Kurtag’s Kafka Fragments at Carnegie Hall

How to Make Franz Kafka Sing
Published: January 9, 2005

KAFKA and Kurtag. This natural coupling of writer and composer telegraphs with alliterative grace a century of modernism, a deeply felt spiritual condition and a grasping for genuine personal expression through violently impersonal times.
The Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag was born in 1926, two years after Kafka’s death, but their sensibilities are interwoven in one of Mr. Kurtag’s most effective works, “Kafka Fragments,” for soprano and violin. These settings of short excerpts from Kafka’s diaries, letters and notebooks will be performed this week by the soprano Dawn Upshaw and the violinist Geoff Nuttall, in a new staging directed by Peter Sellars, as part of Ms. Upshaw’s Perspectives series at Carnegie Hall.
Franz Kafka, the German-speaking Czech-Jewish writer, requires little introduction. But Mr. Kurtag, 78, a reclusive giant of contemporary European music, is not as well known in the United States.
His relatively small body of work contains music of flinty surfaces and fierce emotional compression. He is a master of the aphorism, the terse bundle of notes whose intense Webernian concision can mask vast landscapes of raw and disarmingly personal expression. Listening to his music is like peering at the ocean through a keyhole.
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