The next in Kurtág’s Op. 15 series was Hommage à R. Sch., completed in 1990 but with its roots also in ur-Op. 15 pieces of the mid-’70s. Robert Schumann’s propensity for loosely organized collections of fantasy pieces is clearly reflected in Kurtág’s later work, and this suite pays direct homage, not only in its title but also in the headings and music for most of its six movements (the instrumentation is also that of Schumann’s Märchenerzählungen [Fairy Tale Stories]).
The first movement, headed “Kapellmeister Johannes Kreisler’s Curious Pirouettes,” alludes to E.T.A. Hoffmann’s fictitious character, the namesake of Schumann’s Kreisleriana cycle of keyboard miniatures, with breathless little swirls up and down in each instrument. “Eusebius: the Delimited Circle…” refers to the introverted alter ego of Schumann’s own writings, and is a short canon based on a song from Kurtág’s Kafka-Fragmente (“the delimited circle is pure”). It leads directly into the third movement, “…and again Florestan’s lips tremble in anguish…,” summoning Eusebius’ extroverted partner with music that takes trembling to the point of violent spasms.
The fourth movement is the only one headed in Hungarian (the rest are in German). “I was a cloud, now the sun is shining…” is a line from the poem Dal (Song) by Attila József, and the moody music serves basically as a prelude to the fifth movement, the fleetly fluttering “In the Night.” The 16th-note figuration suggests the fifth of Schumann’s Hoffmann-inspired Op. 12 Phantasiestücke, also titled “In the Night.”
The final movement is longer than the other five combined. “Farewell (Master Raro discovers Guillaume de Machaut)” brings in Master Raro, Schumann’s balanced foil to Eusebius and Florestan. Raro mediates and merges the previous extremes through the spirit (and some of the techniques) of the late-Medieval composer Machaut. The processional music builds to a great climax, then fades into the depths, with the piano tolling its opening intervals and the clarinetist ending it all with a soft, heavy beat on a bass drum.
- John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.