Tuesday 10 June 2008

The Answered Unanswered Question

Our thanks to the Aldeburgh Festival and writer Marc Dooley for these notes on the two works by Kurtag we are performing in Aldeburgh on Saturday and in Cambridge on 19 June: 'This cosmic landscape is encountered by György Kurtág in his Ligatura – Message to Frances-Marie (The answered unanswered question) Op.31/b written in 1989 for (and to) the cellist Frances-Marie Uitti who has pioneered a technique for playing the cello with two bows, one above, one below the strings. The piece exists in three versions, for two-bow cello, two violins and celesta; for two cellos, two violins and celesta (as today); or for two organs and celesta (or upright piano). As with Ives, Kurtág places his three musical elements far apart from each other in the performing space, this exploration of physical space being an important aspect of several of his major works from this period. Kurtág references Ives’s ‘Silences’ with slow moving cello chords. These are juxtaposed with chords (at first the same chords transposed up a fifth) played by the two violins, unsynchronized with the cellos. Finally the celesta joins in with three final chords bringing the ensemble together for the first time. Is this the answer? Can you even answer an unanswered question? The celesta part was left out in the world première. Haydn would surely have enjoyed the ambiguity, but Kurtág’s message to Frances-Marie remains private.'

'Mihály Andrásnak Irka-Firka születésnapra, (Doodles for András Mihály’s Birthday; also known as Irka-Firka) was composed on 6 November 1991, Mihály’s 74th birthday, and revised in April 1994, shortly after his death. András Mihály was a cellist, composer, conductor and friend of Kurtág’s. He is the dedicatee of Kurtág’s 12 Microludes for string quartet, in which his cello concerto is referenced, and is remembered in the last movement of Stele for large orchestra written at the time of his death and based on an earlier Játékok piano piece also dedicated to him. This affectionate birthday tribute places two violins and two violas at a distance from the central cello and double bass – the ensemble seems to echo the essence of some folk tune before disappearing into silence.'

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