György Kurtág: 12 Microludes for String Quartet, Op.13

Program Note

György Kurtág (b.1926)
12 Microludes for String Quartet, Op.13 (Hommage à Mihály András) (1977)

Györgi Kurtág was born in Lugoj, Romania and moved to Budapest at twenty years of age to study piano, chamber music, and composition at the Liszt Academy. During these years, the young composer met both his wife and Györgi Ligeti, with whom he maintained a lifelong friendship. The Hungarian Revolution against Soviet control in 1956 prompted Kurtág to relocate to Paris, where he discovered the atonal language of Schoenberg and the miniature forms of Webern, heard the adventurous later works of Stravinsky and Bartók (all banned in Hungary by strict Soviet censorship) and studied with such eminent figures as Olivier Messiaen, Darius Milhaud, and Max Deutsch. He returned to Budapest after a few years to work as a pianist, répétiteur, and professor of chamber music while continuing to develop his own compositional voice.

Much of Kurtág’s portfolio pays explicit respect to his musical inspirations. These pieces give a glimpse into his own style, which is influenced as much by his contemporaries of the Darmstädt School as by earlier traditions. These include his Twelve Microludes for String Quartet (Hommage a András Mihály).

Kurtág won the 2006 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for his ...concertante...His long-awaited first opera, Fin de partie, based on Beckett’s Endgame, will be premiered in November 2018.

—Josh Davidoff

Kurtág’s second composition for string quartet was written in 1977 to honor the 60th birthday of Mihály András, a Hungarian composer, conductor, and cellist. Kurtág's Hommage à Mihály András is a set of twelve "microludes" corresponding to the twelve degrees of the chromatic scale. Each microlude lasts no more than a few minutes, with some under a minute, and others under thirty seconds. Such extreme brevity (or dense concision) is characteristic of Kurtág and also an unspoken homage to the Viennese modernist Anton Webern whose music had a profound impact on Kurtág.

—Kai Christiansen