MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Kurtág’s Beckett Opera

Fin de Partie

I had a chance to listen to György Kurtág’s Fin de partie, his debut opera based on Samuel Beckett’s 1957 play Endgame (setting the French text Beckett originally produced). Deutschlandfunk Kultur offered an audio stream over the weekend.

Even without the visuals of Pierre Audi’s staging, the music has tremendous resonance. I can’t wait to have a chance to get the whole experience. You encounter the super-condensed attention to the moment you expect from Kurtág (now 92), but with that intensity extended over more than two intermissionless hours, and at the service of perhaps the greatest 20th-century playwright.

The much-anticipated world premiere, postponed for years, was conducted by Markus Stenz and and staged at La Scala. The cast included Frode Olsen, Leigh Melrose, Hilary Summers, and Leonardo Cortellazzi. In March, the production moves on the Dutch National Opera.

Here’s a sampling of some of the critical reaction:

Zachary Woolfe in The New York Times:


He can revel in mood, color and agile, even raucous, rhythms because there is barely a plot to convey. A sick man in a wheelchair (Hamm), his companion (Clov), his father (Nagg) and his mother (Nell) recall the joys and sorrows of the past and curse the indignities of the present and future. That’s all; that’s everything…. Fin de Partie is a farewell not just to a life and a marriage, but also to a whole culture. Mr. Kurtag is one of the last who remain of the generation of avant-garde composers that came of age during World War II and in its wake…

Fiona Maddocks in The Guardian:

Kurtág’s compositions have always been jewelled miniatures. Fin de partie is like a glistening string of them, perfectly suited to the granular nature of Beckett’s text. Only now has Kurtág agreed to release this work in progress (he has set roughly 60% of the text) … It feels complete… Beckett once told an actor preparing the play that he must “fill my silences with sounds”. Kurtág has done just that. Far from stamping on the face of mankind, this masterly composer has caressed it with all his own life’s worth.

Renato Verga for Bachtrack:

The work consists of 12 episodes (scenes and monologues, as the subtitle reads) preceded by a prologue that uses a poem by Beckett, Roundelay, sung by the mezzo-soprano, and an epilogue. The rehearsal of the 14 musical numbers required an exhausting process that took place in the composer’s home, thus the current interpreters bring the precious suggestions of the author himself with them and that is evident in the performance.

Paul Griffiths — who furnished the libretto for another late-in-life debut opera, Elliott Carter’s What Next? — offers this insightful preview:

Kurtág’s alliance with Beckett, his long-destined companion for clarity of vision and precision of utterance, started only when he was in his sixties, and then as if by accident. Ildikó Monyók, an actress and singer, had lost her power of speech as a result of a car accident, and was relearning to enunciate words by singing them, one at a time. Kurtág was reminded of a late Beckett text, “What is the Word,” which he then set in Hungarian translation, in 1990, for Monyók to perform to prompts from an upright piano, as if enacting on stage one of her therapy sessions…

Filed under: Kurtág, new opera

Happy Birthday, György Kurtág

Today the remarkable Hungarian composer György Kurtág celebrates his 91st birthday.

He and his wife Márta Kurtág were just announced as the winners of a 2017 Borletti-Buitoni Trust prize (usually a distinction conferred on young artists — they received the Franco Buitoni Award). The press release for the award, which was awarded today, reads:

Franco Buitoni Award presented to György and Márta Kurtág

19 February 2017

Today, Hungarian composer György Kurtág is 91 years old and also celebrates his 70th wedding anniversary. He and his pianist wife, Márta, have been presented with a Borletti-Buitoni Trust award (£30,000) in recognition of their distinguished contribution to  the world of music, as well as their long and devoted musical partnership. This special tribute is in memory of Franco Buitoni (1934-2016) who co-founded the Borletti-Buitoni Trust (BBT) in 2002 with his wife, Ilaria.

Ilaria Borletti Buitoni, who travelled to Budapest with BBT trustee Mitsuko Uchida to present the award, said: “My husband, Franco, passed away last August. He and I founded BBT in 2002 to help talented young musicians develop their careers.  From the very beginning we were pleased to have the artistic guidance and ideas of our founding trustee, Mitsuko Uchida, who was also a dear friend to Franco. I wanted to honour my husband’s own lifetime of loving and supporting music with this special award and there seemed no better person to nominate a worthy recipient than Mitsuko.”

Mitsuko Uchida commented: “Intense, mysterious, dark, otherworldly and innig; these are the words that come to my mind when I think of György Kurtág’s music. He is inspirational and fiercely honest but there is also a deep love that glows through his music. This may be an expression of his extraordinary relationship with his wife, Márta. Anybody who has heard the Kurtágs play, four hands, would know what that means. We know György Kurtág the great composer but with him always is Márta the wonderful pianist. They live music together. Therefore, the special Franco Buitoni Award goes to György and Márta Kurtág. We are honoured that they have accepted this award on his 91st birthday and their 70th wedding anniversary. We have all been so lucky to have known them and their music, me especially.”

BBT presented its first awards in 2003 and, since then, has proudly supported more than 100 musicians and ensembles all over the world.

Filed under: Kurtág, music news

Jonathan Biss Reflects on “Late Style”

6bc2a84e-9bd4-11e6-a8b4-94be1f9c615b-1020x1530

Jonathan Biss. (Benjamin Ealovega)

My Seattle Times interview with Jonathan Biss, who will perform in two events this coming weekend at UW:

At the advanced age of 36, Jonathan Biss finds himself fascinated by “late style” — the manner of expression an artist adopts as the end of life approaches.

continue reading

Filed under: Beethoven, Brahms, Kurtág, pianists, Seattle Times

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

RSS Arts & Culture Stories from NPR