New Music Studio Joint works of contemporary Hungarian composers from the 1970's (Dukay, Eötvös, Jeney, Kocsis, Sáry, Vidovszky)
It could be said that the idea was already in the air. To play in one space, simultaneously, musics that were written (from a purely practical point of view) to some prior requirement, but independently of one another, following different principles: this arose as a pertinent issue in the late 60s–early 70s.
About the album
Track 1: Live recording by the Hungarian Radio, 14 October 1974
Recording producer: Péter Ella
Sound engineer: Gyula Balogh
Mastering: András Wilheim, János Győri
This recording is the property of the Hungarian Radio P.L.C.
Track 2: Recorded at the Hungaroton Studio, 27 November 2005
Sound engineer: János Győri
Track 3: Recorded by Hungaroton, 1986 - with kind permission of Hungaroton Records
Recording producer: András Wilheim;
Sound engineer: Ferenc Pécsi
Mastering and editing: János Győri, András Wilheim
Portrait photo: István Huszti
Cover / Art-Smart by GABMER
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
Zoltán Jeney - László Sáry - László Vidovszky:
Péter Eötvös – Zoltán Jeney – Zoltán Kocsis – László Sáry – László Vidovszky:
Our thanks to all those who took part. Twenty or thirty years after production, with incomplete documentation, it is now impossible to draw up an accurate list of names. But we all took part in the euphoric work represented by the New Music Studio (ÚZS): it is a memory both worthy and nostalgic, instead of listing the names, to show them as they appeared on the programme notes of the time: the ÚZS Ensemble.
It could be said that the idea was already in the air. To play in one space, simultaneously, musics that were written (from a purely practical point of view) to some prior requirement, but independently of one another, following different principles: this arose as a pertinent issue in the late 60s–early 70s. The most radical example is of course John Cage’s Musicircus of 1967 (everyone who wants to play plays what he wants, at the same time, in the same place); but in those days we read and heard of other Cage programmes; neither was the end product of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s two composition seminars in Darmstadt (Ensemble, Musik für ein Haus) – at least on the basis of enthusiastic and credible reports and descriptions – without influence. A joint composition by several composers: a challenge, an opportunity, a test. And not only technically speaking: for such a work to come into being, the need for a basic change of approach was at least as important. The role of the individual, the extent to which he is recognisable and distinguishable, is necessarily reduced; it is also obvious that a unified work with a closed structure, according to the old, normative aesthetic, cannot come into being. And naturally nobody can expect the composer of another part – unconsciously, as it were – to “consider” the others, however much somebody tries to realise their creative intent in the customary manner, perhaps even forming a right to dominate in the jointly created texture, to be the one who is heard and leads. It simply has to be accepted that certain gestures cancel one another out, their clarity is blunted, their structural links remain hidden, but at the same time an opposite process starts: disparate elements start to resemble one another, new unexpected links are created by sound events; to use a word unknown at the time, synergy is realised with musical means.
But in Undisturbed (1974) something slightly different is at issue. It must be borne in mind that this is the work of composers who had by then worked together for years in the New Music Studio – first taking part in many hours of improvising together, then, working with an increasing number of musicians, in the learning and performance of a great many compositions. This period coincided with a search for new musical ideals and a new way of thinking (whether explicitly or implicitly, this meant the negation of almost everything that had happened in Hungarian composition since Bartók). The re-examination, re-interpretation of basic elements, experimenting with musical behaviours, the adoption of previously unknown instrumental formations: countless issues of a technical nature and of artistic approach, which agreeing on, these three composers truly achieved a kind of thinking-in-ensemble, or at least such a deep understanding of one another’s thinking and musical habits, that they could, with certainty, undertake the “leap in the dark” of this joint work. Even if not everything could be calculated in advance, a good guess could be made at the approach each of them would take to complete the joint project. Each part is closed within itself, complete, but at the same time it is as if it “leaves room” for the others: the heterophony or canon-like structure of Vidovszky’s material written for four keyboard instruments in tempos that slide away from one another and then return; the end result of Sáry’s material for string ensemble is to create a slow-moving sequence of harmonies, which however, with the freedom of temporal coordination results in improvisatory solutions. These two parts form the continuous stratum of the work. Jeney’s part is a series of thirty-six movements for prepared piano, percussion and two audio tapes, whose material is the sine-wave ring modulation of percussion sounds and chords played on the piano.
Looking back now, the outcry the work met with seems unimaginable and incomprehensible. The première was in Studio 6 of the Hungarian Radio on 14 October 1974; the performance was recorded (and can be heard on this disc), but was never broadcast. The inconceivable opposition of the musical establishment and its official leaders resulted in a Ministry report, and musicians demanded the immediate banning of the New Music Studio – the only thing that saved the day, was that paradoxically, Péter Pál Tóth, then leader of the Cultural Division of the Central Committee of KISZ (the Communist Youth Organisation) and Pál Szigeti, then leader of the Central Artists’ Ensemble of the KISZ, were on the side of the composers and performers. The latter also, from 1970, found space for rehearsals and concerts, and it was by ensuring continued work and appearances that he prevented this undertaking from being struck down for one reason or another. Protection basically meant the opportunity to operate, but not recognition, or even tolerance, from figures in musical life, especially not the mandarins, nor understanding of another way of working or artistic ideal. Even operating meant that, in spite of occasional appearances in “official” musical life, the studio was marginalised, and if there was no outright ban (as in the case of other groups and composers said to be avant-garde and politically undesirable), this was an accident of fate.
If a list were to be made of composers and musicians who took any interest in the work of the New Music Studio, it would not be overlong. A few felt that something genuinely important was happening with the appearance of the Studio, and if in their own work they did not follow the endeavours taking shape here, they were present at almost every concert, thus showing that at most there had been a change of generation and the naturally concomitant change of orientation: there was no negation of values, let alone their rejection. Perhaps the feeling here was that something in the interest of the new, the important and the previously unthought-of, had happened.
György Kurtág was one of those who right from the beginning stood up for the work of the Studio; offhand, I don’t remember an event to which he didn’t come. And looking back it seems that although his works did not influence the work of the composers of the New Music Studio directly, (and when has the work of such an eminent creative artist of the immediately preceding generation influenced the upcoming new generation?), his personal example, his unflinching artistic consistency and his spirit of quest represented almost the only support and encouragement. For Kurtág genuinely allowed himself to be influenced by the musical novelties (for him, discoveries) he met through the composers and performers; it was at this time that he was working on a radical reconstruction of his style, and in the Games series it can be shown that he alluded (even referring by name) to material he had recently heard and ingested.
Kurtág’s fiftieth birthday, which could hardly be celebrated “officially” at the time, provided the occasion for the writing of a new joint composition, Hommage à Kurtág, in autumn 1975. The postponed première finally took place in the Great Hall of the Music Academy on 27 December 1975. Considering what was available, the five composers’ joint undertaking demanded an unrealistically large apparatus. Here, each layer is clearly distinguishable from the others – and it can well be felt how the experience of the previous composition had been built on. Vidovszky wrote one single voice, an infinite melody which turns back on itself (played at the première on the organ, but on the disc by a violin choir, as originally envisaged) as if it were a cantus firmus processing through the entire work. Sáry’s part is spun from the rotation of a series of chords (at the première on keyboards and marimba; on the recording, pianos), and this stratum (in a kind of partnership with the cantus firmus already mentioned) provides a smooth texture for the work. Kocsis causes the same musical material to sound – according to enigmatic biographical references – in five parallel layers (for organ, two string ensembles, one with ring modulation, and two prepared pianos); the same series of chords is sounded, but at different speeds: they start at different places in the piece, but converge at the last chord. Eötvös wrote independent movements, The sequences of the wind (the instrumentation in the original version: harmonium, flute, cor anglais, bass drum and wind imitation); these movements were to be played at different points in the piece, in a given order, and appear in the overall sound texture as a kind of monad. Jeney’s part is personally referential – in addition, naturally, to its every gesture being musically justified. One of the books most important to Kurtág was Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. From it, he uses certain references to music or sound – not that it matters, but years before Cage’s Roaratorio – (the ten thunderclaps in the tam-tam and cimbalom part; the wireless chapter on the audio tape, the quoted Irish folk melodies on the electric guitar), the cembalo part here plays a role something like the parts created by Vidovszky and Sáry: it is as if we were looking at a star chart, or the sky, so do the sounds, dispersed and yet somehow even, cover the entire musical process.
It may well be that there is no ideal acoustic environment for this work – or it has not yet been found. The merging and transparency of the various parts is equally important; for this a space is needed where both requirements can be met. (The best recording can only function as some kind of reproduction.) The Great Hall of the Music Academy in Budapest is almost the ideal location, with its first-rate melting acoustic, its lofts, the external areas that can be coupled to the sound – perhaps only its size prevents the distance between the instrumental groups assisting in the interpretation of each stratum.
The concert was truly a festive occasion – one of those memorable events attended by “everyone” in Budapest for whom new art was important. The joint work occupied the whole of the second half of the concert. In the first half – as a kind of reciprocation – brand new compositions by Kurtág were played, from the Games series, which he too had written as an homage for the composers of the joint work. And a small piano piece he played himself, Szeretettel Dukay Barnabásnak [With Love to Barnabás Dukay] who did not take part in the joint composition, but presented a work on the occasion (the mere mention of the then title of which sparked off such a scandal that in the end it had to be played under a title shown nowhere but on the concert programme…). The sacrificial music entitled To the changing Moon for four or eight instruments from the same instrumental family (and thus in four or eight parts) is a structure in strict counterpoint, a kind of canon, whose closest cousins are be found in Dutch polyphony – if this type of instrumental thinking had existed then.
Finally, it seems useful to mention the fate of the two earlier recordings which can now be classified as archive material. The piece Undisturbed, as we mentioned, was never broadcast on radio, and the tape was dormant for decades – fortunately it was not destroyed in the stock clearance furore that rampaged for so long, as were many documents of twentieth-century musical history destined for one-off broadcasting by zealous editors... The recording of Hommage à Kurtág was made in the Hungaroton Studio*, in the “vinyl” era, to celebrate Kurtág’s sixtieth birthday, but there was nothing to put on the other side... Then this recording too was swept away by the “storm of political change” [in 1989], and with the foul blow dealt to the record industry it was forgotten about. Its release now, after 30 years, is occasioned by another event: the eightieth birthday, on 19 February 2006.
translated by Richard Robinson
* By licensing this recording Hungaroton pays its tribute to the 80-year-old György Kurtág.