A BOTANIC GARDEN OF NOTES
Géza Csáth, who was fond of proclaiming how efficiently he was able to cheat time with opium, often also used writing as a form of time travel. Let us suppose that through the windows of the letters he was able to peek not only backwards into the labyrinth of the child’s consciousness, but also forwards, into the future, and now, when his literary alter egos, the Vass brothers, step into the magician’s garden (see the short story of this name), alongside the heady scent of the flowers they experience a similarly sensual experience: out of the green shuttered windows there comes the sound of a piano. Csáth would note, perhaps with surprise, that just as he was able to use letters and words as a gateway to another dimension, so this somebody is able to use the piano keys. He would observe with envy how the mysterious magician of notes needs not even the power of the written word to lead us into the shadier realms of the subconscious, to dally there, then unexpectedly to light a lamp, projecting a scintillating, vibrating light-image from the tatters of perceived reality onto the dusty wall of the consciousness. A writer from the Vajdaság (Vojvodina) area, who had initially planned to be a violinist, in his essays Csáth wrote with respectful wonder of musicians, whose art is self-referential, and has a visceral effect even on listeners without any prior knowledge.
Let us imagine that in his fictitious literary world, in an even more fictitious prolongation thereof, he encounters someone who in 2020 with two compositions on a CD refers to him and to that certain garden in Szabadka (Subotica), and who not incidentally was born a few kilometres away in Novi Sad. Stevan Tickmayer, now resident in France for several decades, in this CD by Trió Kontraszt has planted compositions that similarly graft the past and present of the creative imagination, similarly to the plasticity with which Géza Csáth, in that early novella, was able to overlay the childlike associative working of the consciousness with the adult, artistic operation. As in the magician’s garden “the scents of hundreds of flowers combined”, so in this plantation there grow adjacent species that in this combination could be found at most in a musical botanical garden. As if bamboo were growing in the midst of an apple orchard in the Hungarian plain. Here we find a viable shoot born from free and contemporary music, from applied theatre and dance music, and jazz, and from species (genres) that we would search for in vain in a musical lexicon.
The key is perhaps precisely the spatial and temporal distance with which the musical narrator, Tickmayer, handles the inner reality of his work. Spatial because, as he himself realized early on, by being born in territory that was formerly Hungarian, interculturality is a fundamental experience for him, and defined his identity not only in spoken language, but in musical language too. “Slowly but surely I realized that I had become a professional foreigner. (...) By now this is a natural state of being, this “in-betweenness”, and the fact that I am slightly alien on both sides, subconsciously but self-explanatorily influenced my entire personality and my musical language” we read of his thoughts on this in the essay Somewhere... in...Between. If we go back to the magician’s house, it may happen that we find him there in summer 1997, just as he is practising for the world premiere of György Kurtág’s Six Pieces for Trombone and Piano, and in this moment the contrast between the floral scent of the luxuriant Vojvodina garden and the elegance of the venue of the premiere, the Concert Hall in Amsterdam, strikes him as quite surreal. Thinking about it, he must have crossed great distances at times, for instance when he travelled home from the Royal Conservatory in The Hague for a holiday, and after lunch with the family, and his ears were struck by the Balkan rhythms and scales on the Serbian radio. I imagine that these myriad colours may first have found their place in his inner palette when he found himself in Budapest in the circle of György Szabados, where he also met the founding members of his trio, saxophonist István Grencsó and drummer Tamás Geröly, although in place of the latter we now find a representative of the younger generation, the excellent Szilveszter Miklós. But by now this school and language of free music, with roots in folk music, has become one of the many colours in the garden. All this is justified by temporal distance.
Stevan Tickmayer classifies himself among the Beethoven-type composers, in other words ones that in contrast to the rapid pen of Mozart, live with their works for years, polishing it to the very end, and perfecting it as if they were writing the music for the film of their life, in the present tense. This CD too has become what it is from musical plants seeded several decades ago, but the work of the gardener now resembles more that of a bonsai master, who is able to train organic material into astonishing directions. And there are the fellow musicians, who with their secateurs are constantly on watch, and send the musical runners to grow in new directions in the most unexpected ways. Written music perfected for years, if you will, the root system of composition provides the power for the pieces on this CD, which are thus not only improvisation, but stand the test of being listened to over and again, and indeed even demand the powerful wind, the provocative presence, of fellow musicians, in which they can grow strong.
Now that the composer has nursed these seedlings, with a lightness of heart he cuts off the flowers and with his fellow musicians proffers them to the listener. There is something bittersweet in this, but also the irony deriving from the knowledge of the transience of art. This quiet buzzing of humour, present throughout the musical garden as an almost unnoticeable bug, is the reason listeners cannot but pay attention to the pieces, and which constantly urges them to wakefulness. Tickmayer is a generous composer who does not take himself too seriously, in spite of the fact that behind the mask of spontaneity and freedom there lies meticulous care, craftsmanship, and years of work, both emotional and intellectual. Thus, as at the end of Csáth’s novella the “oppressive scent of the magician’s flowers” disperses from the breasts of the Vass brothers, while they set off from the garden to the electric lights of main street, so here too, the vitality of the tango and dance music, finally the eventful playfulness of cartoon music, and the pastel shades of nostalgia linger in the listener’s memory.
Translated by Richard Robinson