Johannes Maria Staud: Fugu

Johannes Maria Staud Fugu

Johannes Maria Staud: Fugu

Year of composition:
Scored for:
for children's orchestra
Johannes Maria Staud
0 2 0 2 - 2 0 0 0 - perc(2), str
Instrumentation details:
1st oboe
2nd oboe
1st bassoon
2nd bassoon
1st horn in F
2nd horn in F
1st percussion
2nd percussion
violin I
violin II
double bass
Auftragswerk der Internationalen Stiftung Mozarteum Salzburg
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Work introduction

For Staud, the special appeal of writing for certain orchestras, ensembles or performers generally lies in fathoming the aspect of craftsmanship in a sonic cosmos ever to be found (or invented) anew; something novel can be tried out in every piece. In a 2011 interview, he revealed that especially solo pieces in his “development to date” had always been “focussing pieces” in which he “could test things and adjust them anew.” The commission from the International Mozarteum Foundation to write a piece for children’s orchestra for the 2013 Mozart Week naturally suggested a focus on the young musicians’ technical abilities, which Staud was able to “test and newly adjust” in Fugu.

The composer was confronted with the particular challenge of creating a work playable by children, yet which would not require too much or too little of them. Specifically, he did “not want to write a pure study in special effects, which is so often the case on such occasions.” Thus he designed the short piece in a “readily comprehensible” form, scoring it for horns, oboes, bassoons and strings (the same orchestration as in Mozart’s symphonies KV 76 and 183) plus percussion.

Wikipedia, the “O.E.D.” of today, says that Fugu (in Japanese: 河豚)is a Japanese dish consisting of the flesh of blowfish. “The blowfish is highly poisonous; it is only a delicacy if it is properly prepared. I think that is a fine motto and the children probably find it fun” (Staud, 2012). He liked the idea of “poisoning” the repertoire the children played with contemporary music, he says, a poisoning which could “entail euphoria” if the fugu was well prepared.

The dividing lines of this formally rounded-off piece are indicated by sonic events, some of them concordant and others similar. They are essentially based on one short attack, executed in different ways: beating maracas on the open hand or on a soft surface, or repeated sforzati in the winds and strings (which virtually insist in the last sections of the piece). Another characteristic of Fugu which determines its structure consists of a germ-cell made of two pitches a semitone apart, presented at the outset of the eight-bar introduction both rising and descending by the low strings, reinforced by bassoons; it undergoes multifarious repetitions in the course of the piece.

Even if Staud’s compositions are driven and influenced in extra-musical contexts, he always refers on the material level to “musical logic immanent to the piece. Composition itself, a process of abstraction to a model according to its own laws, also transforms the most concrete external impulse long enough until it is no longer perceptible as such.” Staud locates the conclusion of a composition as when he has notated his sonic ideas into [a form] in the listener’s mind instilled by the performer […] a circumstance which is far too often forgotten. All that I can do is provide a map as detailed as possible for the [performer] to explore” (imparted by Daniel Ender, Der Wert des Schöpferischen, 2007).

© Therese Muxeneder

Translated by Grant Chorley

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