Klassik  SoloInstrument mit Orchester
ORF Radio Symphonie Orchester Wien & Christian Altenburger & Dennis Russell Davies & Kurt Schwertsik Sinfonia-Sinfonietta · Violin Concerto No. 2 OC 342 CD
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FormatAudio CD
Ordering NumberOC 342
Release date02/07/2004
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Schwertsik, Kurt

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      Kurt Schwertsik, born in Vienna in 1935, studied – among others – with Stockhausen, Kagel and John Cage. Together with the composer Friedrich Cerha he founded the Viennese ensemble for contemporary music “die reihe”. Today he is considered the most important contemporary composer of Austria. The present recording features him both as speaker and conductor of “Goldilocks”

      Kurt Schwertsik

      Kurt Schwertsik was born in Vienna in 1935. He studied composition with Joseph Marx and Karl Schiske as well as horn with Gottfried Freiberg at the Vienna Music Academy. He continued his studies in Darmstadt and Cologne with Karlheinz Stockhausen, Mauricio Kagel and John Cage. From 1955–1959 and 1962–1968, Kurt Schwertsik was engaged as a hornist in the Niederösterreichischen Tonkünstlerorchester. This was followed by an engagement as hornist with the Wiener Symphoniker. In 1958 he co-founded ‘die reihe,’ the Vienna Ensemble for New Music, with composer Friedrich Cerha. In 1965, together with Otto M. Zykan, Schwertsik organized the .rst ‘Salon Concerts’ in Vienna; in 1968 he founded the ensemble ‘MOB art & tone ART’ with his friends Zykan and Heinz Karl Gruber. The Symphonie im MOB-Stil op. 19 was one of the works written for this ensemble. In 1966, Kurt Schwertsik was guest professor for composition and analysis at the University of California in Riverside. He began teaching again in 1979, taking over the composition class at the Vienna Conservatory until 1988. From 1989 until his retirement in 2003, he was a professor of composition at Vienna’s Academy for Music and Theater. He continues to live and work in Vienna.

      Schwertsik’s credits include many commissioned works, presentations and performances, e. g. at the Darmstadt vacation courses, Montreal EXPO, steirischer herbst, Vienna and Salzburg Festivals, SWF Baden-Baden, ORF, Cologne Opera, Württemberg State Theater, Bath Festival, Berlin Festival, London Almeida Festival and at the Alternative Vienna Festival in London. He was one of four main composers during the 1992 ‘Wien modern’.

      He has received numerous prizes and awards, including the Austrian Prize of Appreciation (1974), Music Prize of the city of Vienna (1980) and the Great Austrian State Prize (1992).

      Kurt Schwertsik’s most important works include the opera Fanferlieschen Schönefüßchen, the live-movement cycle for orchestra Irdische Klänge, solo concerti for violin, percussion, guitar, contrabass, alphorn and trombone, Instant Music for flute and chamber orchestra, the four ballets for Hans Kresnik Macbeth, Frida Kahlo, Nietzsche and Gastmahl der Liebe and the song cycle Starckdeutsche Lieder und Tänze for baritone and orchestra after texts from Matthias Koeppel. In recent years, the composer has been acclaimed for his Sinfonia- Sinfonietta (premiered by the Wiener Musikverein), the music theater work Roald Dahl’s “Goldilocks”, the Schrumpf-Symphony (which premiered at the Millennium concert at the Salzburg Mozarteum conducted by Roger Norrington), the Violin Concerto No. 2 ”Albayzin und Sacromonte” as well as with Adieu Satie for string quartet and bandoneon (premiered by the Alban Berg Quartett) and the opera Katzelmacher, after Rainer Werner Fassbinder (premiered in 2003 in Wuppertal).

      A Romantic Ironist

      Before we really discuss Kurt Schwertsik, we must make one thing perfectly clear: he can’t be trusted! His music often sounds as if it (or he?) can’t even count to three. But this deep lack of seriousness only covers up the wisdom of the old philosopher – behind the jollity lies gravity, concern, satire and clownery. Of course, the music also has a deeper meaning – but none which the composer likes to speak about. He hates making introductions and explanations. A romantic ironist whose alert spirit can get just as enthused for the Beatles as for Haydn, for Rossini as for Mahler, for Austrian folk music as for the (much-maligned) Vienna operetta. A virtuoso masked man and quick-change artist who runs through one’s .ngers like water. Maurizio Kagel praises his “ambiguous transparency” and once said about Schwertsik’s music, “The more one gets to know and appreciate it, the more uncertain one becomes about the composer’s intentions.” The London Times concluded, “Schwertsik’s music is simple, funny, nostalgic, vegetarian, politically liberal, intelligent, antiauthoritarian, international and in love with tradition.”

      The firrst idol of the composer’s youth was Igor Stravinsky – especially because Schwertsik “couldn’t stand anything that exuded the air of Viennese late-romantic provincialism and sentimental court, government and public oficialdom.” Schwertsik reminisces, “As I searched for modern means of expression, I analyzed the chords of all possible composers. They were hardly ever extreme enough for me. I had the feeling I could only get the right effect from what we might call cold linearity. This is what gave diatonicism its color and tension, although the chords only got the attention they needed so as not to completely fall out of the dissonant environment. The most fun was a certain polytonal effect combined with aggressive asentimentality and humorous sarcasm. – I could only listen in amazement to Stravinsky’s sovereign organization of tonal levels, his subtle employ of harmonic quotations.”

      In 1953, Schwertsik bought the music for Stockhausen’s first four pieces for piano. Schwertsik: “At first, I was simply speechless… The notes on the page were so complex that the music behind it seemed to be much more extreme than anything before… I had the feeling it might be possible here for rational sounds to develop; and especially through the piano style of Thelonius Monk – who I found out about from Cornelius Cardew [composer and friend of Schwertsik’s who was a student and assistant of Stockhausen at the time (author’s note)] and who celebrated his subtle dynamic structures – my more or less relief-like idea was transformed into sometimes completely plastic impressions.”

      The young Schwertsik plunged into enthusiastic study of the avant-garde. But he sometimes made rather sarcastic comments about the aleatorics and clusters used by his famous colleagues. “A good example of how increased differentiation can turn into just the opposite.”

      He kept searching and found two new idols, John Cage and Eric Satie. “I decided it was my right to take a fresh look at all hallowed works of our culture. I wanted to expose the hypocrisy, half-truths and white lies made to try and save the repulsive status quo. I found much of what I was looking for in the Dadaism of Zürich: unruliness, disrespect for false beards, self-irony, experiment, and above all, revolt against the bourgeois seriousness which justi.ed the war as a necessity. Today I know that I was mainly seeking artists who combine the qualities of Satie, Ives, Schwitters, Wittgenstein, and Gandhi in one person. I was looking for the unity of life and work, for an artist whose work was not only part of his life, but whose life was also part of his work. This is why I admire Cage – he is always entirely himself. This is also why I am happy that Cornelius Cardew was my friend – he always went his own way, alarmed but calm. I have a piece of advice in this regard: everyone should recognize his own limits.”

      Cage’s downfall, allowing the reappearance of the triad in his aleatoric manipulations, was the source of Schwertsik’s enlightenment: he returned to tonality – a sacrilege during the Sixties. “From the vantage point of the entire musical context, I just didn’t want to do without these sounds. I was bored with the taboo on octaves and triads. This was also just another cliché, as far as I was concerned. Years later, he wrote, “During this period I found over and over again when talking to people that they mistook tonality for harmony. It’s no wonder they found it primitive. Schönberg was able to handle the complex and subtle interactions between harmony, counterpoint, rhythm, phrasing, etc. etc. with absolute virtuosity. Other of our contemporaries who began composing using tonal means again, however, had really only the most minimal understanding of tonality.”

      In this spirit – alarmed but calm – Schwertsik has gone his own way courageously and undeterred until the present day. He has written 7 operas, 2 works for music theater, 4 ballets, 13 orchestral works, 9 solo concerti, 22 works for chamber ensemble, 9 Lied cycles, 4 works for piano, 8 pieces for solo instruments, one choral work – and he is coming up on his opus 90.

      We would not do justice to Schwertsik’s status as an exception in the compositional world without mentioning his virtuosity in instrumentation, his melodic inspiration or his veneration for the poetry of Ernst Jandl and H. C. Artmann (which he has set to music) and Webern’s harmony and the many methods this composer used to create it. “A good example for the stasis implicit in atonality is the .rst movement of [Webern’s] Symphonie, which consists entirely of four symmetric chords which unfold from both top and bottom. This is what Boulez called ‘registre fixe’.” Schwertsik was also enthusiastic about American Minimal Music – especially because he was at the University of California in 1966, where the art scene was brewing and bubbling. He says, “Terry Riley’s IN C was a complete new beginning. Although Minimal Music could not ultimately maintain its freshness, it still changed our consciousness about musical materials. Nothing has ever been the same again.”

      Kurt Schwertsik remains very involved in the current debate over the terms ‘Avant- Garde’, ‘Post-Modern’ and ‘New Simplicity’. “I believe that the term ‘Post-Modern’ will remain negatively cast and the term ‘Avant- Garde’ will retain its positive connotations – although everyone who is thus apostrophized protests about being con.ned in a box. What these terms really mean is not so important – just look at our relationship to the words ‘Romantic’, ‘Rococo’, ‘Baroque’ etc.,” he says.

      British writer David Drew, one of the most knowledgeable experts on Schwertsik’s music, says that his large, .ve-part orchestral cycle Irdische Klänge will be “the ultimate challenge for listeners in the 21st century.” “In these post-Mahlerian songs-of-the-earth and intergalactic missions,” Drew continues, “Schwertsik’s orchestra becomes one with his intense feeling for nature and his profound concern for the future of the environment. What posterity might make of all that – what ‘on earth’, as it were – is another question; and not just for the composer.”

      But let’s give Schwertsik himself the ironic last word. “The yearning for total freedom, the struggle against oppression and being led around by the nose by society and the establishment articulates itself again and again. Doubtless an enlightened approach, but as Horkheimer and Adorno (a truly plausible personage) convincingly showed, enlightenment easily becomes myth, and the stupidity of thinking one knows everything gets the upper hand. It’s vital (I know all the jargon!) to reconsider these positions from a – in my opinion – radically new point of view, and even to challenge them. Nota bene: beauty and ugliness are categories for aesthetes. The artist has no interest in such words – he works on realizing his own ideas.”

      Andrea Seebohm Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler

      Tracklist hide

      CD 1
      • Kurt Schwertsik (*1935)
        Sinfonia-Sinfonietta 5 Sätze für Orchester op. 73
        • 1.1. Sehr schnell und wild03:48
        • 2.2. Ruhiger Ländler02:49
        • 3.3. Überstürzt, ungeduldig vorantreibend04:15
        • 4.4. Andantino (molto espresssivo, poco rubato)05:02
        • 5.5. Geschwindmarsch flott und entschlossen (deciso, molto allegro)
          Dennis Russell Davies, conductor
      • Konzert für Violine und Orchester No. 2 op. 81 “Albayzin & Sacromonte”
        • 6.1. Ruhigfließende halbe07:43
        • 7.Tango – lntermezzo01:50
        • 8.2. Allegro
          Soloist: Christian Altenburger, violin Dennis Russell Davies, conductor
      • Schrumpf-Symphonie op. 80
        • 9.1. Allegro con brio01:07
        • 10.2. Moderato alla marcia01:08
        • 11.3. Poco allegretto ma molto dolce01:59
        • 12.4. Avanti, avanti: presto vivace!
          Dennis Russell Davies, conductor
      • Goldlöckchen op. 74
        Libretto von Donald Sturrock, basierend auf Roald Dahl’s “Goldilocks”, deutsche Übersetzung von Kurt Schwertsik
        • 13.1. Fanfare00:36
        • 14.2. Flottes Präludium01:14
        • 15.3. Einzugsmarsch03:46
        • 16.4. Goldlöckchens lieblicher Tanz02:38
        • 17.5. Böser Bärentanz01:48
        • 18.6. Goldlöckchens tückischer Tanz02:11
        • 19.7. Promenade der Bären02:37
        • 20.8. Goldlöckchens Mahlzeit02:09
        • 21.9. Melodram02:13
        • 22.10. Goldies Wut02:14
        • 23.11. Übelriechendes Melodram01:36
        • 24.12. Goldie schläft02:42
        • 25.13. Melodram00:51
        • 26.14. Goldlöckchens Flucht01:40
        • 27.15. Melodram00:51
        • 28.16. Beratungsmusik02:04
        • 29.17. Freudentanz
          Kurt Schwertsik, speaker and conductor
      • Total:01:18:04