire, celui qui chante, ce n’est pas important la beauté de voix pour l’entendre. Ce qui est important, sur les hauteurs donnés, c’est le charactère donné il a à exprimer , quelqu’un déchiffre un text musical de moi, quand il a chanté il n’y pas fait rien pour la pièce. Il doit détecter premièrement liaisons syntactique, c’est a dire de comprendre comment cette phrase est bâti et quels sont les paranthèses. Il y a les paranthèses et il y a les lignes principales. C’est a dire que le diseur ou la diseuse est déja inventé par Monteverdi.

RJ: Es gibt in der niederländische Sprache ein unglaublich schönes Wort. Und ich habe nie ein Wort gefunden auf Deutsch oder auf Englisch das sich das annähert. Und das Wort lautet “zeggingskracht” , also die Kraft, etwas sagen zu können. Das ist in Deiner Musik auch so. Das es ist nicht über die schöne Töne, die man singt. Aber das, was man was man übertragt, als Nachricht, als eine Botschaft. Aber das hast Du so mit ‘diseuse’ eigentlich total schön auseinandergesetzt. Also es ist syntaxis. Es sind die verschiedene Bedeutungs Ebene…

GK: Es sind noch die Hintergedanken darin. Je ne les pas nomme air, aria, je les nomme ‘monologue’. C’est a dire dans le monologue quelques fois on chante, quelques foi on récite seulement. Quelques fois on est presque and prose.

RJ: Da hab ich eine andere Frage Gyuri. So wie Du weißt Luciano Berio, der war sehr fasziniert von den phonologische Qualitäten von Sprache, indem er die Sprache dekomponiert hat. Dekomponiert nur in Klänge hat so wie in sein Werk Thema, Hommage a Joyce.

GK: Ja, eigentlich Joyce hat die moderne Musik erfunden. Erfunden mit dieser kleinen Einleitung zum Kapitel Sirenen in Ulysses. Alles, was wichtig war in ein paar Worte zusammengefasst und das ganze beinahe unverständlich und dann wird es verständlich während des Kapitels. Berio hat das phantastisch verstanden schon in seinen ganz frühen Jugend.

RJ: Ja in sein erste elektronische Musik. Mit Cathy Berberian. In diesem Ommaggio a Joyce und Circles. Aber in wie Ferne ist das für Dich wichtig gewesen? Dieser auseinandersetzung mit nur der klängliche qualität von Text also diese phonologie?

GK: Es ist mir nie ein Programm gewesen, aber manchmal. Manchmal kommt es. Also. Wie ich das gefunden hab, Hamm’s Monolog beginnt mir dieser “A a a a moi” Er will eigentlich sagen “a moi de parler a moi de jouer” parce que c’est comme un jeu d’échec wie ein Schachspiel. Ich bin an der Reihe und dann kommt: A, a, a, a! . Das hat schon Monteverdi im Poppea erfunden: A, a, a, addio Roma, sagt die frühere Kaiserin, die mit Poppea eingesetzt wird.

RJ: Wenn wir nochmal über Beckett sprechen. Wann wurde Beckett wichtig für Dich?

GK: Ich wusste von ihm nichts und mein Freund aus der Jugend und eigentlich mein, mein Mentor schon aus der Gymnasialzeit, also ich war 16 oder 17, er hat mich geleitet: Robert Klein. Jetzt beginnt er erst bekannt zu werden, dass er mit seiner Ästhetik etwas ganz Wichtiges gefunden hat. Aber als ich war in 1957/58 in Paris ein Jahr. Und Robert Klein hat mich jeden Sonntag meistens ins Louvre und solche Kollektionen geführt wo man

selten hinkommt. Die Kunst des Islams und so. Und er hat immer auch ohne ohne viel zu erklären mich in Musée de Rome in sepic material geführt. Alles hab ich ihn zu verdanken. Also das war damit verbunden, dass er mich dann immer auch zu essen geführt hat in diesen Sonntag Sessionen im Louvre oder oder Musée Guinée oder Musée de l’Homme. Wir waren immer da.

Er war ein leidenschaftlicher Pedagog und er hat mir …dann war Fin de Partie noch… seit ein paar Monaten spielte man es, aber er hat die Karten gekauft und wir haben es zusammen gesehen. Und dann sagte er es sei sehr stark. C’est tres fort, aber ich habe beinahe nichts verstanden. Ich habe gesehen etwas, ich hab Französisch schon in der alte Elementar Schule gelernt. Aber auf der Bühne es war mir beinahe unverständlich. Aber gleich nachher hat Ligeti mir nach Paris geschrieben das wenn ich En attendant Godot finde, soll ich es unbedingt sehen da es genial ist. Und dann hab ich gleich diesen Abend En attendant Godot und auch Fin de Partie gekauft. Und da, dann hab ich es gelesen und seitdem war ich Beckett fan.

RJ: Sein letzten Text, What is the word. Ich hab irgendwo gelesen, dass Beckett selber für eine Weile aphasie erlitten hat, aber ich hab das noch nicht bestätigt gefunden.

GK: Ich weiss nichts davon. Aber unbedingt, es ist ja dieser Schweizer Musikkritiker, er hat über meinen und Holligers Becketts Vertonungen geschrieben und er hat analysiert das es eigentlich Permutationen sind von in total 24 Wörter. Aber dieses Spiel, das es immer in die Runde geht, also etwas kommt immer zurück, es wird wiederholt, es wird jedes Element wird ein Refrain.

RJ: Aber Gyuri das irgendwie resoniert so wie Dein Opus Eins, der Beginn bei Dir, mit den Streichhölzern auf der Küchentisch. Die Permutationen von minimalen Möglichkeiten…

GK: Ja das ist war.

RJ: Und falls ich das fragen darf, Du hast damals geschrieben für Ildikó Monyok?

GK: Das war ein Zufall. Die Schauspielerin hat meine solo lieder Attila József gesungen. Ich habe sie zufällig getroffen. Wir sind zusammen gefahren. Sie war in einer Schauspieler Gruppe die aus Berlin zurückgekommen ist nach Budapest und wir waren im selben Flugzeug und Ich sah, dass sie sehr schwierig sich bewegen konnte, schleppend. Und dann Márta hat mir gesagt, ich soll ihr helfen und und dann ich half ihr.

Ich habe damals so oft Leute eingeladen, meine Kammermusik Stunden zu hören, mit zu hören. Und ich hab ihr das auch gesagt und ein paar mal war sie dort und einmal sagte sie, dass sie möchte mir zeigen, ehe diese, was sie, was sie aus meine solo Lieder gemacht hat. Und was sie mir vorgesungen hat, das war quasi null. Also ohne Charakter und ohne nix. Aber es war etwas. Die Pausen zwischen den Stücken waren so spannend und dann war eben die Geschichte auch, dass sie, dass sie nach einem Autobus Unfall Sie hat ihre Sprache verloren. Aber nicht direkt durch den Unfall, sondern durch die Tatsache, dass sie von ihrem Regisseur ich weiß nicht, na ja, also mißhandelt wurde in irgend eine Weise. Er war sehr grob mit ihr und ich, ich weiß nicht wie und dann ich glaube, sieben Monate konnte sie gar nicht sprechen. Und auch nachher hat sie stark gestottert. Ich weiß nicht… ganz zufällig der Mann von Adrienne Czengeri hat mir dann ein in ungarische Sprache der letzten Text von Beckett gegeben.

Und ich wartete immer darauf, dass ich ein Original habe. Ich liebte nicht Übersetzungen, aber zufällig, weil diese Pausen so spannend waren, hab ich es ungarisch vertont. What is the word .Ich glaubte, dass der original Englisch wäre. Ich wusste nicht, dass es französisch war, und die französische Version wäre ein ganz anderes Stück gewesen, etwas, das mir weniger zusagte, weil diese Knappheit What is the word – Mi isz a so. Das waren eben die Worte die ein stotternder mit Mühe aussprechen kann. Und eben dann hab ich auch entdeckt, dass Stottern heißt nicht, dass ich gehemmt bin, sondern dass ich will, auf jeden Preis auf das Ende meiner Phrase ankommen. Dann habe ich es geschrieben. Aber. Also auf ihre Figur hab ich es geschrieben. Aber es dauerte beinahe ein Jahr Arbeit mit ihr, bis sie im Stande war, sich selber darzustellen. Ihr Stottern hat sie, wenn sie die Musik lernen mußte… Also es hat wenig geholfen, dass sie, dass sie wirklich stotterte.

RJ: Eine personnage rhytmique.

GK: Ja

RJ: Es ist eigentlich sehr spannend, was Du sagst, dass den Text von Beckett What is the word eigentlich eine Permutation von vierundzwanzig Wörter ist. Also das ist eine sehr starke Beschränkung. Wie wir wissen von Ligeti mit seiner Musica Ricercata hat er seine Art zu komponieren wiedergefunden, nachdem er mit diesen extreme Beschränkungen angefangen hat. Wie ist das bei Dir.

GK: Ich glaube, etwas ähnliches. Unbedingt mein Opus eins ist erstanden nachdem ich am Rückkehr aus Paris in achtundfünfzig ein paar Tage Ligeti zu Gast war in Köln und Ligeti hat mir die Artikulation, das elektronische Stück dass dann ziemlich frisch war gezeigt und gleichzeitig Stockhausen hat Tag und Nacht die Gruppen, die auch ganz frisch aufgenommenen waren angehört. Dann hat Stockhausen mir in die Hand gelegt eine Partitur, in die ich mich nach einer Seite schon verloren hab. Aber, aber das war ein sehr starkes Erlebnis.

RJ: Aber auch unbegrenzt. Plötzlich war alles möglich.

GK: Unbedingt! Die zwei Werke, die Artikulation und was mir geblieben war aus dem Gruppen, weil auf dem Weg vom zum Bahnhof Ligeti wartete auf mich am Bahnhof und bis zuhause hatte er erzählt, wie die in Gruppen dann in die, wie es ausschaut mit den Blech Sequenzen, die dort so dramatisch und ein Miteinander und gegeneinander sind und das ist mir auch darum geblieben, weil er es erzählte. Und dann? Dann ich glaubte, dass ich aus nichts beginne. Natürlich war es nicht aus nichts und Bartók ist immer im Hintergrund, aber ich habe etwas gefunden, das ich dann meine eigene Sprache nennen konnte.

RJ: Also wenn wir von Gruppen von Stockhausen sprechen. Also das ist in den kleinsten Details strukturiert und komponiert und berechnet. Aber wie wir inzwischen wissen, diese Einschübe, denen er sich erlaubt hat, die sind total frei, wo er mit seine eigene Regeln sozusagen gebrochen hat. Kennst Du dieses Bedürfnis. Oder ist das für Dich anders beim Komponieren?

GK: Eigentlich ist es das selbe. Also Ich möchte etwas machen. Aber ich meine, manchmal wird etwas ganz anderes daraus, weil, Ich weiß nicht, ob jemand in mir gescheiter ist als ich.

RJ: Da gibt es eigentlich no so ein Begriff das auch immer mit Dir verbunden ist, das Spiel, das Spielerische und also Spielen ist bei Dir kein Spielerei. Es ist. Na ja. Was ist das? Ist das Spielen bei Dir immer da?

Speaker 1: Eigentlich ja. Ich spiel manchmal mit todernste Sachen, zum Beispiel mit Marianne Stein. Sie verdanke ich alles, was Sie, was ich in Paris bekommen hab und gut, als Ihr Mann gestorben ist. Danach dann hab ich natürlicherweise etwas geschrieben, das wurde den Grabstein zu Stefan ja, aber. Aber gleichzeitig also Grabstein für Stephan Stein. Das heißt im Titel war schon Humor, aber gleichzeitig, es war nicht humoristisch gemeint. Aber es ist doch ein Wortspiel.

Es gibt diese Anekdote von diesem Tenoristen dem man sagt: Aber was sagst du? Unser gemeinsamer Freund ist gestorben. Der Tenoristen ist bedient: (singing) Gestorben. Gestorben. Gestorben. Also einfach er bildet so zu sagen er bildet seine stimme aus damit.

RJ: Ich habe noch eine letzte Frage. Der hat mit Az hit zu tun. Den vierten Satz von den Bornemisza Sprüche. Diese Melodie die Stefan Metz in einer Fassung für Cello gespielt hat. Und die dann in den Bref Messages wieder klinkt.

GK: Ja, Der Glaube.

RJ: Ich habe erst später erfahren, dass das auf eine Text basiert ist.

GK: Aber du sollst wissen. Dass es in diese… ich weiß nicht Bref Messages… Ich habe es schlecht übertragen und darum wurde es nicht genügend gut, weil die… Die Trompete sollte viel…, aber es ist nicht gut orchestriert. Einfach. Ja, und darum. Darum hat man Schwierigkeiten.

RJ: Aber meine Frage ist eigentlich, und das ist genau so für die Fassung für cello, soll der Instrumentalist, Cellist oder Trompeter das Gedicht kennen?

GK: Er muss es kennen und ich muss sagen, dass die beste Aufführung bleibt bis heute wie Stefan auf die Gavignies Cello spielt.

RJ: Und ist es dadurch, dass er diesen Text auch hört, innerlich oder kennt oder sagt.

GK: Ich weiß nicht, es ist warein ein Glücksmoment für ihn und auch für uns, vielleicht auch für dich. Da Du Aufnahme gemacht hast. Ja, so ist es. Es kann sein. Dass es wirklich eine Trio Verständigung war.

RJ: Gyuri, ich möchte mich sehr bedanken für Deine Zeit. Dürfte ich vielleicht in einer Woche nochmal anrufen?

GK: Ja. Absolut.

RJ: Et un grand merci a Johann pour son assistance.

GK: Jean, Johann. Er ist nach Goethe getauft.

Johann Kurtág: Mais non. Je suis baptisé a Bach, Johann Sebastian et Joan Miró.

RJ: Ici en Hollande nous avons Johan Cruyff. Un autre grand Johann. Also Gyuri bis bald.

GK: Ich stehe dir immer zu Verfühgung.

interview 2 György Kurtág 2 February 2021

online interview per Zoom from 20:01 CET till 21:17 CET – interviewer Renee Jonker

RJ: Also seitdem wir uns gesprochen haben, habe ich viele neue Fragen. Ich hoffe, dass ist Dir recht? Du hast es mir selber erzählt dass während der ungarische Aufstand ihr sowie Ligeti nach Wien ausreisen wolltet aber das dies für Euch nicht möglich mehr war.

GK: Ja, wir wollten auch mit der kleinen Gyuri aber die Schwiegermutter von Ligeti hat uns vom Bahnhof abgeholt, weil die Linie, wo es Ligeti gelungen ist, funktionierte schon nicht mehr. Und die Márta sagte das sie nicht mehr weg wollte. Gyuri war drei oder vier Jahre alt.

Ich bin dann später in Paris eben nur ein Jahr geblieben. Und dann, wann es sich ergab dass Márta da nicht mehr zurück kam, dann bin ich nach Hause gegangen. Ja, also das war am Rückweg nach Ungarn. Ich bin ausgestiegen in Köln und und Ligeti hat mich eingeladen. Ich wusste nicht, dass es war ein bisschen über seine Mittel. Dass er das gemacht hat und er hat mich am Bahnhof gewartet und erzählt vom neuen Stück, von Stockhausen Gruppen und was er sehr wichtig daran gefunden hat.

Dann hab ich erst seine Artikulation gehört. Ich konnte dann auch zu Stockhausen gehen. Er hörte damals Tag und Nacht die Gruppen und er hat mir in die Hand gelegt die Partitur. Und ich hab mich nach einer Seite gänzlich verloren. Es war ein sehr wichtiges Erlebnis für mich.

RJ: Die Gruppen hast Du die dann in der elektronische Studio abgehört. Oder warst Du in den Proben oder im Konzert?

GK: Nein, nein. Es war im Studio.

RJ: OK, das war noch nicht klar für mich. Wir haben das letzte Mal über Sprachen gesprochen. Wann hast Du eigentlich Englisch gelernt?

GK: Ich sollte Englisch lernen. Und es war in Budapest als wir noch in Lugoj wohnten. Also in der Kleinstadt.

Es war eine Englisch Lehrerin, die sehr hübsch war und meine Mutter saß daneben und und ich war gänzlich paralysiert. Noch dazu. Sie war die Schwester von Ernest Földwary, der damals neu Absolvent der Musikakademie Budapest war als Pianist und dann? Dann war ich total verloren und eigentlich darum. Darum konnte ich nicht Englisch lernen. Aber praktisch musste ich es doch, weil beim Unterrichten. In Prussia Cove auch und aber überall. Also ohne zu lernen hab ich hab ich gefunden die Sprache um zu unterrichten.

RJ: Und lesen kannst du ohne Probleme?

GK: Also ich habe sehr viel, sehr viel gelesen Englisch, also sehr viel von Shakespeare, beinahe alles und dann Joyce. Und endlich Beckett. Ja, also das war eine englische Kultur.

RJ: Ist ja keine schlechte Schule… Und dann Russisch?

GK: Erst als ich 50 Jahre alt war. Vorher war es obligatorischer an der Akademie. Aber alle haben es sabotiert. Also Gyuri, mein Sohn hat 12 Jahre Russisch gelernt und er kann kein Wort davon. Aber es war Mode zu sabotieren.

RJ: Ja, aber bei Dir gab es das Bedürfnis, Dostojewski lesen zu können?

GK: Nicht nur Dostojewski, Tschechow und Tolstoi auch und und dann natürlich… Also es ist auch von der Troussova gekommen. Ja, das war beinahe meine erste poetische Text, den ich verstehen konnte.

RJ: Die Troussova Lieder von Rimma Dalos , die sind für Dich doch sehr wichtig geworden? Sind sie von Pierre Boulez beauftragt oder vom Ensemble Contemporain oder wie?

GK: Also ich danke es Peter Eötvös, der Boulez, mein Bornemisza gezeigt hat und dann Boulez hat den Auftrag gegeben und ich, ich glaubte nie, dass ich fähig wäre, etwas zu schreiben. Und dann? Und dann ging es doch am Ende aber sehr schwer.

RJ: Ja und dafür bist Du dann wieder nach Paris abgereist für die Proben mit Ensemble Intercontemporain.

GK: Ja es war erst Cambreling der dirigierte. Und dann Peter Eötvös auch and und am Ende Boulez hat es aufgenommen.

RJ: Das war doch irgendwie so ein Durchbruch auch für Dich.

GK: Ja, also eigentlich. Dieser Uraufführung Dank kann ich sagen, dass es mir ein Welterfolg brachte. Oder so etwas.

RJ: Also darüber die nächste Frage. Kurz darauf hast Du von der Eduard van Beinum Stichting diese Stiftung in den Niederlanden einen Auftrag bekommen? Ich war erstaunt, dass dieser Auftrag für ein Oper gegeben wurde von einer Jury von Jan van Vlijmen, Luciano Berio, Riccardo Chailly und Reinbert de Leeuw. Also diese Jury hat damals Dich eingeladen, einen Auftrag zu akzeptieren für ein Oper.

GK: Ja, und der Kocsis sagte damals, dass es lächerlich ist und dass ich eine Oper nie schreiben kann und es war eigentlich mein Gedanke auch. Und dann hat Reinbert, es war die zweite Aufführung der Kafka Fragmente in Amsterdam und dann war auch ein Gespräch mit Reinbert verbunden und er sagte sehr schöne Dinge über mich und das war der Anfang unserer Freundschaft.

RJ: Aber was war dann später der Grund für Dich, um den Auftrag wieder zurück zugeben? War das wegen was Kocsis gesagt hat?

GK: Ja, also es war so. Also diese Gremium war nin Budapest bei uns und wir haben davon gesprochen und in Amsterdam sollten wir einen Kontrakt unterschreiben. Und in der Nacht hab ich Martá gesagt wenn ich diesen Kontrakt unterschreiben, Ich kann ganz sicher sein, dass ich nie eine Oper schreiben werde und dann wir sind hingegangen, und die Leute waren in schwarz und sehr feierlich, und es war ein feierliches nicht unterschreiben.

RJ: Und dann braucht es später Alexander Pereira, um Dich zu verführen.

GK: Aber inzwischen gab es auch Diskussionen mit Pierre Audi. Wir haben geplant, entweder die ungarische Elektra zu machen oder kleinere Szenen von Beckett. Und dann noch als Pereira den Auftrag gegeben hat dann wollte ich nur noch kleine Werke so wie Footfalls, und Rockaby und Play. Also kleine Szenen. Und dann von einem Moment zum andern war es das eigentlich, was mich zu Beckett gebracht hat, war wirklich das ich Fin de Partie in Paris gesehen hat.

RJ: Das war mit Robi Klein?

GK: Ja Robi Klein.

RJ: Das muss dann in April gewesen sein. 1957.

GK: Ich weiß nicht, in welchem Monat das war. Aber das hat…Ich habe beinahe nichts verstanden, weil ich. Also ich hab schon vorher vor der Schule Französisch gelernt. Aber die Schnelligkeit auf der Szene war mir sehr, sehr schwierig. Aber ich hab dann auch gleich bei Ligeti die mir nach Paris geschrieben hat, ich soll unbedingt En attendant Godot ansehen, wenn es möglich ist. Und dann hab ich auch En attendant Godot und auch Fin de partie gekauft und dann hab ich es erst verstanden. Seitdem wurde für mich Beckett der Wichtigste.

RJ: Wieso kannst Du das erklären? Du hast vorher schon so unglaublich viel große Literatur gelesen und Schriftsteller und Dostojewski und Tolstoi und Shakespeare und Joyce. Und trotzdem Beckett.

GK: Beckett wurde mir am nächsten und ich weiß nicht.

RJ: Was ich darüber gelesen habe, in die Beckett Biographie von Knowlson war damals die Erstaufführung in Paris war noch auf Englisch, oder?

GK: Nein, nein, nein, es war auf Französisch und auf Französisch und sogar, die eigentliche Uraufführung war in London aber auf Französisch.

RJ: Ah das wusste ich nicht. Wunderbar. Also wenn wir zur Beginn vom Fin de Partie gehen, die Oper, dann ist mir aufgefallen, das es manchmal, Einträge, also Text gibt, die ich nicht bei Beckett finde im Original, sondern die von Dir kommen. Stimmt das?

GK: Ich habe ich eigentlich. Ich habe erst die erste Worte von Clov vertont. Und dann, Ich brauchte doch ein bisschen längere Musik dort. Und darum. Darum hab ich auch noch ein paar Worte hinzugefügt.

RJ: Ça va bientôt finir !

GK: Ça va peut être finir. Das ist auch meine Zutat. Es sind sehr, sehr wenige Zutaten von mir.

Eine andere andere Fälschung ist, was ich gemacht hab, das in der englischen Übersetzung Beckett hat geschrieben eine… Ich weiß nicht, es fällt mir jetzt nicht ein, aber es war eine Allusion zu der Tempest von Shakespeare und dann hab ich einfach falsifiziert den Text und gesagt mein Ur-Urgroßvater Prospero ja hat damals gesagt “our revels now are ended”.

RJ: Du nennst es eine Fälschung, aber ich spüre hier auch etwas spielerisch.

GK: Ja, ja. Also ich. Ich wagte. Also es sind beinahe nur diese zwei Zutaten, aber leider für viele Motive…

Zum Beispiel, das Hund Motiv, le Chien ich wollte es nachträglich machen und dann hab ich Martá verloren und und dann konnte ich nicht mehr, nicht mehr zur Oper zurückkehren.

RJ: Und das ist der Grund, das dieser Teil nicht vertont ist?

GK: Ja. Weil eigentlich das ist das tragische, dramatischste Höhepunkt wo Clov mit dem Hund auf Hamms Kopf schlägt und Hamm sagt du kannst auch mit Metall oder Holz zuschlagen, aber nicht mit dem Hund. Also sein gutes Objekt war…

RJ: Was war die Rolle von Márta in diesen Entscheidung?

GK: Ich habe es erst selber entschieden. Aber, aber Márta, ich habe sie auch so gern genannt, dass sie Mühlgendarme ist oder gendarme… Sie hat mich zum Klavier getrieben und zwei Jahre lang saß sie neben mir.

bis ich es beendete. Ja, und ohne das hätte ich es nie beenden können.

RJ: Ich erinnere noch an wenn ich Euch besucht habe in Saint André de Cubsac dass es immer diesen riesigen Stapel von Kopien gab und das Márta voll beteiligt war, um das auch mit zu organisieren und zu kopieren und durchzuhören mit Dir. Sie hatte eine sehr, sehr große Rolle. Darf ich nochmals auf eine Spielerei von Dir hinweisen, auch in FIn de Partie in der Transition au Finale. Da bedanken sich Clov und Hamm einander gegenüber. Bei Beckett ist das eigentlich ganz einfach. Aber bei Dir ist das sehr verschlungen, weil sie letztendlich dann auch gemeinsam sprechen.

GK: Ja, das ist auch eine Zutat von mir. Aber das ist wirklich musikalisch begründet und das davon ein Duett entstehen konnte…

RJ: Opera!

GK: Ich weiß schon nicht mehr, wie es im Text,

RJ: Je te remercie Clov, Ah pardon, c’est moi qui te remercie, C’est nous qui nous remercions

qui nous remercions. C’est nous qui remercions.

GK: (singing) C’est nous qui nous remercions, qui nous remercions. C’est nous qui remercions. Immer wieder.

Also es kommt immer immer wieder diesen Anfang und dann… Also ich möchte sagen, vielleicht ist es das Opernhafteste aus der ganzen Geschichte.

RJ: Ich bewahre starke Erinnerungen an das erste Mal das ich …quasi una fantasia… selber noch gespielt habe. Als Schlagzeuger. Das war noch mit Peter Eötvös als Dirigent mit Ensemble Modern

GK: In Berlin.

RJ: In Berlin und da haben wir uns ja zum ersten Mal getroffen. Aber ich erinnere mich noch dass es für Dich unglaublich wichtig war, wie im zweiten Satz wie ein Traumeswirren die Bongo Stimme gespielt werden musste: ta-di ti-da. Und wir als Schlagzeuger haben das erst nur kapiert wenn Du uns das vorgesungen hast. Ist das in der Keim auch wieder eine personnage rythmique wie Du das genannt hast?

GK: Wahrscheinlich aber jetzt weiß ich nicht genau, welche.

RJ: Also im zweiten Satz. Es klingt durchaus in den Bongos, die Schlagzeuger mit den zwei Bongos. Der spielt ta-di ti-da , ta-di ti-da

GK: Ah ja, ja, ja, ja. Das letzte vom ganzen Satz. Das ist das. Das geht durchaus durch mein leben.

Weil in in die Bornemisza, das ist die Visitenkarte des Teufels. Und das kommt häufig zurück, dieser Formel. (sings: ja-di-ti-da-tiii-da)

RJ: Ist das irgendwie mit Sprache verbunden? Wo kommt das her?

GK: Jari-tiri: wenn es auf Streichinstrumente gespielt ist, siehst du mich, ist es auf ab. Auf ab.

RJ: Und die Visitenkarte des Teufels. Wieso?

GK: Aber hier ist es schon kein teuflische Musik. Nur dieses Traumeswirren.

RJ: Aber als Figur sollte es diesen Ausdruck haben?

GK: Ja, ja, ja.

RJ: Na ja, jetzt verstehe ich. Es gibt noch so ein Wunder. Ich gehe da mal wieder zurück nach Fin de Partie. Dann gibt es diesen melodie in der Solo Bayan. (sings). Und wenn ich das erste Mal, als ich das gehört habe, also noch in Budapest, dann war es mir eine Melodie, die ich bei Dir schon öfters gehört habe.

GK: Ja, wahrscheinlich. Wahrscheinlich, war es gar nicht neu, sondern ich weiß schon nicht mehr von wo.

Für mich war eigentlich die Nell eine Verkörperung der Márta. Also als ich es zum ersten Mal gesehen habe, dann im Theater ist es. Es war so, dass das irgendwie ich schon in die Figur verliebt war.

RJ: Aber dafür, ist dann diese schöne Melodie eher ‘Nellisch’ so zu sagen…?

GK: Ja, ja.

RJ: So darf man sie verstehen?

GK: Ja.

RJ: Wir haben das letzte Mal auch über das Spielen gesprochen, was die Bedeutung vom Spielen ist für Dich: Jatékoks, Endspiel (Fin de Partie) sowie im Schachspiel. Kannst Du irgendwie andeuten, was das Spielen für Dich bedeutet beim Komponieren?

GK: Eigentich ich kann es nicht erklären. Ich habe den Vorwort von Jatekok nicht selber geschrieben, es war Istvan Mariachi der es formulierte aber nach meinen Ideen. Also. Und diese Form des Spielen, man soll es nicht ernst nehmen und man soll es tödlich ernst nehmen.

RJ : Aber auch Deine Fälschungen von Beckett sind doch eigentlich auch eine Art zu Spielen.

GK: Ja, das ist wahr.

RJ: Das letzte Mal haben wir von What is the Word gesprochen. Jetzt muss ich ein großes Bekenntniß machen. Ich liebe das Stück. Ich habe es damals mit Asko|Schönberg mit Reinbert zum ersten mal aufgeführt. Wir haben es damals versucht auf zu nehmen. Also ich habe dadurch Beckett entdeckt und habe angefangen Beckett zu lesen und studieren. Und ich habe der Titel dieses Werkes wahrscheinlich hundert mal aufgeschrieben und weitergeschickt. Und erst vor zehn Tagen habe ich entdeckt, es gibt kein Fragezeichen. What is the word enthält kein Fragezeichen. Und auch Comment dire, die original Text ihm Französisch hat kein Fragezeichen. Ich finde das sehr merkwürdig. In den Titel Deines Werkes gibt es auch kein Fragezeichen. Du hast das sehr präzis übernommen.

GK: Nein, weil. Weil ich. Ich glaube, es ist nicht nur Frage. Es ist auch eine Abwertung. What is the word.

RJ: What.

GK: (flüsterend) What…

GK: Und gleichzeitig dieses Stottern der Ildikó Monyok, das sie so Mühe hatte bis zur Ende einer kleine Phrase zu kommen, das gehört auch dazu.

RJ: Ja, aber es ist sehr wohl möglich, dass What is the word nicht eine Frage ist, sondern eine Behauptung?

GK: Eigentlich es ist etwas ähnliches in der Johannes Passion. Jesus sagt ich bin gekommen für die Wahrheit zu témoigner und dann Pilatus fragt. Was ist Wahrheit? Ich glaube auch ohne Fragezeichen.

RJ: Das letzte Mal hast Du gesucht nach einem Wort, um die Rolle von Ildiko zu beschreiben, und dann hast Du gesagt diseuse. Trifft das auch zu auf das Sprechgesang von Schönberg in Pierrot Lunaire?

GK: Es ist etwas noch einfacher. Also einfach den Text so zu sagen aber eigentlicht keine Neuigkeit, weil wenn du Poppea mithörst, dann hörst du dasselbe. Das ist ebenso. Ebenso Musik ist aus Text. Das heißt, es ist nicht ein vertonte Text sondern die Sprache ist, es ist so gesprochen. Das heißt, die Tonhöhen sind da. Es soll. Es soll auch gesungen sein, aber… Wir haben für die Oper Fin de Partie eine spezielle Art von Text sagen erfunden und dann leider, leider, durch die Regieproben ist es verschwunden oder beinahe verschwunden.

RJ: Und in welcher Richtung verschwunden? In Richtung singen Musik oder in Richtung sprechen?

GK: Nein, es soll. Es soll Musik sein. Es sollen die Tonhöhen da sein. Es soll rhythmisch natürlich das sein, was. Was da war. Aber ich. Ich glaubte das. Es gibt nichts zeitgenössisches in der ganzen Oper. Aber diese Tatsache. Das es ebenso funktioniert. Dass Musik ebenso funktioniert wie Text und Text ebenso funktioniert wie Musik. Oder dass man es eigentlich nicht anders fühlt, als wenn man das als Prosastück hört.

RJ: Das war Dein Ideal?

GK: Ja.

RJ: Monteverdi. Wie die hast Du Monteverdi und seine Musik kennengelernt? War das mit Harnoncourt?

GK: Nein es war früher schon, In Budapest war Monteverdi eigentlich sehr present und nach meinem Pariser Jahr hab ich begonnen, schon die Poppea zu studieren und das. Das ist mir geblieben als höchstes Ideal.

Und finde auch eigentlich dieses stotternde Octavia.“A, a, a, a dio Roma”. Das war mir das wichtigste in Musik.

RJ: Vielen Dank, Gyuri!.

GK: Ich danke dir auch weil die Fragen haben Erinnerungen herauf gebracht die ich übrigens beinahe vergessen habe.

RJ: Deine Aussagen und Deine Antworten geben mir Stoff zum Nachdenken. Auch diese Verbindung mit Monteverdi. Der mich eigentlich noch nicht so klar war.

GK: Es war nicht nur Monteverdi sondern auch Heinrich Schütz. Seinen biblische Szenen.

Wir wußten sogar nicht von welcher Sammlung die sind. Das der Pharisäer, der Gläubiger das waren solche Dinge… Also Schütz, war ebenso ebenso wichtig.

interview 3 György Kurtág 13 March 2021

online interview per Zoom from 20:38 CET till 21:15 CET – interviewer Renee Jonker

RJ: Es gibt diesen Ausdruck in der niederländische Sprache, dass man mit den Tür ins Haus fällt. Das bedeutet, dass man nicht nur an der Tür klopft, sondern mit der Tür direkt im Haus hineinfällt. Es gibt bei Dir Werke, die ganz schüchtern und suchend anfangen, so wie Grabstein für Stephan mit der Gitarre. Ja fast sowie bei Alban Berg in seinem Violinkonzert. Aber es gibt auch andere Werke von Dir, die ganz affirmativ beginnen, wie mit einem Urknall sowie Stele. BANG !

GK: (plays a load octave on his piano)

RJ: In G. Aber dann gerät das G schon im Schwanken. What is the word fängt auch mit so einem Urknall an… Und ich wage das, ein Urknall zu nennen, weil in What is the word, klanglich und räumlich ein ganzes Universum entsteht. Ein Nah und Fern, ein Diesseits und Jenseits. Wie wichtig ist für Dich die Räumlichkeit in Musik?

GK: Ja, eigentlich, es war es. Es war nur einige Jahre, wo ich ihn hauptsächlich mit Räumlichkeit gedacht habe. Vielleicht eine Ursache war, dass der erste Satz von Troussova war so ungeheuer schwer zu spielen und zu hören. Und ich dachte, dass das vielleicht, wenn ich es eher spatialisiere dann würde es klarer sein, aber es wurde im Gegenteil noch komplizierter.

RJ: Also komplizierter für Dich, aber für das Publikum, dieser Transparenz in …*quasi una fantasia…*und im Doppelkonzert ist unglaublich. Wegen dieser räumlichkeit hört man viel mehr.

GK: Dann hat es doch einen Sinn. Aber heute, heute wag ich nicht mehr im Raum zu denken.

RJ: Aber doch wie gesagt What is the word, ich empfinde das als ein komplettes Universum. Dadurch, dass es nicht nur solo ist. Es ist auch Chor. Es ist das Pianino auf der Bühne. Das Orchester im Raum und irgendwie erfährt man das als ein komplettes Universum das anfängt mit einem Urknall.

GK: Ja, aber auch jetzt empfinde ich das, dort bin ich am nächsten gekommen zu Beckett.

RJ: Und es war für Dich kein Problem, mit einem Behauptung anzufangen? Also nicht schüchtern sondern…

GK: Wenn ich stottern darf, dann ist es nicht mehr so schwer.

RJ: Dann sprechen wir über das Stottern. Du hast einmal gesagt Bartok ist meine Muttersprache und dessen Muttersprache sei Beethoven.

GK: Ja !

RJ: Aber das letzte Mal sagtest Du mir, dass das Stottern sei Deine Muttersprache.

GK: Ja! (laughing)

RJ: Als Beispiel hast Du le premier Monologue de Hamm gegeben. À, à, à moi de jouer. Und das hast Du dann verglichen mit Octavia in Poppea: A a a adio Roma. Du hast auch einmal gesagt, es sind immer die Hintergedanken, wenn ich komponiere. Also was ist die Hintergedanke bei Monteverdi wenn Octavia singt A, a, a, adio Roma?

GK: Es ist kein Hintergedanke. Es ist einfach die Schwierigkeit das addio auszusaugen.

RJ: Ist das Stottern erlaubt als Ausdrucksmittel?

GK: Ich glaube. Für mich ist es unbedingt, also eben. Eben weil durch stottern die Pausen haben große Spannung und große Möglichkeit, die Erwartung zu erhöhen.

RJ: Aber da haben wir ein Problem, weil wenn wir Musik notieren, können wir ganz genau die Tondauer bestimmen in der Notation. Aber mit Pausen geht das nicht.

GK: Mit den Pausen geht es ebenso. Das habe ich… Also… Ich habe es einmal gezeigt. (claps his hands and keeps them in the air) Bis ich meine Händen halte, dann lebt dieser Ton. Wenn ich abnehme, dann stirbt es. Aber wenn ich sage (claps his hands and lowers them), dann ist es weg. Dann lebt es nicht. Ich kann so lange wie möglich halten, aushalten einen Ton. Bis ich es mit Konzentration und mit Spannung es schaffen kann. Ja, wenn es vorüber ist, kann es sich ändern und was erzählen.

RJ: Aber das bedeutet das, dass die Pause eigentlich immer bestimmt wird von dem, was vorher geschäht?

GK: Das ist ein sehr wichtiger Gedanke von László Dobsay, der über die klassische, hauptsächlich die Mozart Periodik und Formen geschrieben hat und er sagte dass ein erster Ton der Phrase muß schon wissen davon wie lange das die ganze Phrase dauern wird, wie lange dieser erste Ton dauern wird. Und was man damit will. Das heißt. Diese Antizipation des ganzen ist etwas sehr, sehr Wichtiges und in dieser Hinsicht Márta war eine sehr treue Dobsay Studentin.

RJ: Aber diese Erwartung die geschaffen ist, ist es doch eigentlich dein Spielraum als Komponisten? Du kannst diese Erwartung frustrieren.

GK: Ja.

RJ: Die Pausen. Beckett schreibt immer ‘un temps’ , ‘un temps’ … Die Pausen sind eigentlich bestimmt von dem, was vorher gesagt oder gespielt oder gesungen wird?

GK : Ja und auch die Möglichkeit Themen zu wechseln.

RJ: Themen zu wechseln? .

GK: Ja (acting) Ich war sehr glücklich … aber. Dann ist etwas gekommen. Diese aber. Für ein Schubert Lied das aber ist das Wichtigste … Dort wendet sich etwas.

RJ: Ich springe mal hin und her, aber wir haben vorher über die Wahl der Sprache gesprochen. Bei Beckett nicht unwichtig denn er hat auf Französisch und Englisch geschrieben. Da hast Du gesagt What is the word konnte ich nicht auf Französisch komponieren, weil da fehlte das Stakkato. Ich musste das auf Ungarisch und auf Englisch machen.

GK: Es fing an mit einem Missverständnis. Ich habe die Text auf ungarisch bekommen. Der Mann von Czengery hat es mir gegeben und es war kurz nach Becketts Tod erschienen im Londoner ungarischen Rundfunk als Übersetzung. Und ich glaubte darum dass das Original Englisch war. Und das Englische klingt wie das Ungarische. What is the word – Mi is a szó. Also immer nur einsilbige Worte. Und lange Zeit habe ich nicht gewusst, dass es original Französisch ist. Und als ich es sah, dann hätte ich ein ganz anderes Stück komponieren müssen. Das verlangt schnellere und auch langsameren Tempi.

RJ: Aber mit Fin de Partie war es gegenüber gesetzt. Die französische Text mußte es eigentlich sein für Dich. Kann ich sagen, dass die Wahl für entweder Französisch oder Ungarisch oder Englisch immer musikalisch war für Dich? Dass Du dich nur aus musikalischen Gründe für eine Sprache entschieden hast?

GK: Ja, aber wie gesagt, bei What is the word ich wusste nicht, dass es nicht ursprünglich auf Englisch war. Wenn ich es gewusst hätte, dann hätte auch das vokal Ensemble wenigstens auch französische Worte benützten lassen.

RJ: Aber Fin de Partie… Fini.

GK: Ja. (singing): Fini, c’est fini, ça va finir, ça va peut-être finir. Ça va finir… peut-être

RJ: Also das würde nicht funktionieren wie: finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished…

GK: Es könnte sein aber das war eigentlich für mich der Keim der Komposition.

RJ: Ja, so habe ich das verstanden. Aber könnte es sein, dass das auf Französisch eher staccato ist als auf Englisch und dass aus musikalische Gründe für dich das Französich besser funktioniert hat?

GK: Vielleicht ja.

RJ: Ich möchte Dich keine Wörter im Mund geben.

GK: Aber nein (laughing). Es kann sein.

RJ: Es interessiert mich deshalb, weil… Also der Beginn, wie Du das geschrieben hast in Fin de Partie fängt an mit Stottern, mit kurzen Phrasen. Allerdings nicht mit einem Urknall so zu sagen…

GK: Ja, ja, ja.

RJ: Also Du hast letztendlich ein Oper geschrieben und in diesen Oper gibt es Personages, Rollen. Die hast Du ein Leben gegeben. Dafür bist Du jetzt verantwortlich wenn ich das so sagen darf. Das letzte Mal wann wir uns gesprochen haben, hast Du etwas sehr Schönes gesagt: für mich war eigentlich die Nell eine Verkörperung der Márta.

GK: Ja (laughter) Ich hab’s schon gesagt. Ich weiss schon nicht mehr.

RJ: Aber Gyuri, wenn das so ist, wenn Nell Márta ist, dann bist Du doch eigentlich der Nagg?

GK: Ich muss alle sein. Ich muss alle vier sein!

RJ: Du must alle vier sein. Aber wie hast Du deine Rolle als Nagg erfahren?

GK: Also dort. Dort war mir wichtig, wie er diese wie heißt es, diese Geschichte vorträgt, die angeblich nach Nagg’s Meinung, die Ursache war das Nell immer gelacht hat. Und dann Nell hat es verbessert. Das es nicht davon die Rede ist, das sie einfach glücklich war und darum lachte. Und dann kommt diese wunderbare…dass man am Comoer See… On voyait le fond. Si blanc. Si net.

RJ: In der Oper Nagg ne meurt pas, Nagg il pleurt. Il reste.

GK: Il pleurt.

GK: Also für mich war diese verzweiflungs Schrei von Nagg so ungeheuer wichtig damals. (Demonstrates a cry that lasts 10 seconds). So sollte es lauten. Sie haben aus der Oper beinahe nichts davon gebracht. Es war ein bisschen länger, länger gehalten, aber diese Intensität fehlte gänzlich.

RJ: Das ist auch Deine Intensität, Dein Verlust.

GK: Ja.

RJ: Nach diesen Schrei sagt bei Beckett Hamm: Fini la rigolade. Le chien est parti. Aber Du lässt ihn stattdessen sagen “my great-great-grandfather Prospero a dit: our revels now are ended.”

GK: Ja, es ist einfach darum weil Beckett in der englischen Übersetzung hat geschrieben diesen Zitat aus der Tempest von Shakespeare und dann habe ich diese Unverschämtheit gemacht. Ich verfälschte Becketts Text und Hamm sagt "mein ur-Urgroßvater Prospero hat gesagt our revels … " Weil ich wollte. Ich wollte diese Verknüpfung zu Tempest nicht unausgenützt lassen.

RJ: Eine Hintergedanke so zu sagen. Aber dadurch kommt der Hund nicht zur Szene und der Hund ist vielleicht der fünfte Personage?

GK: Einfach, ich hatte keine Zeit mehr zu machen. Márta sagte es sei schon zu lang. Wir müssen anfangen und Preis geben. Und dann kann ich arbeiten. Aber natürlich, wenn mich Márta verließ, da konnte ich nicht mehr weiter komponieren.

RJ: Das verstehe ich. Aber dann hast Du für Deinen Sohn Gyuri eine Komposition mit dem Title Der Hund gemacht?

GK: (laughing) Ja. Er hat es verlangt.

RJ: Und ich habe Der Hund von Pierre Laurent Aimard gespielt gehört und wie er das kurz eingeleitet hat. Die Idee ist, dass der Hund soll lernen zu bellen?

GK: Ja, also eigentlich. Das Klavier soll lernen zu Bellen.

RJ: Was soll das Klavier sagen mit dem Bellen?

GK: Ja. Dazu bin ich nicht genügend gekommen. Ich muss noch komponieren zu bestimmen, was das der Hund zu bellen hat.

RJ: Sprechen wir mal kurz vom Humor, was bei Dir sehr ernst zu nehmen ist. Also sowohl in Milano als auch in Amsterdam in den Aufführungen von Fin de Partie, wo ich dabei war wurde viel gelachen vom Publikum. Obwohl natürlich das Thema ist sehr…

GK: Aber man muss immer lachen. Die Leute in der poubelle, wenn es eben von l’accident de tandem die Rede ist beginnen zu lachen. Das ist beinahe nicht einmal tragikomisch, sondern ich weiß nicht…

RJ: Aber auch Deine Rolle als Nagg hast Du sehr ernsthaft genommen. Rien n’est plus drole que le malheur.

GK: Ja.

RJ: Das letzte Mal hast Du mir diesen Witz des Tenoristen erzählt der von der Nachricht eines Sterben eine Gesangsübung hat gemacht: Gestorben? Gestorben? Gestorben. In What is the word gibt es die Stelle: Mi, mi, mi, mi,mi,mi,mi, mimimimi. Das klingt auch so wie eine nicht sehr intelligente Sängerin die ihre Stimme aufwärmt.

GK: (laughing) Ja. Fantastisch. Ich hab nie die Verbindung gemacht aber es ist so…

RJ: Das heißt also, das war kein Absicht?

GK: Nein, aber es ist natürlich okay.

RJ: Peut-il avoir une misère plus haute que la mienne?

GK: Ich glaube einfach: what is the word. What, what, what, what

RJ: Egal wer spricht.

GK: Ja.

RJ: Wenn ich vielleicht in zwei Wochen nochmal kurz anrufen darf?

GK: Du kannst auch nicht kurz anrufen. Nein, ich bedanke mich sehr, weil weil einfach einfach die Tatsache, dass

ich nachdenken muss, bringt Dinge, die ich gar nicht weiß, dass ich, dass ich davon gedacht hab. Alles Gute bei der kleinen Familie.

RJ: Sei umarmt. Danke Gyuri. Bis bald.

  1. Webern, A. Der Weg zur neuen Musik lectures 1932/1933 published by Reich, W. (1960) Universal Edition Vienna pag.46 ↩︎

  2. Rihm, W. (1997). ausgesprochen Band 1 Was ‘sagt’ Musik? Eine Rede. Winterthur Amadeus Verlag p. 180 ↩︎

  3. Patel, A. (2008). Language, music and the brain Oxford University Press pag 304 ↩︎

  4. Subsidieregelingen van de Stichting Fonds voor de Scheppende Toonkunst, zoals laatstelijk gewijzigd bij bestuursbesluit van 29 september 1995 en goedgekeurd door de staatssecretaris op 18 januari 1996, article 13 a. https://wetten.overheid.nl/BWBR0007829/1996-05-15, retrieved 2 May 2021 ↩︎

  5. Sacks, O. (2008) Musicophilia, Tales of Music and the Brain: London Picador p.285 ↩︎

  6. Van den Berg, E. (2015) Worp en wederworp, 26 interviews met Misha Mengelberg, Huis Clos Amsterdam. ↩︎

  7. Salisbury, L. (2008) ‘What Is the Word’: Beckett’s Aphasic Modernism’ Journal of Beckett Studies University of Exeter ↩︎

  8. Beckett. S (1989) Comment dire, Les Editions de Minuit, Paris ↩︎

  9. Kurtág, G. (1989) …quasi una fantasia… Op. 27 Nr. 1 Editio Musica Budapest ↩︎

  10. interview György Kurtág, 25 January 2021 ↩︎

  11. György Kurtág Complete Works for Ensemble and Choir (2017) ECM New Series 2505-07 ↩︎

  12. Reinbert de Leeuw in an interview with Renee Jonker, 1 August 2016, published in the CD-booklet of György Kurtág Complete Works for Ensemble and Choir (2017) ECM New Series 2505-07 ↩︎

  13. Stockhausen, K. (1959) No. 9 Zyklus für einen Schlagzeuger Universal Edition Vienna ↩︎

  14. Theodor Adorno (1903-1969) sociologist, philosopher, musicologist, composer and literature critic ↩︎

  15. Viktor Zuckerkandl (1896-1965) musicologist ↩︎

  16. Patel, A. (2008). Music, language and the brain Oxford University Press p. 327 ↩︎

  17. Ibid. p. 335 ↩︎

  18. Juslin, P.& Sloboda, J. (2001). Music and Emotion Oxford University Press p.309 ↩︎

  19. Huron, D. (2006). Music and the Psychology of Anticipation Cambridge MA MIT Press ↩︎

  20. Overy, K. & Molnar-Szakacs, I. (2009). Being Together in Time: Musical Experience and the Mirror Neuron System Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. 26, No. 5 California University of California Press p. 499 ↩︎

  21. Schopman, E. (2020) Video als stimulus. De mogelijkheden van de Stimulated Recall Methode in de artistieke onderzoekspraktijk Forum+ voor onderzoek en kunsten vol. 27 nr.3 pp. 23-28 : https://www.forum-online.be/nummers/herfst-2020/video-als-stimulus-de-mogelijkheden-van-de-stimulated-recall-methode-in-de-artistieke-onderzoekpraktijk ↩︎

  22. Bloom, A. (1968, rev. 1991) The Republic of Plato. Translated, with notes and an interpretive essay. New York: Basic Books. ↩︎

  23. Rihm, W. (1997) ausgesprochen Band 1 Was ‘sagt’ Musik? Eine Rede. Amadeus Verlag Winterthur p. 179 ↩︎

  24. Smilde, R., Page, K. and Alheit, P., (2014). While the Music Lasts: on Music and Dementia. Delft: Eburon Academics. ↩︎

  25. Ibid. ↩︎

  26. Wakeling, K. (2015) ‘We’re all on the path ourselves’; The ‘reflective practitioner’ in participatory arts with older people. Journal of Arts & Communities, 6 p.10 ↩︎

  27. Dons. K (2019). MUSICIAN, FRIEND AND MUSE: an ethnographic exploration of emerging practices of musicians devising co-creative musicking with elderly people London Guildhall School of Musique and Drama p. 115 ↩︎

  28. Smilde, R., Page, K. and Alheit, P. (2014). While the Music Lasts: on Music and Dementia. Delft: Eburon Academics. p. 212/213 ↩︎

  29. Patel, A. (2008). Music, language and the brain Oxford University Press Oxford p. 297 ↩︎

  30. interview Lucy Payne 24 February 2021 ↩︎

  31. Whitehead, K. (1999). New Dutch Swing New York Billboard Books p. 40 ↩︎

  32. Ibid. ↩︎

  33. Ibid. ↩︎

  34. Mengelberg, M. (2012). Enkele regels in de dierentuin Huis Clos, Rimburg ↩︎

  35. text published on http://www.icporchestra.com/history ↩︎

  36. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCYyGth47N8 retrieved 26 January 2021 ↩︎

  37. interview Han Bennink 20 February 2021 ↩︎

  38. Ibid. ↩︎

  39. Whitehead, K. (1999). New Dutch Swing New York Billboard Books p. 155 ↩︎

  40. interview Han Bennink 20 February 2021 ↩︎

  41. Mengelberg M. (2009). De sprong, O romantiek der hazen, CD Aan & uit, ICP Orchestra ↩︎

  42. interview Han Bennink 20 February 2021 ↩︎

  43. Varga, B. (2011). Three questions for sixty five composers Rochester University of Rochester Press p. 145 ↩︎

  44. Varga, B. (2010). György Kurtág, Drei Gespräche mit Bálint András Varga Hofheim Wolke Verlag p. 74 ↩︎

  45. interview György Kurtág 2 February 2021 ↩︎

  46. Boivin, J. (1995). La classe de Messiaen Paris Christian Bourgois Éditeur ↩︎

  47. Ligeti, G. (1951-53). Musica ricercata per pianoforte. Mainz Schott ↩︎

  48. Varga, B. (2011). Three questions for sixty five composers Rochester University of Rochester Press p. 20 ↩︎

  49. Kurtág, G. (1979). Jatékok I-IV Budapest Editio Musica ↩︎

  50. interview György Kurtág 2 February 2021 ↩︎

  51. Ibid. ↩︎

  52. Varga, B. (2010). György Kurtág, Drei Gespräche mit Bálint András Varga Hofheim Wolke Verlag p.34 ↩︎

  53. Kurtág, G. (1982). Botschaften der Verstorbenen R.W. Troussowa Op.17 Budapest Editio Musica ↩︎

  54. interview György Kurtág 2 February 2021 ↩︎

  55. made possible by Madeleine Margot (1902-1997) and the société Gavigniès,

    Miedema, N. (2000) De hoge lucht Bussum Thoth ↩︎

  56. Knowlson, J. (1996). Damned to Fame The Life of Samuel Beckett London Bloomsbury p. 655 ↩︎

  57. Ibid. ↩︎

  58. Feldman, M. (1977). Neither Vienna Universal Edition ↩︎

  59. Beckett, S. (1973). Not I London Faber and Faber ↩︎

  60. Beckett, S. (1967). Come and go London Calder and Boyars ↩︎

  61. Beckett, S. (1983). What where New York Grove Press ↩︎

  62. Knowlson, J. (1996). Damned to Fame The Life of Samuel Beckett London Bloomsbury p.700 ↩︎

  63. Salisbury, L. (2008). ‘What Is the Word’: Beckett’s Aphasic Modernism’ Journal of Beckett Studies Exeter University of Exeter p. 78 ↩︎

  64. Cohn, R. (2001). A Beckett Canon, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. p. 382 ↩︎

  65. Knowlson, J. (1996). Damned to Fame The Life of Samuel Beckett London Bloomsbury pag. 70 18 ↩︎

  66. interview György Kurtág 25 January 2021 ↩︎

  67. Reinbert de Leeuw in an interview with Renee Jonker, 1 August 2016, published in the CD-booklet of György Kurtág Complete Works for Ensemble and Choir (2017) ECM New Series 2505-07 ↩︎

  68. Stockhausen, K., Kurtäg, G. (1996). Gruppen for three Orchestras, Grabstein für Stefan, Stele Deutsche Grammophon ↩︎

  69. Kurtág, G. (1991). Samuel Beckett: What is the word Op. 30b Universal Music Publishing Editio Musica Budapest ↩︎

  70. interview György Kurtág 2 February 2021 ↩︎

  71. Beckett, S. (1957). Fin de Partie, pag. 101: ‘Si tu dois me frapper, frappe-moi avec la masse. (Un temps). Ou avec la gaffe, tiens, frappe moi avec la gaffe. Pas avec le chien. Avec la gaffe. Ou avec la masse.’ ↩︎

  72. Kurtág, G. (2020). Le Chien Budapest Editio Musica ↩︎

  73. interview Kurtág 13 March 2021 ↩︎

  74. Mengelberg, M. (2012). Enkele regels in de dierentuin Rimburg Huis Clos p.107 ↩︎

  75. Ibid: Het paard van ene Van den Broeke

    stond in zijn stal stil stam te boeken. ↩︎

  76. Eeko from Mengelberg M Epistrophy (ICP). Recorded Jun. 6, 1972. ↩︎

  77. interview Han Bennink 20 February 2021 ↩︎

  78. Ibid. ↩︎

  79. Rihm, W. (1997). ausgesprochen Band 1 Was ‘sagt’ Musik? Eine Rede. Winterthur Amadeus Verlag p. 174 ↩︎

  80. Salisbury, L. (2008). ‘What Is the Word’: Beckett’s Aphasic Modernism’ Journal of Beckett Studies Exeter University of Exeter p.81 ↩︎

  81. Ibid. p. 80 ↩︎

  82. Shakespeare, W.(1613). The Tempest Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies; Published according to the True and Original Copies, London First Folio ↩︎

  83. Durrant, G. (1955). Prospero’s Wisdom Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory No. 7 New York Berghahn Books p.51 ↩︎

  84. interview György Kurtág 25 January 2021 ↩︎

  85. interview Lucy Payne 24 February 2021 ↩︎

  86. Puccini, G.(1904). Madama Butterfly Milano Ricordi ↩︎

  87. Interview with Viola Cheung 4 April 2021 ↩︎

  88. Knowlson, J. (1996). Damned to Fame The Life of Samuel Beckett London Bloomsbury p. 692 ↩︎

  89. Ibid. p. 695 ↩︎

  90. Stockhausen, K. (1970). MANTRA for two pianists Kürten Stockhausen Verlag ↩︎

  91. Tannenbaum, M. (1988). Conversations with Stockhausen Oxford University Press p.76 ↩︎

  92. interview held online with Kathinka Pasveer on 29 March 2021 ↩︎

  93. Stockhausen, K. (1983). KATHINKA’s GESANG as LUZIFERS REQUIEM for flute and six percussionists Kürten Stockhausen Verlag ↩︎

  94. Bijlsma, C. (2011). Extase, Reinbert de Leeuw en de Gurre Lieder documentary NTR Hilversum Rosan Productions ↩︎

  95. Scruton, R. (1997). The Aesthetics of Music Oxford Clarendon Press p. 132 ↩︎

  96. Interview Maite van der Marel 6 April 2021 ↩︎

  97. interview György Kurtág 25 January 202 ↩︎

  98. interview Loes Dooren 14 February 2021 ↩︎

  99. interview Octavian Lup 24 February 2021 ↩︎

  100. interview Han Bennink 20 February 2021 ↩︎

  101. interview Han Bennink 20 February 2021 ↩︎

  102. interview Lucy Payne 24 February 2021 ↩︎

  103. interview Lucy Payne 24 February 2021 ↩︎

  104. Ustvolskaya, G. (1993). Komposition Nr 2 Dies irae Hamburg Musikverlag Hans Sikorski revised edition ↩︎

  105. Ustvolskaya, G. (1970-71). Composition No 1 Dona nobis pacem Hamburg Sikorski Verlag ↩︎

  106. Ustvolskaya, G. (1974-75). Composition No 3 Benedictus qui venit Hamburg Sikorski Verlag ↩︎

  107. Ustvolskaya, G. (1980). Komposition Nr 2 Dies irae Hamburg Musikverlag Hans Sikorski first edition ↩︎

  108. Composer John Cage (1912-1992) applied metal objects collected from the local junkyard in his early compositions for percussion ensemble such as First Construction in Metal (1939) ↩︎

  109. Stockhausen, K. (1978). DONNERSTAGs GRUSS Kürten Stockhausen Verlag, beaters made of deer antlers are prescribed ↩︎

  110. Berg, A. (1929). Drei Orchesterstücke Op. 6, 3rd Movement Marsch Vienna Universal Edition, bar 126 Höhepunkt ↩︎

  111. Andrei Bahkmin in an email to Renee Jonker on 1 October 2016: “The history of the creation of this instrument is as follows: in the courtyard of the music college, where Galina Ivanovna worked there was a carpenter’s shop. When Ustvolskaya came to this shop in order to have an instrument built for the Second Composition, she did not know yet the size or the material she wanted. She said that she only knew the sound that it should produce. When the carpenter made one, she came to test it by knocking on it. She could then tell: “No, not that one.” Varied sizes and wooden materials were tried, Galina Ivanovna came to knock on each new variant – the sound still was not right. This went on for a long time – the poor master builder, glimpsing Ustvolskaya in the music college yards, on a few occasions tried to escape. Then it turned out that any box made of any kind of wood makes a clear sound which the composer did not like and so they replaced wood with chipboard, and the muffled sound appeared – that was what Ustvolskaya was looking for. The expensive box (the master requested a rather high price for his work) was brought home.” ↩︎

  112. Schönberger, E. (1992). De vrouw met de hamer en andere componisten Amsterdam De Bezige Bij ↩︎

  113. Bakhmin, A. in an email to Renee Jonker, 1 October 2016 ↩︎

  114. Goltz, J. (2006). Pierrot le diseur The Musical Times, Spring, 2006, Vol. 147, No. 1894 p. 61 ↩︎

  115. Schönberg, A.(1923). Pierrot Lunaire Vienna Universal Edition ↩︎

  116. Ibid. 32 ↩︎

  117. Keller, H. (1965/66). Whose fault is the speaking voice? Tempo 75 Cambridge University Press p. 16 ↩︎

  118. Stadlen, P. (1981). Schoenberg’s Speech-Song Music and Letters 62, no. 1 p. 9 ↩︎

  119. Zehme, A. (1920). Die Grundlagen des künstlerischen Sprechens und Singens Leipzig Carl Merseburger p.27 ↩︎

  120. interview Gerrie de Vries 20 March 2021 33 ↩︎

  121. interview György Kurtág 2 February 2021 34 ↩︎

  122. Bernstein, L. (1976). The Unanswered Question Six Talks at Harvard Cambridge,MA Harvard University Press ↩︎

  123. Ives, C. (1953). The Unanswered Question for chamber orchestra New York Southern Music Publishing Co. Inc. ↩︎

  124. Wiley Hitchcock, H., Zahler, N.(1988). Just What Is Ives’s Unanswered Question? Notes Second Series, Vol. 44 Music Library Association p. 440 ↩︎

  125. Interview William Forman 16 February 2021 ↩︎

  126. Bernstein, L. (1976). The Unanswered Question Six Talks at Harvard Cambridge MA Harvard University Press p. 269 ↩︎

  127. Samuel, C. (1967). Entretiens avec Olivier Messiaen Paris Éditions Pierre Belfond p. 38 ↩︎

  128. interview Quirijn van Regteren Altena 18 March 2021 ↩︎

  129. interview Nimrod Moloto Molokomme 5 April 2021 ↩︎

  130. Rihm, W. (1997). ausgesprochen Band 1 Was ‘sagt’ Musik? Eine Rede. Winterthur Amadeus Verlag p 177 ↩︎

  131. interview Vera Beths 13 March 2021 ↩︎

  132. Jarman, D. (1983). Alban Berg, Wilhelm Flies and the Secret Programme of the Violin Concerto The Musical Times april 1983 Volume 124, No. 1682 Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/962034 p. 221 ↩︎

  133. interview Viola Cheung 4 April 2021 ↩︎

  134. Rihm, W. (1997). ausgesprochen Band 2 Was ‘sagt’ Musik? Eine Rede. Winterthur Amadeus Verlag p. 167 ↩︎

  135. interview Gerrie de Vries 20 March 2021 ↩︎

  136. interview Han Bennink 11 February 2021 ↩︎

  137. Joyce, J. (1922). Ulysses Paris Shakespeare and company ↩︎

  138. Berio, L. (1958). Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) for two track tape Milano Editioni Suvini Zerboni ↩︎

  139. Berio, L. (1960). Circles for female voice, harp and two percussionist Vienna Universal Edition ↩︎

  140. Delmonte, R. and Varga, B.A. (1985). Luciano Berio two interviews New York Marion Boyars Publishers p. 142 ↩︎

  141. interview György Kurtág 25 January 2021 ↩︎

  142. Ewe is a language spoken in Togo and southeastern Ghana by approximately 6,5 million people as a first language and a million or so more as a second language. Ewe is part of a cluster of related languages commonly called Gbe; the other major Gbe language is Fon of Benin. Like many African languages, Ewe is a tone language. ↩︎

  143. interview Yaw Dela Botri 15 March 2021 ↩︎

  144. interview György Kurtág 25 January 2021 ↩︎

  145. Samuel, C. (1967). Entretiens avec Olivier Messiaen Paris Éditions Pierre Belfond p. 70 ↩︎

  146. Boivin, J. (1995). La classe de Messiaen Paris Christian Bourgois Éditeur p. 322 ↩︎

  147. Samuel, C. (1967). Entretiens avec Olivier Messiaen Paris Éditions Pierre Belfond p. 69 ↩︎

  148. Lerdahl, F. & , Jackendoff R.(1983). Music Perception: An Interdisciplinary Journal Vol. 1, No. 2, Hierarchical Structure in Music (Winter, 1983/1984), California University Press p. 229-252 ↩︎

  149. Huron, D. (2006). Music and the Psychology of Anticipation Cambridge MA MIT Press p. 7 ↩︎

  150. interview Viola Cheung 4 April 2021 ↩︎

  151. interview Nimrod Moloto Molokomme 5 April 2021 ↩︎

  152. recording Az Hit published in Miedema, N. (2000). De Hoge Lucht Bussum Uitgeverij THOTH ↩︎

  153. Kurtág, G. (1973). The Sayings of Péter Bornemisza Op. 7 Budapest Editio Musica ↩︎

  154. Kurtág, G. (1995). Works by György Kurtág cd Hungaroton HCD 31290 ↩︎

  155. Ibid. ↩︎

  156. recording Az Hit published in Miedema, N. (2000). De Hoge Lucht Bussum Uitgeverij THOTH ↩︎

  157. Kurtág, G.(2017). Complete Works for Ensemble and Choir ECM New Series 2505-07 ↩︎

  158. Ibid. ↩︎

  159. Interview William Forman 16 February 2021 ↩︎

  160. Beckett. S (1989). Comment dire Paris Les Editions de Minuit ↩︎

  161. Interview György Kurtág 13 March 2021 ↩︎

  162. Salisbury, L. (2008). ‘What Is the Word’: Beckett’s Aphasic Modernism’ Journal of Beckett Studies Exeter University of Exeter: ‘Beckett’s stuttered language repeats the aphasic symptom as the traumatic, historically determined, moment that language and subjectivity are faced with the constitutive force of their outside.’ ↩︎

  163. interview Gerrie de Vries 21 March 2021 ↩︎

  164. interview György Kurtág 25 January 2021 ↩︎

  165. interview György Kurtág 13 March 2021 ↩︎

  166. Beckett, S. (1953). Watt Collection Merlin’ Paris Olympia Press ↩︎

  167. Beckett, S. (1951). Molloy Paris Les Éditions de Minuit ↩︎

  168. Salisbury, L. (2008). ‘What Is the Word’: Beckett’s Aphasic Modernism’ Journal of Beckett Studies Exeter University of Exeter p 116 ↩︎

  169. ibid. ↩︎

  170. Deleuze, Gilles (1998) Essays Critical and Clinical London Verso p. 173 ↩︎

  171. interview György Kurtág 13 March 2021 ↩︎

  172. László Dobsay (1935) Hungarian musicologist, conductor and founder of the choir Schola Hungarica ↩︎

  173. interview György Kurtág 13 March 2021 ↩︎

  174. Ibid. ↩︎

  175. Knowlson, J. (1996). Damned to Fame The Life of Samuel Beckett London Bloomsbury p. 692 ↩︎

  176. interview György Kurtág 2 February 2021 ↩︎

  177. Monteverdi, C. (1642). L’Incoronazione di Poppea ↩︎

  178. Shakespeare, W.(1613). The Tempest Mr. William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies; Published according to the True and Original Copies, London First Folio ↩︎

  179. interview György Kurtág 13 March 2021 ↩︎

  180. interview György Kurtág 13 March 2021 ↩︎

  181. Interview György Kurtág 13 March 2021 ↩︎

  182. Renshaw, P. (2020). Young Artists Speak Out London Independently published p. 70 ↩︎

  183. interview György Kurtág 25 January 2021 ↩︎

  184. Baudet, T. (2014) De nazi’s en de componist des vaderlands https://jalta.nl/kunst-cultuur/de-nazis-en-de-componist-des-vaderlands/ retrieved 31 januari 2021 “Unfortunately we have not left this anti-art behind us. Last month Willem Jeths was denominated to become the Dutch ‘national composer’. His work fits neatly under the criteria of being unrecognizable and alienated as designed by the denazification programs. There is no melody, no harmony no recognizable rhythmical structure. It is what in the past was called ‘ugly’ (and nowadays ‘interesting’).” ↩︎

  185. Craenen, P. (2021). Van luisterverschil naar luisterbereidheid. In A. de Vugt & T. De Baets (eds.), Muziekpedagogiek in Beweging. Typisch Muziek!. Leuven: Euprint ↩︎

  186. Van den Berg, E. (2015). Worp en wederworp, 26 interviews met Misha Mengelberg, Amsterdam Huis Clos p. 32 ↩︎

  187. Rihm, W. (1997). ausgesprochen Band 1 Was ‘sagt’ Musik? Eine Rede. Winterthur Amadeus Verlag p. 180 ↩︎