Sounding Now Festival
Saturday, 13 April 2019 @ 7:30pm
Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, Orchestra Hall
Contributed by Kong Tze Shiuan (BMus2, YST) & Chris Clarke (MMus2, YST)
Kurtág’s Wind Quintet, Op. 2 for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon was composed in 1959, at the age of 32. Having moved to Paris just two years before, Kurtág had effectively moved away from Hungary’s pro-Stalinist government and the control it had over music and the arts. With newfound freedom to absorb fresh external influences, the inquisitive composer lifted himself beyond the stifling environment of Hungary into vibrant Paris. Short, expressive and highly-concentrated musical motives in the quintet reveal his discovery of early Webern, whereas the motives’ rhythmic vivacity pays homage to Olivier Messiaen’s theatrical concept of rhythmic cells as “personnages”, something Kurtág absorbed from his analysis classes. Ultimately, this piece was avant-garde, yet it lay low – Kurtág had conceived a piece of music that was close enough to silence such that its lack of resonance allowed him to sit behind the work in the comforts of its seamless disguise. As opposed to Shostakovich who suffered at the hands of the Soviets due to his unfiltered expressionism, Kurtág’s response to oppression was expressed in a more subtle way. It showed who he really was – a silent introvert who wanted to remain unknown and go unnoticed.
The 12 Microludes for string quartet is a piece depicting musical extremity – each fragment of musical bursts reflecting either violence or stasis; complexity or simplicity. As a homage to fellow Hungarian composer Mihály András, the piece features Eastern European elements in the form of ostinato figurations, chorales and folk song-like melodies. Each movement is between 18 to 82 seconds in duration, and the brevity of movements can be likened to Webern’s Six Bagatelles for string quartet, Op. 9. However, Kurtág’s own musical voice is apparent in this piece, due to the visceral soundscape which is achieved when the nostalgic and memorable measures of Eastern European folk songs are as prominent as the intensely concentrated art music purity of Webern. It is this simple, melodious preciousness, injected in the Webernian soundscape of the aphoristic love for God and nature that make up the innate power of these tiny movements of Kurtág’s.