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Motive Salzburg contemporary, © Robert Mertens

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They were born within two days of each other, about 500 kilometres separating their places of birth, and they shared a creative urge for new sounds – nothing, however, separated them as long and as decisively as the Iron Curtain. The Austrian Cerha, one of the main protagonists in liberating music from serialism around 1960, has been fascinated throughout his lifetime by the relationship between the individual voice and the power of the collective. On this subject alone, the palette of his œuvre ranges from exquisite, expressive chamber music to operas such as Baal (first performed at the Salzburg Festival in 1981), Der Riese vom Steinfeld or the completion of Berg’s Lulu. This fascination presumably has its roots in Cerha’s biography, his experience of the war years, being drafted into the Wehrmacht in 1944, his desertion and escape into the Tyrolean mountains. The Hungarian Kurtág, officially born in Lugoj in Romania, but de facto in the ethnically diverse region of Banat, narrowly failed to escape to Austria with his family after the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. This led to isolation and a severe personal and artistic crisis, from which he liberated himself by composing. Only in 1981, the year that also saw the world premiere of Cerha’s Baal, did a performance of Kurtág’s Messages of the Late Miss R. V. Troussova under Boulez in Paris mark the composer’s international breakthrough – with music that is concise, yet full of gestures and images, and an emotion that also pulses through Cerha’s œuvre.
Among the highlights of the double portrait are the world premiere of Eine blassblaue Vision, voicing ‘obsessions with sound’ which inhabit Friedrich Cerha’s imagination, as well as György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments for solo soprano and solo violin, a chain consisting of four unequal parts and a total of forty highly individual links, ranging from only a few moments to some lasting six or seven minutes, which thus seem almost epic: miniature dramas passing in seconds and musical snapshots, combined in a colourful mosaic of emotional states.

Walter Weidringer

Translated by Alexa Nieschlag