Gábor Csalog, György & Márta Kurtág, András Kemenes Kurtág: Játékok (Games) - Selection 1

BMCCD123 2006

A selection from the complete recording in progress of Játékok (Games) including world premières

Games was born in the spirit of freedom. Kurtág attempted the most difficult of tasks: he wrote pedagogical piano pieces that do not immediately restrict children with rigid instructions and expectations. They do not set the child, right at the beginning of his studies, before the threatening constraint of “this is the only way”, nor do they immediately confront the child with the torture of an apparently impossible task. Instead they encourage him to do what he would try anyway if left alone with the mysterious, big, black piano. To drag his hand over the whole keyboard, to lean on it with his elbows, to hit it with his fist, or touch a key so it doesn’t sound. To press the pedal, to knock the side, and to listen to its “sigh”.

Zoltán Farkas


All tracks played by Gábor Csalog, with the exception of:
Gábor Csalog and András Kemenes (14, 16, 23, 24)
Márta Kurtág (30, 31) - pianino
György Kutág (32) - pianino
Ha Neul-Bit (41)
Aliz Asztalos (44)
András Kemenes (52, 53)
Márta Kurtág and György Kurtág (57, 58) - pianino

About the album

Selections by Gábor Csalog

Recorded at the Studio 22 of the Hungarian Radio, Budapest in 2003-2005
Recorded and mixed by Péter Aczél, except tracks * by András Wilheim
Sound engineer: Károly Horváth
Music publisher: Editio Musica Budapest

Portrait photos: István Huszti
Cover art / Art-Smart by GABMER / Bachman

Produced by László Gőz
Executive producer: Tamás Bognár

The recording was sponsored by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, the National Cultural Fund of Hungary and the Artisjus Music Foundation


Dan Albertson - La Folia (en)

Michael Lukey - Mundoclasico.com (es)

Gérard Condé - Diapason - 4 diapasons (fr)

Hervé Koenig - Anaclase.com (fr)

Krinein.com (fr)

Jean-Baptiste Baronian - Crescendo (fr)

Class Aktuell (de)

Guy Wagner - Pizzicato ***** (de)

Patrick Beck - Klassik.com (de)

Diario de Sevilla (es)

Manuel Luca de Tena - Diverdi (es)

Pedro Elías - Scherzo - excepcional (es)

Michael Lukey - Mundoclasico.com (en)

Coda Korea (ko)

Auditorium (ko)

Angelika Przeždzięk - Muzyka21 ***** (pl)

Molnár Szabolcs - Gramofon ***** (hu)

Porrectus - Muzsika (hu)

Csont András - Magyar Narancs (hu)

Szabó Ildikó - Papiruszportál (hu)

Bart Dániel - Autósélet (hu)

3500 HUF 11 EUR

György Kurtág: Játékok (Games) Part one

01 I/5B Little Chorale (1) 1:26
02 I/4A Objet trouvé (2) 0:46
03 I/4A Elbows 0:32
04 I/2A Palm Stroke (2) 0:22
05 I/1B Prelude and Waltz in C 0:51
06 I/11B Portrait (1) 0:51
07 II/33 Jumping Fifths * 0:14
08 II/26 Fifths (3/a, 3/b) * 0:45
09 III/19 (… and round and round it goes…) 0:20
10 II/33 Jumping Fifths * 0:19
11 VI/2 For Dóra Antal’s Birthday (2nd version) 1:11
12 VI/3 Versetto: Temptavit Deus Abraham… (apocriphal organum) * 0:40
13 III/9 Pen Drawing, Valediction to Erzsébet Schaár 1:04
14 I/18B Twittering (for four hands) 0:49
15 I/11A (sleepily) 1:00
16 VIII Beating – Quarreling (for four hands) 1:11
V/40 3 In memoriam:
17 1. In memoriam György Szoltsányi 2:22
18 2. Hommage tardif à Karskaya 1:20
19 3. In memoriam Maurice Fleuret 1:50
20 III/20 Double notes 0:58
21 III/37 Five-finger Quarrel 0:31
22 I/23 Hommage à Paganini (la nuova campanella) 0:21
23 IV/14 Hommage à Paganini (for two pianos) 0:28
24 VIII Flowers we are… – interlacing sounds (for three hands) 0:34
25 VII/19 In memoriam Ilona Rozsnyai 1:59
26 V/32 Helyettem kis virág (… lovely greetings to Grete Spinnrad) 0:24
27 V/30 An apocryphal hymn (in the style of Alfred Schnittke) — for Yvar Mikashoff * 1:53
28 III/40 Hommage à Stockhausen (from the Twelve New Microludes) 1:00
29 VII/17 Hommage à Ferenc Berényi (Kelemen Mikes says: ) 3:52
30 VIII Apple-flower… 1:13
31 VII/29 …emlékek, kicsi ólomkatonák… 1:53
32 VIII Medal – in memoriam Lajos Hernádi 1:55

György Kurtág: Játékok (Games) Part two

33 I/9A The Bunny and the Fox (Composed by Krisztina Takács when she was six) 0:36
34 I/17A Scale from One to Eight 0:32
35 I/10A Waltz (1) 0:24
36 I/6A Toddling 1:06
37 I/17B Flowers We Are… (4/b) 0:39
38 I/10A The Stone-frog Crawled Along… – Hommage à Farkas (1) 0:59
39 I/10B Hot Cockles 0:22
40 VI/11 Monkeying 0:19
41 VI/12 A Hungarian Lesson for Foreigners 0:33
42 I/19A Quarrelling (1) 0:20
43 I/19A Dumb-show – Quarrelling (2) 0:37
44 VI/14 Fundamentals (2) 1:14
45 VI/16 Phan! Fahr! Zürn! 0:48
46 III/35 Stubbunny 0:48
47 III/34 Hommage à Varèse 0:54
48 III/40 Twelve New Microludes – No. 2 (Agitato) 0:46
49 VI/26 András Hajdú is 60 1:23
50 VI/10 Doina * 2:37
51 V/25 Organ and Bells in Memory of Doctor László Dobszay 1:33
52 I/25A Perpetuum mobile (objet trouvé) 2:31
53 I/25B …and once more: Flowers We Are… 0:59
54 VI/36 Ligatura y 2:50
55 VII/11 ...вы развейтесь ветры буйны, раскатитесь белы камушки... (В память Эдисона Денисова) In memoriam Edison Denisov 1:40
56 VII/26 Flowers we are… – for Miyako 1:18
57 VIII Flowers we are… – for Miyako (for four hands) 1:27
58 J. S. Bach: Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit: Sonatina, BWV 106 (Actus tragicus) – Transcription by György Kurtág (for four hands) 2:27
Total time 65:05

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notes musicales en français - cliquez ici
texto de carpetilla en español - click aqui

“Come, freedom! Give birth to a new order...”

Games was born in the spirit of freedom. Kurtág attempted the most difficult of tasks: he wrote pedagogical piano pieces that do not immediately restrict children with rigid instructions and expectations. They do not set the child, right at the beginning of his studies, before the threatening constraint of “this is the only way”, nor do they immediately confront the child with the torture of an apparently impossible task. Instead they encourage him to do what he would try anyway if left alone with the mysterious, big, black piano. To drag his hand over the whole keyboard, to lean on it with his elbows, to hit it with his fist, or touch a key so it doesn’t sound. To press the pedal, to knock the side, and to listen to its “sigh”.

Many of the pieces of the first book of Games (Let’s Be Silly, Toddling, Wrong Notes Allowed, Monkeying) encourage the player to boldly engage his unfettered imagination. The look of the music on the page hurries to the aid of the imagination, and it soon transpires that the more carefully we read it, the more it makes us think of. The ways of playing differing from traditional touch retain the joy of movement, and right at the beginning of studies they give an experience of superior virtuosity to the player, as he performs for example Hommage à Paganini or Perpetuum Mobile (Objet trouvé). Kurtág teaches us that music exists even without concrete pitches and precise rhythms, but not without gestures, or the elementary will to communicate. But with notes, a whole story can be told (The Bunny and the Fox), in fact one single note is sufficient from which to form a dance (Prelude and Waltz in C), and three notes enough even to fight a “bloody” battle (Beating – Quarrelling). And there’s no need to go without our favourite games on the keyboard (Hot Cockles, or the last chord of Beating – Quarrelling, in which the four hands slap each other in a “one-potato-two-potato” manner.)

These short compositions, which preserve the freedom of the beginner on the piano, also had a liberating effect on the composer: after the opus magnum of Sayings of Péter Bornemisza, the fashioning of small musical units, and the creation of order between a few notes, proved to be the way out of his creative crisis at the beginning of the 70s. The composer, too, was liberated from the constraint of “this is the only way”: he does not have to commit himself to one definitive form of the work, if while formulating the musical idea equally valid variations have arisen. These variations (the “Flowers We Are” movements, the chorales and ligaturas, etc.) recur throughout the series.

In the following volumes of Games the pedagogical objective is less prominent, its place taken by diary-like intimacies. And the entries in this diary do indeed characterise their creator “more accurately than a biography”, to borrow Bartók’s words. The volumes are invested with the renewal and mourning of friendships, personal messages, portraits of composer forerunners and colleagues, the influence of folk music and Gregorian chant: in a word, all the events and memories of life and a life’s work.

But Games is not only an anthology of Kurtág’s musical language, or some kind of guidebook to the musical world of the composer, but a living organism; it has been growing continuously, and long ago became Kurtág’s compositional workshop, in which we have been able to observe the coherent tracing around of a musical idea, the appearance and development of a characteristic musical gesture. So it is natural that the pieces of Games should be linked in countless ways to the “great” works that bear an opus number. Games perhaps differs, in this sense, from Bartók’s Mikrokosmos, which is otherwise its closest precedent. (The Double-notes movement refers directly to Mikrokosmos: it carries on where Bartók’s similarly titled movement and Perpetuum mobile “left off”.)

There is nothing more characteristic of a man than how he plays, and how he works. (If he is lucky, there is no difference between the two.) It is no accident that when Kurtág has appeared before the public as a pianist, with his wife, Márta, he has always played a selection of pieces from Games. In the programmes played and composed by the Kurtág couple, there are works not only by Kurtág, but also, most often, movements by Johann Sebastian Bach. The Bach transcriptions are far from being uninvited guests in this collection, on the contrary: perhaps I have never found them more beautiful than when surrounded by Kurtág’s spiritual treasures. The Sonatina of the Actus Tragicus cantata is played on an upright piano. In his last years, the elderly Haydn could bear only the sound of the quiet clavichord. Listening to the upright piano sound of the Kurtág couple, it is not difficult to understand why. The sound is permeated by a light and warmth radiating from within, and the performance is free of all unnecessary extras; its intense simplicity lucidly sets forth the calm of a beauty that resolves all. In this two-and-a-half minutes our sense of time is liberated from its customary constraints, and at last what was fragmented in everyday life, appears as a whole. There is no longer any stylistic difference between early Bach and late Kurtág, and the six-year-old girl (Krisztina Takács, author of The Bunny and the Fox) could be a contemporary of the composer of 80. Because time spent in a spirit of play is time spent in the name of God: “die allerbeste Zeit” [the best of times].

And “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

Zoltán Farkas

In the pieces of the first volumes, a universe has to be constructed out of a few extremely refined notes. From volume V on, by contrast, a strange process sets in.

At times the way of writing becomes looser, and the pieces would be more diffuse, if they were not held together by an invisible power. And while these late works are thoroughly interwoven with a sense of hidden systems of reference, their edges are sometimes blurred, and the performer no longer creates a cosmos from the piece, but the cosmos is what filters through, as if it were not the piece itself that spoke, but everything that lies outside.

Gábor Csalog
Translated by Richard Robinson

György Kurtág was born on 19 February 1926 in Lugoj (Romania). In 1940 he started taking lessons in piano from Magda Kardos and in composition from Max Eisikovits in Temesvár (Timişoara, Romania). In 1946 he moved to Budapest and enrolled in the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music. There he studied composition with Sándor Veress and Ferenc Farkas, piano with Pál Kadosa and chamber music with Leó Weiner.

In 1951 he graduated in piano and chamber music and in 1955 in composition. Kurtág was awarded the Erkel Prize by the Hungarian State in 1954 (and again in 1956 and 1969).

Between 1957 and 1958 he studied with Marianne Stein in Paris and attended courses taught by Darius Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen.

From 1960 to 1968 he worked as répétiteur for soloists with the Hungarian National Philharmony.

In 1967 he became professor at the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest, first of piano and then of chamber music.

In 1971 he spent one year in West Berlin with a grant from the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD).

In 1973 he was awarded the Kossuth Prize by the Hungarian state and in 1985 the title Officier des Arts et des Lettres by the French state.

In 1986 Kurtág retired from the Academy of Music, however he continued to teach a limited number of classes until 1993.

In 1987 he became member of the Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste, Munich, and member of the Akademie der Künste, Berlin.

In 1993 he was awarded the Prix de Composition Musicale by the Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco for his Grabstein für Stephan and the Double Concerto Op. 27 No. 2. In the same year he was awarded the Herder Prize by the Freiherr-vom-Stein Stiftung, Hamburg and the Premio Feltrinelli by the Accademia dei Lincei, Rome. Also in 1993 he was invited to stay at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin for two years as composer in residence with the Berlin Philharmonic.

In 1994 he received two other prizes: the Austrian State Award for European Composers and the Denis de Rougemont Prize, bestowed on him by the European Association of Festivals.

In 1995 he spent a year in Vienna, composing and teaching master classes at the Wiener Konzerthaus.

In 1996 the Hungarian state awarded him with the Kossuth Prize for his life achievements. The same year he was invited by the Société Gaviniés, the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, the Muziekcentrum Vredenburg Utrecht, the Concertgebouw NV Amsterdam, the Nederlandse Opera, the Schönberg Ensemble, the Asko Ensemble, the Orlando Quartet, the Osiris Trio and Reinbert de Leeuw to spend two years in the Netherlands.

In 1998 he received the “Österreichisches Ehrenzeichen” from the Austrian Republic, the Music Prize of the Ernst von Siemens Stiftung, and the European Prize for Composition from the Fördergemeinschaft der Europäischen Wirtschaft and the Fondation des Prix Européens. For the second time in 1998–1999 he was received as guest by the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.

In 1999 he was also invited by the Ensemble Intercontemporain, the Conservatoire of Paris, the Cité de la Musique, and the Festival d’Automne à Paris to spend two years in the French capital. In the same year he received the Order of Merit in Sciences and Arts, Berlin.

In 2000 he won the John Cage prize in New York.

The year 2001 brought him the Foreign Honorary membership of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Hölderlin Prize from the City and the University of Tübingen, Germany.

In 2002 the Kurtág couple settled in France. In April and May the South Bank Centre and the Royal Academy of Music organized a three-week Kurtág Festival in London.

In 2003 Kurtág received the Léonie Sonning Music Prize in Copenhagen, on the occasion of which his ...concertante... Op. 42 for violin and viola solo and orchestra was premièred. Soon after the work was toured in Europe, the United States and Japan, and was awarded the 2006 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition.

Two major works were completed in 2005: Hipartita Op. 43 for violinist Hiromi Kikuchi, premièred in the autumn in Berlin and Amsterdam (being a commission from the Berliner Festspiele and the VARA, Netherlands), and the fourth string quartet: Six moments musicaux Op. 44, to be premièred in Budapest in 2006.

Gábor Csalog was admitted to the Special Talents department of the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest at the age of 11. His teachers were Erna Czövek, Dezső Ránki, Zoltán Kocsis, György Kurtág, Pál Kadosa and András Schiff. After completing his studies he was assistant to György Sebők at Indiana University in the United States.

He often plays contemporary music, and has a constant working relationship with many Hungarian composers, including László Sáry and Gyula Csapó. Since 1980 he has studied and worked with György Kurtág, of whose works he is an authentic performer, and of which he has given several premières. Besides Hungary, he has given concerts in almost every country in Europe. His repertoire includes works from both classical and contemporary piano literature.

As an editor for Könemann Music Budapest he has participated in the new Urtext edition of Chopin’s complete piano works. He teaches chamber music at the Béla Bartók School of Music and at the Ferenc Liszt University of Music. In 2003 he was awarded the Liszt Prize.

He has participated in many recordings, most recently on solo piano discs released by BMC Records: Schubert (BMC CD 084), Ligeti / Liszt (BMC CD 095) and Scriabin (BMC CD 099).

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