Dual Portrait, in Fragments: György Kurtág’s Attila József Fragments for Solo Soprano, op. 20

Author: Kurth, Richard
Publication details: Presented at the Research Colloquia Spring 2016, Department of Music, University of Hong Kong, Lung Fu Shan, Hong Kong. 6 April 2016.

Weblink: http://arts.hku.hk

Abstract: György Kurtág’s many vocal compositions reflect his discerning and uniquely responsive literary sensibility. He extracts fragments that reveal aphoristic geometries of vivid imagery, conceptual juxtaposition, and intensified diction. He prefers language that activates every dimension of vocality, so that the physicality of singing unleashes fundamental energies that his music can sculpt and magnify. The vocal contours galvanize the contrasts and nuances generated by alliteration and assonance. Kurtág creates music of exceptional linguistic performativity that amplifies the images, concepts, and associations evoked and liberated by the aphoristic fragment.

To explore Kurtág’s approach to performative vocality, this discussion will focus on a work of the early 1980s, the Attila József Fragments for Soprano Solo (Op. 20), Kurtág’s only work for unaccompanied voice. It will examine how Kurtág’s approach to the voice amplifies the literary and sonic dimensions of the texts. And it will also explore how Kurtág generates multiple trajectories and continuities across a diverse field of fragmentary utterances and literary and musical associations, and multivalent form to the unfolding sequence of twenty fragments. The work will also be interpreted as a compassionate dual portrait of the poet József and his mother, in which the solo soprano voice signifies the lost maternal figure as a constant presence in the psyche of the grieving and troubled son.