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György Kurtág: The Sayings of Péter Bornemisza

  • for soprano and piano
  • Duration: 38’
  • Soloists:
    soprano
  • Instrumentation details:
    piano
  • Composer: György Kurtág
  • Text author: Péter Bornemisza
  • Translator: L. T. AndrásGéza Engl

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Work introduction

Kurtág's cantata The Sayings of Péter Bornemisza is described on its title-page as a concerto and for good reason. Both the soprano and piano parts are extremely difficult to perform. Kurtág's response to the devils, muckheaps, turbid vapours and smell of putrefaction mentioned in the text has been to compose a vocal line which continually jumps up and down the soprano register. Leaps larger than two octaves are not unknown. In the same way the copious notes of the piano-part pass from one register to another with apparent abandon. The overall effect is similar to that of Schönberg's expressionist works, though Kurtág uses a more complicated rhythmic treatment. The sheer vigour and hysteria of the music is overwhelming yet commands attention and respect. The cantata is divided into four sections: Confession, Sin, Death and Spring. Each section is further divided into passages of accompanied voice and solo ‘sinfonias’ for the piano. 'Spring' begins with a long unaccompanied passage where the vocal line becomes a little less energetic, almost mellifluous, the singer being allowed a certain flexibility in the length of some of her notes. It would be rewarding to conquer the great difficulties of the work but these should not be underestimated. For instance, during two rhythmically complex passages the pianist has to read six staves at once – somewhat of a shock when you are not expecting to be score-reading.

Trevor Bray

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