György Kurtág: I want to play you my new piece

György Kurtág: I want to play you my new piece


norman lebrecht

November 09, 2018

From my interview with Kurtág in today’s Spectator:

Arriving in Budapest for the filming of my first novel, I receive word that György Kurtag wants to see me. This is not a summons I can refuse. Famously elusive, the last of the living avant-gardists is about to present his first opera at La Scala Milan this month and, if past form is anything to go by, he’s unlikely to utter much about it beyond a cryptic Magyar aphorism….

Kurtag is seated at a light-wood upright piano.

‘I want to play you my new piece,’ he says, after introductions.

‘How new?’ I ask.

‘I wrote it yesterday. For Marta. For her birthday.’

What follows is four minutes of unblinking concentration underpinned by an acute awareness that I am, here and now, the first to hear a great composer play his music while it is still wet…

Read on here.



  • Lucky you!!!
    Can’t wait to hear the opera in Amsterdam! Love Kurtág!
    Just imagine, he is now 92!

    I wrote those two reviews in occasion of his 80th birthday..

  • John Borstlap says:

    “So why is this master miniaturist — famous for compressing his ideas down to a few chords — submitting a vast opera to the unforgiving glare of an Italian first-night audience? It’s a bit like Beckett turning up at the Folies Bergère with a two-act cabaret.” Hilarious….. makes me think of the young Boulez who, for a period, played at that venerable institution:

    “To earn money Boulez played the ondes martenot, an electronic keyboard instrument, in a pit orchestra in the Folies Bergères.” (‘To Boulez and Beyond’, Joan Peyser, Scarecrow Press 2008.)

    Kurtag is greatly overrated and his nihilism a product of postwar fixations:

    • jaypee says:

      À propos hilarious, what’s your contribution to music beside trolling on slippeddisc and repeating day after day after day the same drivel about composers your don’t like?
      Do you think your opinion on Kurtag or Boulez had made anyone change his/her mind about them?

      You may not be overrated -for that, you’d have to be at least “rated”- but you sure have a high opinion of yourself. Between Boulez and you, it’s quite obvious who has the biggest ego…

      Maybe if you spent less time here and more on your music, you’d be able to produce something valuable instead of rehashed pseudo-Ravelian music…

      • John Borstlap says:

        Great that you’re back.

        • jaypee says:

          What can I say: I have difficulty accepting a third-rate composer (and first-rate troll) who criticizes a first-rate composer…
          Btw, you say that Kurtag is “vastly overrated”… May I ask who made you the judge of what’s great in music and what isn’t?

          The funny thing is that there is no difference between you saying that Kurtag is overrated than me saying that you’re a pathetic egomaniac with envy issues. The only difference is that you are seriously convinced that your opinion matters… Take a hint: it doesn’t. You wouldn’t be trolling here if it did.

          You’re insignificant, Borstlap. And Boulez, Kurtag, Stockhausen aren’t… Sucks to be you, huh?

      • “produce something valuable instead of rehashed pseudo-Ravelian music”…

        Not that it even matters, but I would have no difficulty in a blind test distinguishing Borstlap from Ravel. I certainly wouldn’t be able to pick out Kurtág’s music in an identity parade of composers with similar approaches. There is of course no shortage, just a shortage of people wanting to hear what they come up with.

        But of course one must have a ‘reason’ for what one composes, fortunately for us we have our learned masters to provide instruction as to which are the approved, permissable, approaches. Perish the thought that composers might ever get to express themselves using any sort of individual creative voice of their own.

      • steven holloway says:

        John simply expresses his opinions, some of which I concur with, some not. I think doing that is still allowed. Your attack on him is purely ad hominem, the usual MO of those with nothing of substance to say and who harbour suspiciously large reservoirs of anger.

        • Jack says:

          And his attack on Kurtag? Oh yes, that’s an opinion. Anything directed to Mr. Borstlap and his work is an attack. Got it.

          • John Borstlap says:

            For some people, it seems to be quite difficult to understand what criticism is, and what arguments are, if the subject is an art form. There is nothing against criticizing some work of art (including something by me), but the point is that there should be reasons, arguments, differentiations. Why? Because art is – in spite of populist protestations – important. If one listens to anything by Kurtag in terms of pure sound patterns, I think one misses the implied ‘message’ of his work, which is over-clear in his titles, which are mostly defined by post-apocalyptic death terms. However well-made, the message is – to any pair of musical ears: life is shit, the only meaning of life is death, we will all go down, there is no hope, etc. etc. and whatever ruins remain are mere remnants of absurdism. Hence an opera on Becket’s “Endgame”. I think that emotional territory has already been exhausted effectively by Schoenberg and Berg, so therefore I think Kurtag is greatly overrated. He is chewing upon a triple-dead horse.

            But of course, if one thinks that music has nothing to do with life experience, that sounds like blasphemy.

    • steven holloway says:

      And, judging by this post, pretty desperate for some sort of publicity.

    • Jack says:

      Oh thanks for sharing that, John. Whattaguy!

    • Jack says:

      So when is the next festival honoring you going to be happening?

      • John Borstlap says:

        You just have to be more patient.

        There are various offers laying on my desk, but I don’t think they are very interesting because they are led by people I don’t respect much and who wear the wrong neckties.

  • Jonathan Dunsby says:

    Sir Simon is certainly a big fan

    • John Borstlap says:

      Sir Simon is a very conventional mind. One of the few conductors who still believes in the post-1945 myth that Wagner’s Tristan set a development in motion that led to Stockhausen and Boulez.