Péter Eötvös, Wojtek Drabowicz, SWR Symp. Orch., Tokk Ensemble, Piroska Molnár, Tomkins Vocal Ens. Péter Eötvös: Vocal Works
℗ 2000 & 2001
With his opera entitled Three Sisters, Péter Eötvös won several international prizes, among them the Diapason d'or de l'année (France), the ECHO Preis (Germany), the Prix Caecilia (Belgium). The chief piece of his new vocal album, to which he has given the title Two Monologues, intertwines two original parts from the Three Sisters opera, the arias of Tuzenbach and Andrei. The four additonal pieces on the album offer a comprehensive historical survey of those works of Péter Eötvös that investigate the possibilities afforded by various languages and the human voice.
Two monologues (1998)
Wojtek Drabowicz - baritone
SWR Symphony Orchestra, Baden-Baden/Freiburg
Peter Eötvös - conductor
Kaoru Ishii - recitation
Shizuo Aoki, Katsuya Yokoyama - shakuhachi
Yasunori Yamaguchi - wood-cutter
Piroska Molnár - voice
Insetti galanti (1970/89)
Tomkins Vocal Ensemble Budapest
(artistic director: János Dobra)
Peter Eötvös - conductor
Cricket music (1970)
About the album
Two monologues (1998)
Text: Anton Chekhov
Recorded at SWR Freiburg (1999)
Engineer: Helmut Hanusch
Edition Ricordi Munich
Text: István Bálint
Live recording (world premiere in Bonn, 1973)
Edition Ricordi Munich
Realised by Péter Eötvös and Werner Scholz
at Electronic Music Studio, WDR Cologne (1968)
Insetti galanti (1970/89)
Recorded by Hungarian Radio Budapest (1998)
Recording engineer: Márta Perédi
Edition Salabert Paris
Cricket music (1970)
Realised by Péter Eötvös and András Székely
in Hungaroton Studio Budapest (1970)
Cover photo: Péter Timár
Portraitphoto: Lenke Szilágyi
Designed by Meral Yasar
Produced by László Gőz
The recording was sponsored by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and the National Cultural Fund of Hungary
Richard Whitehouse - Gramophone (en)
Peter J. Rabinowitz - International Record Review (en)
Grant Chu Covell - La Folia (en)
Jed Distler - ClassicsToday.com - 8/8 (en)
Paul Griffiths - Hungarianquarterly.com (en)
Norbert Rüdell - Klassik-Heute (de)
Peter Becker - Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (de)
Max Nyffeler - Neue Zürcher Zeitung (de)
Bertrand Bolognesi - Anaclase.com (fr)
Richard Whitehouse - Gramophone (es)
R.-J. P.J. - Ritmo (es)
Michał Mendyk - Nowa Muzyka (pl)
Hajnóczy Csaba - Magyar Narancs (hu)
Csont András - Magyar Narancs (hu)
Fittler Katalin - Gramofon (hu)
The album is available in digital form at our retail partners
The Language of Music - the Music of Language
Péter Eötvös' textual pieces
There is probably no one among the reviewers of Eötvös' music who would have failed to recognize the composer's dramatic vein, the theatrical effects and characteristics of his pieces. The theatrical way of thinking can be traced not only in the genres inspired by the theater (radio play, vaudeville, madrigal comedy, performance), but also in his orchestral pieces. The composer himself also regards his pieces as theatrical plays or films. After several experimental attempts, his affinity for the theater has ultimately led him to compose his first "real" opera - Three Sisters -, which has been a huge success ever since its premiere. However, language, or to be more exact: different languages and the possibility of transforming them into music seem to have intrigued Eötvös - independently from his theatrical interest - since the beginning of his career.
The words and music of Eötvös' pieces live together in a symbiosis, or rather in a causal relationship that is unprecedented in the history of European music literature. Eötvös uses words as a mine from which he can unearth the musical raw material of the piece. The selected language determines the tone, the rhythm and even the intervals and the form. This is how the spirit of the language gives birth to the music: this is why the music conveys the atmosphere and character of the language so perfectly. This explains Eötvös' aversion for translation: if music is determined to such an extent by language, if music arises from language, a translation only falsifies the composer's original intention. (This is why the Russian performance is the only authentic version of his Three Sisters. The translated performances - in German and Hungarian - inevitably drift away from the original Russian spirit of the opera.)
While documenting the unusually intimate relation of language and music, the material of this CD shows another characteristic feature of Eötvös: the constant inclination to experiment, to search for new solutions, new instruments from piece to piece. Just as the individual pieces use different languages, so changes the method of creating the music that is to be extracted from the text.
Two Monologues is the most traditional from the point of view of the relation of language and music. The piece put together from extracts of Three Sisters links two real opera arias: Tuzenbach's confession (1. sequence, No. 6) and Andrei's monologue (3. sequence, No. 20). The performance of Two Monologues requires a versatile baritone, able to present the more strainless and facile lyrical mentality of Tuzenbach as well as Andrei's dramatic and suffering tone. When singing Tuzenbach's lines, the baritone sometimes has to step out of his natural range and sing in falsetto, while he must present certain words at an undetermined pitch in Sprechgesang (in order to show the unrealistic nature of Tuzenbach's dreams and the feminine features of his character). Eötvös rearranged the original parts of the opera for the concert-like performance of August 1998: he replaces the double orchestra of the staged version with a single traditional orchestra. The orchestral colors are more powerful than in the opera, however, he keeps up the importance of the characteristic instrumental tone attached to the characters (Tuzenbach - horns, Andrei - bassoon). The melancholic orchestral prelude, the dramatic sequence of the interlude and the postlude build other elements of the opera into the piece (the interlude revokes the beginning of the 2nd sequence, while the postlude evokes the poignant viola solo of the closing scene), thus Two Monologues reproduces the whole dramatic and atmospheric structure of Three Sisters.
While Two Monologues relies on the traditions of the European opera, Harakiri - written in 1973 - is based upon more ancient traditions: it reminds the listener of the music and words of Buddhist rituals. The text providing the basis for the piece was written by a Hungarian poet: István Bálint. He wrote it when he heard about the harakiri committed by Japanese writer Yukio Mishima on 25 November 1970. Mishima committed the ritual suicide crowning his oeuvre focusing on the unity of life and art after five years of preparation. According to the ancient Japanese view, harakiri is not an escape route from life, it is rather the perfect way to finish it. Eötvös himself closes his introduction to Harakiri with the following: "Harakiri is a part of life. If one does not know what life is one has to die."
István Bálint combines the antecedents of the harakiri with a motif well-known from an Andersen tale: the story of the pea put under the mattresses. The main character getting prepared to die returns the seven mattresses to the key figures of his life. The trivial Hungarian sentences were translated into Japanese. This Japanese text is conveyed by an unpitched but elaborately rhythmical, theatrical or rather cultic recital (the score suggests the changes of the pitch with neum-like lines). In the original version of the piece the character of the sad clown reciting the text was accompanied by a cheerful clown (a silent character), who made fun of the solemn preparation. In certain performances the cheerful clown eased the suppressed pressure by acting as a narrator and translating the liturgically highbrow Japanese text. (The recorded version only contains the reciting of the sad clown - the lines of the narrator are omitted.)
The second layer of the piece is constituted by the strictly congruent parts of the two Shakuhachis (Japanese flutes). The composer marks the constantly changing relationship of the two players, which depicts all the basic cases of human communication, by systematically enumerating the German pronouns (INeinander, DURCHeinander, GEGENeinander, NEBENeinander, AUSeinander - in each other, through each other, against each other, next to each other, departing from each other, etc.) In the course of the formation of the piece these two instrumental parts underwent the same process of alienation and stylization as the Japanese text translated from Hungarian. The musicians of the world premiere - two Shakuhachi masters playing music during Zen rituals - transcribed Eötvös' original European notation defining the pitch and the rhythm in exact terms into their own system containing only 4-5 pitches and two rhythmical signs (for short and long sounds). Interestingly, the result sounds very much like the original notation, what is more: it is the ideal realization of the composer's aspirations. The music played by the two Zen masters is a mixture of the exactly noted Western tradition and the "living" Eastern tradition, which is only controlled by hearing. At the same time, the two instruments constitute the framework of the reciting, define its limits. (If necessary, two soprano saxophones may substitute the Japanese flutes, although the unique sound of the Shakuhachi is an important element of the piece, which reaches its full effect only in the original arrangement.)
The third layer of the piece has no rational connection to the musical process presented by the flute players and the recital: a lumberjack keeps on cutting wood with imperturbable calmness. The mercilessly repeated strikes of the ax measure the abstract time of the piece while also symbolizing the inevitable nature of the process unfolding on the stage. The lumberjack stands for the superior moral of a superhuman world and fills the listener with a feeling of infinity. At the same time the strike of the ax carries a creepy reference to the final moment of the ancient suicide ritual: the long agony of the person performing the harakiri is put an end to by a friend or a relative, who ends the ritual by decapitating the dying person at the appropriate moment.
Solemn ritual and morbid joke, tragedy and farce: this twenty-minute long scene - in which the sonority of the different musical layers also constitutes an astonishing contrast - is a compound of the afflated and the banal. (This version was recorded at the world premiere held with the participation of the TOKK-Ensemble of Tokyo within the framework of the Japanese festival organized in Bonn by Radio Cologne in September 1973.)
The most obvious presentation of how music is being born from language can be found in a radio play entitled Tale. The melodious voice of the Hungarian story-teller (Piroska Molnár), which is full of harmonics, is an extremely rich source of musical material. The story-telling of the actress becomes the basic material of three contrapuntal parts (tapes) of different speed. Around the end of the 1960's Péter Eötvös was planning to compose a series adapting the folk tales of different peoples, but only the Hungarian piece was actually written in 1968. The piece is built upon the passages of almost one hundred Hungarian folk tales collected by Gyula Ortutay. Eötvös turns the process of traditional story-telling upside down: traditional story-tellers construct the individual characters of the different tales from well-known figures of speech, typical building panels, whereas Eötvös distills the general, typical elements of story-telling from the extracts of several tales. The details are grouped in accordance with the dramaturgy of the tale. The piece begins with introductory idioms followed by the description of the scene and the characters. The indispensable magic numbers of folk tales also appear and then the conflict unfolds: the clash of the good and the evil. The tension is dissolved by humorous elements. The closing part is constructed from the rhythmical prosaic idioms so characteristic of Hungarian folk tales. The condensation and attenuation of the brilliantly designed acoustic process makes the structure of the events clearly comprehensible even for those who do not speak the language. The voice of the story-teller becomes polyphonic owing to the transpositions. The original tape is accompanied by a tape slowed down at a 4:3 ratio and another one that is sped up at a 4:5 ratio. The polyphony of the three layers is somewhat similar to that of canons and fugues (especially to the proportional canons of the Flemish masters), however, it is much more directly perceivable for the listener. Eötvös himself speaks about the trinity of "the pre-echo, the normal speed version and the echo", which is perceived by the audience in a process of preconception - comprehension - resonance. This triple enforcement of the musical material is not unknown to the dramaturgy of the classical sonata form, however, there is a closer connection: when Eötvös depicts the same series of events in the three parts (called sequences) of Three Sisters, he realizes a similar formal concept on a larger scale. It is obvious that the structure Eötvös came across in the 1960's has become "the way of the future" for him. At the same time the exciting sonority of Tale raises powerful visual associations in the audience as if the piece was a vivid illustration of Eötvös' confession: "I would like the listener to create the same vision from the acoustic experience as if he was in a theater. It seems to me a wonderful idea, a vision of the future, to make the visible audible and the audible visible."
Insetti Galanti is a part of the Three Madrigal Comedies: these three pieces that were composed at different times and can be performed independently from each other, readapt three texts from the sixth madrigal volume of Don Carlo Gesualdo di Venosa. However, Eötvös' intention and the way of presenting the pieces bears no reference to the madrigal style of the eccentric prince, rather to Adriano Banchieri's madrigal comedies. This is supported by the fact that the madrigal comedies can be scenically performed, what is more, the director's elaborate instructions constitute an organic element of Wedding Madrigal. Similar to Harakiri, the 12 parts of the score of Insetti Galanti do not contain fixed pitches, however the rhythm is defined exactly and the words gain a musical form inspired by the intonation of the Italian language or through the exaggerated "resonation" of certain consonants. (The only allusion to the Gesualdo madrigal is the toying with the consonant "z".) The extremely informative introduction to the score instructs the singers about the way to interpret the piece: "The style of delivery throughout is mannered, affected, extremely dry, rhythmically precise. Never a normal voice, but between mezza voce and a stage whisper. Pronunciation should be over-emphatic. The speaking tone should be artificially high-pitched and (where indicated) artificially low-pitched (as in the Noh theater).
The overall style of performance lies between Commedia dell'arte and Walt Disney."
Eötvös divides the twelve parts into five layers - three duets and two trios. He focused not so much on the meaning of the text rather on its atmosphere and sounding. He breaks up the lines of the madrigal into words and syllables and furnishes the musical space with the buzzing sounds of the world of insects. The fervent pseudo-passions of the individual parts remind the listener of the nonsensical style of Ligeti's Aventures and are close to the world of the older Hungarian composer's Nonsens madrigals as well. The fervent gestures and the larger musical surfaces are placed in the structure in accordance with an elaborately designed dramaturgy. This dramaturgy has also been applied by Eötvös in Cricketmusic - another "insect-piece" of his.
Instead of the languages of human communication Cricketmusic is built of the "conversation" of small insect musicians. Péter Eötvös used the chirping of crickets (from a Japanese recording) as the raw material and manipulated the natural cricket sounds with a ring modulator.
He played the basic material from a tape-recorder and recorded the modulated version onto five different tapes with another tape-recorder. Finally, he played the five tapes from five different tape-recorders and - using the panorama-stereo technique - recorded it with a two-band stereo tape-recorder. Thus, stereophony becomes a structural element of the piece. Eötvös modeled the structure after the pendulum consisting of five balls. (The piece was recorded in the Budapest studio of Hungaroton in 1970 by Péter Eötvös, András Székely, László Csintalan and János Lukács.)
This piece is connected to the Japanese culture not only by the fact that its source was a Japanese record. The artificial process based on nature, i.e. the creation of the "organized" nature controlled by human beings makes Cricketmusic similar to the spiritual emanation and philosophy expressed by the Japanese gardens.