Few works by Kurtág have gained as much immediate attention as his first major orchestral work Stele (), composed at the age of György Kurtág. Stele, for orchestra, Op. Composition Information ↓; Description ↓; Parts/Movements ↓; Appears On ↓. Share on. facebook · twitter · tumblr. György Kurtág: Stele, for orchestra, Op – Play streams in full or download MP3 from Classical Archives (), the largest and best organized.
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A couple in their mids, married for 65 years, play the piano. Their hands — the skin of which is smooth, shiny and unwrinkled, as if washed clean rather than marked by the decades — don’t so much play the keyboard as conjure sounds from it.
Their playing dissolves the difference between them and the instrument, and between each other. Their arms criss-cross, as if their four hands make a single composite player; their gestures, their open-mouthed wonder at and commitment to the music a sequence of pieces by the husband, and transcriptions of Bachand their smiles to each other, are touchingly similar. They even look alike, with their glasses and short grey hair, their posture at the piano.
Stele, for orchestra, Op. 33
What you’re seeing is private, intimate music-making raised to the level of a joyous miracle. It’s one of the treasures of 20th- and 21st-century music. It’s a compositional journey that has often involved reducing music to the level of the fragment, the moment, with individual pieces or movements lasting mere seconds, or a minute, perhaps two. Listen to any of the Kafka-Fragments to hear what I mean. Despite their brevity, these tiny pieces are not incomplete as experiences.
Take, for example, the seven notes of Flowers We Are, Mere Flowers … … embracing sounds — whose title takes almost as long to read as the piece does to hear — part of the 8th book of Jatekok. What you hear are the notes of the C major scale turned into a meditation for four hands.
There is nothing more familiar than these elements, but nothing stranger than what happens to them throughout this performance. Paradoxically, precisely because of its conciseness, the piece becomes static and timeless; and those notes, far from meaning anything like “C major” or “tonality” are unmoored from conventional function and allowed to resound and shimmer in a much larger musical space.
Kurtág, György – Stele, op. 33 – large orchestra (score)
Hearing Flowers We Are … is like opening a trapdoor in your floor and dropping for a moment into the infinity of the cosmos. They are often pieces that use that paradoxical power of the fragment to suggest a timelessness or spaciousness, for example In Memoriam Andras Mihaly, another of the Jatekok.
His near-perennial state of dissatisfaction with performers is the stuff of legend among musicians, but so too is the brilliance of his insight and wisdom.
And any frustration with his interpreters is matched by a much deeper and more lacerating strain of self-criticism: No one can hear it … There’s nothing to be done … I felt I couldn’t go on, I mustn’t go on …” — just some of the Beckettian aphorisms that stud his interviews with Balint Andras Varga.
The three-movement Stele is memorial music that is nonetheless filled with a strange luminescence: The first movement is an adagio, an implacable lament that ends with a homage to Bruckner in a passage for four Wagner tubas. But the second movement has the most scintillating moment of all.
In the middle of the music’s desperate violence, there is a sudden image of strange stillness, a sound made by six flutes, a tuba, and a piano. That is what the music conjures up. If you are open to it, the devastating poetry of Stele kurtagg sear itself on your soul.
Stele, for orchestra, Op.33
It also speaks with a fearless directness that bypasses musical tradition and becomes its own idiom. This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase.
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A guide to György Kurtág’s music | Music | The Guardian
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