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Quotes and Intimacy - Péter Tornyai’s Premieres in December

On December 1, works for a chamber ensemble by Balázs Futó and Péter Tornyai had their premieres at the Budapest Music Center, and on December 16, Asasello-Quartett will premier string quartets by Máté Balogh and Péter Tornyai in Neuss, Germany. All these works were commissioned by the Kunststiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen and the Péter Eötvös Contemporary Music Foundation. Péter Tornyai has been involved in both events, and he also talked about these new works, previous compositions and plans.

 

Both of your new works are somehow in dialogue with the history of music. The same is true of your Bach orchestration, the 5th Contrapunctus of The Art of Fugue, premiered in Leipzig this summer, which refers not only to Bach but also to Webern’s arrangement of Bach’s Ricercar. Is this kind of relationship to the past a temporary phenomenon or a permanent topic in your art?

(Photo: István Kurcsák)

This has always been of interest for me, and nowadays concert organizers also seem to like these connections. At Bach it was self-evident from the commission, and when I approached this music analytically, I found that I also have to deal with Webern’s arrangement. Interestingly, together with Máté Balogh and Balazs Horváth, I was invited to do some orchestral arrangements of other pieces of Bach’s cycle next year, and I can soon try other ways in them.

My composition for chamber ensemble, New Anamorphoses, also has a long history. I apply a technique known from visual arts, the creation of images that seem “meaningful” or “meaningless” from different perspectives to music, so that the “meaningful” perspective appears as a specific piece of music or musical style already known to the audience. The third movement of the new work, for example, is based on the first five chords of Haydn’s Kaiser quartet, which László Somfai has shown to be a kind of musical acrostic (Gott Erhalte Franz Den Caiser), but I could have used other classical harmony movements. When I built the first movement on Purcell’s Fantasia upon One Note, I distorted the musical perspective so that another part would become a single continuous sound. By the way, I sent an earlier version of this movement to my former teacher, Zoltán Jeney, and I learned from his reply that he was dealing with a similar “distuning” of Bach chorals back then. Among other things, this prompted me to dedicate the new work to him, and, after finishing it, to his memory.

Your new string quartet, Weitere intime Briefe, features only one past composer, Leoš Janáček, whose quartet Intimate Letters is one of your favourites as an active quartet violist. How does the connection work here?

However, there is no recognizable reference to past music, not even to Janáček’s works. In fact, I use only sketches from him that I have found in his notes written for his old-age lover, Camilla Stösslová, and which he has not used in his finished works. These details may come out of my own music environment here and there, but the listener really has nothing to recognize.

But more importantly to me, I was concerned with the intimacy of the sounds, like in many of my earlier pieces, for example, in the piano trio l'alone del silenzio, presented last year by students of Guildhall School, or in my recent piece Ferne that I wrote for Klangforum Wien. Harmonics, barely audible interplay of timbres display this intimacy, and I matched these special sounds with the Janáček story, some documents of which I recently came across.

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