Francis Burt (1926–2012)

Reading time: 2 min. Francis Burt

Francis Burt died on 3 October 2012 at the age of 86.

A stay in Nigeria in 1946/47, where he made himself familiar with the music of African tribes, left a strong impression on the Englishman and had a lasting effect on the way he later would compose.

After his studies at the Royal Academy of Music (1948–1951) he continued to study composition under Boris Blacher in Berlin, where he became acquainted with Gottfried von Einem. In 1956, he came to Vienna to “live there temporarily”. Between 1973 and 1992 he taught composition at the Musikhochschule Wien (MHS), organized the first “Lange Nacht der neuen Klänge” [“Long Night of New Tones”] at the Wiener Konzerthaus as vice president of the IGNM (Austrian section) and was head of the Institute for Electroacoustics at the MHS. In 1995, Francis Burt was the featured composer of Wien Modern.

Burt’s catalogue of works consists of only 30 works, however many of them are known by name to adepts, such as the opera Volpone, the ballet Der Golem, the orchestral works Fantasmagoria and Morgana, the works Unter der blanken Hacke des Monds and Und GOtt der HErr sprach for voices and orchestra, Echoes for nine players and his String Quartet. No. 2.

In 2011 the world première of Mohn und Gedächtnis (for Paul Celan) took place, in March 2012 his Variationen eines alten Liedes were performed for the first time. His Mariens Wiegenlied for choir a cappella has yet to be premiered, as does his opera Mahan, which was finished in 2007. The opera tells the story of a spoiled young man from a good family who meets Death.

Burt said about his music:

“I am writing, now, in a style which is influenced in certain ways by electronic music: floating, with a barely discernible pulse, but incorporating layered sonorities, and a gradual building-up of lines and sound fields into a polylinear structure. Nevertheless, the gesture remains the starting point for all my work. In a certain meaning of the word, my music has always been 'tonal'. Over the years, the last remnants of classical functional harmony, frequently used to ironic effect in Volpone, have become unraveled; but in the sense of tonality as a source of tension – and not just as a synonym for functional tonal harmony – its focal points can almost always be detected.”

Read the obituaries by ORF and mica.

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