Jacob Greenberg

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Peter who?

The song cycle that Tony Arnold and I are currently up to our necks in, Gyorgy Kurtag's The Sayings of Peter Bornemisza, is definitely beyond the beyond. Peter Bornemisza, ("Hungarian church writer, poet, preacher"--Kurtag) used the sayings to inform his eighteenth-century public of his personal visions of human temptation and fiery torment in hell. And boy, do you hear it in the music! Bornemisza was a true original, and an obscure figure...we haven't been able to find much on him at all, but his frightening text for the piece tells you just what he must have been like.

The level of invention is so staggeringly original--the entire use of the keyboard, wide leaps in the soprano line, rhythms which are so intricate they blow your mind. My mind, anyway. All this in a forty-minute song cycle, a so-called "concerto for soprano and piano," from the late 1960's, when Kurtag was in his early forties. Who knows what state of darkness he was in when he dreamt it up. This is easily the craziest thing Tony and I have ever attempted, but it's so rewarding. Tony worked with Kurtag in summer of 2004 on his Kafka Fragments (another monumental cycle, with solo violin), and lived to tell the tale. Her insights into his method and musical values have been essential for our rehearsals...