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Kurtág György: Grabstein für Stephan
(In memoriam Stephan Stein) for guitar and groups of instruments
At the core of the musical texture is a choral-like sequence of guitar chords occasionally completed or interrupted by chordal or melodic commentaries of other groups of instruments. An essential element of the composition is the placing of various groups of instruments at different points of the room. Thus, space functions as a type of acoustic filter, similarly to the majority of Kurtág's instrumental pieces around 1990. The physical distance at which the notes and the groups of notes sound is of decisive importance. The music produced farther away is not necessarily softer because its energy is felt: we are aware that even if it sounds farther away it is of great intensity. What sounds closer, on the other hand, is not necessarily the most important at the given moment of the process. It is as if space were observed through lenses of differing magnifying forces or if the air around us were felt thicker or thinner by our skin. It depends on the nature of the musical texture whether we still take notice of the directions or we are captivated by the sound that suddenly fills the room (as, for example, at the dynamic climax of the piece when gas horns and whistles join).
Grabstein für Stephan represents an exceptional phase in Kurtág's lifework. Even if he has compositions of similar tone (for example in the series Games for piano) or similar solutions (in some of the other pieces of op. 15 or the Twelve Microludes for string quartet) the relaxed mood and the narrative character of Grabstein stand without precedence. It seems as if a composition of aphoristic brevity were enlarged here. The gestures are more extended, with much more time left for them. In this way, the larger form does not emerge as constructed from mosaics but viewed from the angle of the whole as the attention focuses on one or another motif.