Thursday, 8 November 2018

Kurtag's nihilism

György Kurtag is considered, in modernist establishment circles, as a 'great composer'. But what he did and does, is chewing upon oldfashioned misery as explored first by Schoenberg and his followers, and then turned into something like a 'musico-political party', supported by ideology (music history as progress) and characterized by a totalitarian mindset. This mindset has dripped through the educational system and the resulting various layers of journalism and writing about music, where the difference between music and sound art has not been noticed, neither the thoroughly anti-cultural stance it represents: the art of death and the end of time.

In the New York Times, an article appeared about Kurtag's opera 'Endgame', inevitably on a text by the oldfashioned misery monger Samuel Becket, who tried to give voice to the absurdist nihilism and banality of the post-1945 world - as if this had never been noticed, and as if this was supposed to be the last word to be said about life. Of course, Becket inspired quite some modernists, apart from Kurtag: Luciano Berio, Morton Feldman, Pascal Dusapin, Roman Haubenstock-Ramati and Heinz Holliger - they all embraced Becket's texts to set to 'music' which explores the same nihilistic kind of experiences, leering into that particular dark pit of artistic freedom where everything is black. Becket developed a theatre of the absurd, entirely different from traditional theatre which was considered 'too realistic', as if the plays of the past were ever meant to be 'real' - they were always stylized into the 'as if', from Antiquity onwards, and the naturalism of the 19th century was only a short trend.

The totalitarian sound of modernist ideology can clearly be heard by a biographer of Kurtag:

“Fundamentally, this is the end of a genre,” said the musicologist Andras Wilheim, who is writing a book-length study of the composer. “Kurtag’s opera could be the end of traditional thinking in opera.”

Music history as a projected line on which the works of the composers who really count, define the development of the line. But who decides which composers 'count'? And on the basis of what? Which criteria are used to forcefully push this or that type of music or sound art in the foreground? And is there a 'line of development'? All this is nonsense, and in conflict with the fundamental nature of the musical performance culture, which is - or is supposed to be - a pluralist field where, in the course of time, that which is better music wins-out and survives the ravages of time, and the meaningless works are forgotten.

Kurtag's works define nothing - because they are about nothing - and they are the products of the ravages of the last century, without offering any perspective. Kurtag is not someone who defines the course of music history because music history is not defined by totalitarian pundits, but by meaningful musical works.

Kurtag's art is sound art (sonic art) with references to music, i.e. with gestures meant as 'expressive' , which positions him closer to Schoenberg and Berg than to Webern and Boulez. It is well-made, but thoroughly miserable and nihilist, and contributes nothing at all to what we already know of the misery of the world. His works merely contribute to the infinite emptiness in the hearts of so many people who no longer believe in the better side, the aspirational talents of human nature, and for whom all the immense achievements of existing culture are worthless, or at least: meaningless. In the end, Kurtag's problem is a luxury problem, because his nihilism does produce a living, confirming the inner emptiness of quite some people who thereby feel redeemed. He thus lives in very old age.

Another quote from the article:

Mr. Kurtag’s 1994 orchestral work “Stele” is “like a gravestone on which the entire history of European music is written,” the conductor Simon Rattle once told The Boston Globe.

A stele is a slab or pillar inscribed as a memorial: a gravestone. 


What this work wants to convey, has already been done by Schoenberg and Berg, and better, in my opinion. And such things you can only say once or twice, not all the time. After a short while, it turns into a cheap clichée - 'look at me how I suffer from the misery of life'.

Why is this sort of self-destructive, entirely hopeless nihilism still cultivated as important artistic deeds? And why is such an oeuvre  supposed to bury an entire continental artistic tradition? These people - including Kurtag - are crazy, superficial, arrogant, and ignorant of their own tradition on which they, nonetheless, have built their careers. It seems that what they want, is destruction of the branch upon which they are sitting.

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