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Kagel ... /1991.

The flood-tide of new compositions by Mauricio Kagel, and the accompanying surge in publications both by the composer himself and a committed following of commentators continues unabated. In Kagel's scores and performances, so also in the stream of articulately supportive and, as a rule, critically affirmative literature, there is the dialectal grouping of topoi. Systematicism is juxtaposed by surprise and often intentional ambiguity. In any case, Kagel's evolution has always been one of dialectical springs, as if out of a familiar distrust in the continuity of his own concepts. Responding to the influence of John Cage, Dadaism, and Surrealism, Kagel came to embrace such concepts as "openform," often relegating various methods of interpretation to his performers or commentators, who in their turn should be responsive to their audiences or readers. Few composers have gained so many opportunities for the advocacy of their own achievement: Kagel has already enjoyed cyclic performances of his work in Berlin (1975, 1985, 1990), Metz (1977), Stuttgart (1977, 1986), Paris (1978), La Rochelle (1979), Amsterdam (1985), Los Angeles (1988), Frankfurt (1989), and Utrecht (1991). The depth and extent of Kagel's exploratory creativity is matched by activity in a wide diversity of genres beyond music and sonology to the "legitimate" stage, film, broadcasting, and other electronic media. Kagel's interdisciplinary inventiveness is matched only by a formidable, detailed command of the technologies serving him. Yet his aim is seen to be not so much the creation of a new Gesamtkunstwerk, but rather an exploration of means whereby ideas and forms might be transferred or even "acculturated" from one media to another. As an artist who has encompassed the intellectual products of what Walter Benjamin would have seen as "the age of their mechanical reproduction" (I refer to Benjamin's famous essay available in the collection Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt [New York: Schocken Books, 1969], 217-51). Kagel has remained articulately informative throughout almost five decades of creativity. The quintessence of this creativity is to be found not merely in the creations themselves, but in Kagel's own articulate rationalization and championship of them. Already in 1980, two volumes of writings by and about Kagel were compiled by Dieter Schnebel and Werner Kluppelholz, grouping their contents in the style of an encyclopedic handbook and in the spirit of an opus summum. A decade later, following upon a mass of publication by both Kagel and his commentators, the two aforelisted volumes appear from the combined presses of Schott/Piper and from DuMont Buchverlag respectively.

Worte uber Musik, which first appeared in 1991, is an anthology of conversations, essays, occasional addresses, and Horspiele (radio plays or quasi-documentaries), covering in all seventeen literary items, chosen from the composer's voluminous literary publications since 1980. The first six items, grouped under the single rubric "Gespratche," comprise three representing the composer's aesthetic position with respect to the works Die Erschopfung der Welt, Aus Deutschland, and the Sankt Bach Passion; the second three take up such issues as the factors that have engendered his own music philosophy, the value of musical technique and compositional processes, and the position of composition in a climate of post-modernism. Four of these dialogues are conducted by Kagel's close friend and collaborator Werner Kluppelholz. Of the three addresses, two were delivered in Cologne, while the third, delivered during the 1989 Berliner Festwochen, allowed Kagel to offer a gloss on the historical reception of his own selected compositions, commissioned and performed mainly as cycles in Berlin. The third group comprises several occasional essays in commemoration of the Bach and Brahms tri- and sesquicentenaries, two philosophical papers, and two studies on the theory and creation of Horspiele. The anthology concludes with the texts of two Horspiele, Rrrrrr and Cecilia ausgeplundert. As a group, these seventeen literary contributions have been well chosen on grounds of accessibility and as testimony to the particular ranges of reference upon which Kagel is able to draw.

In citing Paul Valery's famous boa mot "All arts live from words," Kagel's foreword asserts that music is no exception, so that composers, in expressing themselves out of an inner necessity to do so, should not be precluded from attempting such communications. The importance of this small volume of essays lies in its articulation of a number of Kagel's most quintessential philosophical and aesthetic standpoints. In particular, the essays emphasize his attitude to the nature of music history, to tradition, to Rezeptionsgeschichte, and to the seminal influence of particular composers, genres, styles, techniques, and concepts. Kagel seeks to present not merely himself as the composer and provocateur of creative impulses and examples, but as a historian of ideas within the creative and reproductive arts, articulating his own ontology. His own account of the emergence of his stand is offered for example in the conversation piece with Dieter Rexroth, "Wer von uns allen wird daruber berichten konnen?" (Who among us all would be able to report thereon?). In this contribution, Kagel accounts for his own background, the Argentinian milieu and German professional education in the course of which his ideas took shape and were in turn, to take shape across the compositions leading towards his Anagram of 1957. From the very outset, Kagel's own development was that of the multidisciplinary master of symbiosis, straddling his own musical, visual, and literary experiences--pinpointing, for example, the seminality for him of Franz Kafka, William Faulkner, James Joyce, and the surrealists, all joined with the inspiration of the Second Viennese School. An enriched panorama of these early years can be obtained through combining the conversations with Rexroth in Worte uber Musik and with Kluppelholz in Kagel/1991 with Michael Gielen and Juan Allende Blin's essay "Mauricio Kagel and Anagrama" in the latter volume. Kagel thus also viewed his practices as composer from various vantage points, including those of the historical, ethnographic, and systematic disciplines and epistemologies of musicology, but with a perceptive recognition of subtleties and ambiguities of sociological issues, as they impinge upon the stages of the cyclic process of creativity, production, recreation, reception, and influence generating new creativity. In the same sense, tradition, or rather a plurality of traditions, poses its own problems, not merely those intrinsic to tradition itself, but rather the involvement of human forces in the shaping, direction, and governance of traditions. For example, a compositional model cannot be viewed as independent of its social or cultural context. "It is impossible to compose," Kagel asserts, "without presenting connections or relationships. Composition is actually at the same time a programme or outline in which a decision is made favouring one particular music while simultaneously excluding others. There was simply no alternative to the continuing confrontation with that which was." In that sense, all music is music about music. The problem of governance and transmission of tradition was a philosophical factor Kagel encountered and sought to elucidate in explaining the creation of the Beethoven film Ludwig van. In the essay, "Die missbrauchte Empfindsamkeit: Johannes Brahms zum 150. Geburtstag," containing a brief contemplation of Arnold Schoenberg's essay "Brahms the Progressive," Kagel maintains his earlier point of view in the comment, "An essential aspect of the decision to compose is the inescapable necessity to draw from the consequences of an immediately foregoing music. There are no eternally applicable rules as to how right or wrong is the decision of a composer to be in conflict with his immediate predecessors or on the other hand to develop further those syntactic properties which had already been shaped by others!" (Worte uber Musik, p. 176).

While admitting that Brahms left no theoretical writings, Kagel's study of his documented conversations with or letters to Theodor Bilroth, Max Kalbeck, or Eusebius Mandiczewsky, as well as Brahms's own assembly and publication of earlier music, generated the ideas for the sesquicentennial tribute, and the adoption of Brahms's Variation and Fugue on a Theme of Handel for Kagel's own Variations without Fugue for orchestra. Important for Kagel was Brahm's flexibility in the handling of major and minor relationships, which through the introduction of modal turns followed a centripetal path, a further distancing from the point of tonal resolution. Equally noteworthy was Brahms's enunciation of an aesthetic position: "Komposition ist die Organisation disparater Elemente"--a stand also apparently acclaimed by Edgard Varese.

The essay, "An Gott zweifeln--an Bach glauben," a philosophical programmatic tract to emerge in association with Kagel's preparation of the Sankt Bach Passion, introduces issues that Kagel perceives as aesthetic discussion points--points that could also be invoked in consideration of several other compositions, such as Die Erschopfung der Welt or the shorter pieces Chorbuch, Rezitative fur singende Cembalisten and General-bass. In his search for the quintessential in Bach, Kagel pinpoints the dialectical balance between the often immediately apparent symmetries and the frequently concealed asymmetries, in which logical functionality is constantly in need of subjective direction and replenishment. Moreover, the phenomenal aspect in the relationship of Bach to subsequent composer generations is that the diversity of styles and idioms represented repeatedly find in Bach the proof for the historical necessity of their own theoretical deliberations in the development of new foundations for technical skills and stylistic renewal. In this essay as in several other studies, Kagel finds continued occasion to stress other interdisciplinary factors in the shaping of form and content, such as those of emblematic aesthetics in seventeenth-century poetry or the stimulation derived from numerological speculation. The inclusion of two papers presented in association with the Cologne Philharmonic enables Kagel to return to those issues lying at the center of his music philosophy: social organization and the propagation of music in the cultural community, emphasizing the sociality of performance, stages of reception, and the influence of historical location and evaluation.

Essential to the understanding of Kagel, the champion of total performance and theater, are his discussions of two representative Horspiel texts in their introductory or concluding commentaries. Kagel's techniques and practices as an author of Horspiele have been outlined in his own literary, sonic media, and film productions such as Kleines Organon des Horspielmachens, which he coauthored with Klaus Schoning. Kagel investigates a possible theory of the Horspiel, involving such issues as sound and sound effects, microphone, text, script and dramaturgy, segments, cuts, and pauses. The shape and direction of Horspiele are able to employ a series of media technologies, such as talkback radio, special categories of sound synthesis, as well as numerous forms of verbalization, phonetic devices, and the resources of stereophony. Thus Kagel's Horspiele represent, together with his film and visual media productions, an important proportion of his total creative activity.

Kluppelholz's Kagell 1991 is divided into five parts, the first of which is an extended dialogue between Kagel and the editor. The second section, best viewed as contributions to a biography of the composer, comprises a conversation between the editor and Michael Gielen, followed by fourteen essays, various contributions, aphorisms, and verses shedding light on Kagel's background and emergence as a multidisciplinary, creative personality. The third section comprises twelve essays discussing selected works of Kagel from such perspectives as the sources, compositional processes (whether in analytical or synthetic terms), practical execution and performance, and reception. The large fourth section reproduces the complete librettos for Die Erschopfung der Welt, Aus Deutschland, and the Sankt Bach Passion. The final section offers lists of first performances, discography, filmography, publications by Kagel, exhibitions, prizes and honors, and bibliography -- all covering the decade 1981-91. Such a well-documented, substantial miscellany, reflecting the composer's activities within only a decade, can thus be viewed not merely as a fundamental handbook servicing subsequent research into Kagel and his music, but also a major contribution to the sources of late twentieth-century music historiography, The twenty-six essays comprising the second and third portions of the volume, some more in the nature of occasional tributes, others seeking to offer penetrating insights into their areas of investigation, are contributions of variable substance and significance.

The initial discussion with Kluppelholz, apparently recorded over several days, enabled Kagel to provide further illuminating information and comments upon his own background, heritage, and early development, including what could be learned from his own early experiences as an assistant chorus master. In the course of this contribution, he expresses interest in the questions of patronage and sponsorship, especially the difficulties faced by many composers in obtaining later productions after the initial first performances of their works. Repetitions are less the confirmation of success than an appeal to the community of entrepreneurs, performers, and the public, that a particular composition is staking its claim to necessity and durability. The reasons why the works of a particular composer evoke varying levels of response are often explained through circumstances in which extramusical motives and factors outweigh those of legitimate necessity.

The conversation includes some of Kagel's most insightful remarks, such as: "Musical works are terminal; indeed the limitation of their duration is in itself a spiritual challenge; what is more, the feeling for sonic time is constantly changing within us. No one has ever attained a metaphysical eternity from interminable forms; on the contrary, with great music the absoluteness of the moment is essential". As qualification of this statement Kagel maintains that, in Western tonal music, forms have increasingly focused on the nature of the "work" as a quest for compositional solutions. The conversation also touches upon Kagel's conception of music theater and on aspects of serialism, notably his theory on an "infinitely continuous tone row," a construct that he has been evolving from about 1960.

The series of studies on biographical sources, including the conversation with Michael Gielen, "Aus Deutschland, Argentinien," offers new information on Kagel's early career profiled against the background of Gielen's own development, thereafter shedding light upon the special difficulties involved in Kagel's music, especially such stage works as Aus Deutschland: Eine Liederoper. Juan Allende-Blin's "Mauricio Kagel und Anagrama" combines both biographical and analytical investigations, the former offering information on Kagel's initial cultural milieu, that of Buenos Aires before and around 1950, the latter with the origins, historical context, sources, and formal shaping of Kagel's Anagram (1955-56) -- the composition that marked such a significant breakthrough for him as a composer, when he was already exploring cabalistic thought. Otto Tomek's "Ein Brief" offers interesting personal reminiscences of Kagal, as a rule in association with performances of specific works in Darmstadt, Cologne, Donaueschingen, and Stuttgart, in which both were associated. Susanne Hitschold and Karl Rarichs provide a valuable account, outlining the very specific character of Kagel's relationship to his publisher. Alexander Ivashkin's essay "Musik als grobe Buhne" is a short but penetrating discussion arising from such Kagelian topoi as the "theatricalization of music" and the "musicalization of the theater." In the course of this essay, Ivashkin, in search of a holistic view of the Kagel ethos, combines personal observation with musical insight and the psychology of reception. Ivashkin reports how Kagel, in order to avoid deadlocks in discussions of form and structure, coined the term "decomposition" in reference to the evaluation of early musics. The elements -- theme, genre, texture, characteristic rhythm and shape of melody -- Kagel emancipates from their commonplace meanings, interpreting them afresh and relating them to movement, pantomime, words, vocalization, gesture, and light, transforming them into symbols and symptoms of another style, signifying another epoch, another view of the world, another day-to-day reality. Thus Ivashkin's posited view of Kagel encapsulates a range of interdisciplinary influence and comparative literary impulses common to the composer and himself from Heinrich Boll to Jacques Derrida. "Bizzarie di vari strumenti musicali" is the title of Otto Mensink's discussion of Kagel's Zwei-mann-Orchester, in which the author seeks to discover in Kagel's work arresting parallels to Bracelli's "Bizzari de varie figure," a series of mannerist etchings from 1624. The Netherlandish conductor and composer Reinbert de Leeuw, taking his ideas from the author Harry Mulisch (whose De Compositie van de Wereld [The composition of the world] describes the octave as a paradox of nature), presents Kagel's Aus Deutschland as offering the dualistic experience of mirror and paradox: "Kagel's overall production is in no way singularly approachable; it never transmits a single meaning, without at the same time implying that everything could be always different. The method of employing paradox and paradoxical stylistic means is a source for the perplexingly fascinating character of Kagel's 'Liedoper' in which reality presents itself as illusion, and illusion as reality". The process of mounting and interpreting a major work of Kagel as a chronologically progressive integrative growth process has been outlined in Michael Schafermeyer's rehearsal notes for the Horspiel, Nach einer Lekture von Orwell (1984), an account pinpointing not only Kagel's remarkable didactic skill, but also his penetrating technical command of electronic presentation, all experience graphically traced across a production period of twenty-three days. Hans Peter Jahn's "Anlass und Absicht: Einige Bemerkungen zu Mauricio Kagel's 'Fragende Ode for Doppelchor, Blaser und Schlagzeug'" (a setting of the French Revolutionary slogan "Liberte, Egalite, and Fraternie" translated into 30 different languages). Kagel's objective was to illuminate the hollowness of such commemorations as those in 1980, when they represent ideals still unattained, if not indeed unattainable, for many societies. Jahn briefly outlines the purpose of the text, provides a short analytical synopsis of the ten parts comprising the work, and outlines in conclusion the work's main components and processes. Marianne Kesting's "Imaginare Musik oder Musikalisches Theater der Verhinderung" takes as its point of departure the Kagelian dualism "musicalization of the theatre, theatricalization of music." Kagel's wide range of inventive materials, his remarkable flair for the ironic and satirical, is effectively and historically illustrated when posited alongside such caricaturists as J. J. Grandville, Wilhelm Busch, and Antonin Artaud, especially the latter's advocacy of a new form of interaction between the purely visual and purely musical stages. One of the themes to emerge here is the so-called "frustration" of music. This is related to the ideal of an imaginary theater, a concept that preoccupied E. T. A. Hoffmann, and involves an extensive selection of Kagel's works commencing with Phonophonie (1963) and including the film SOLO (1969).

Commencing with a discussion on Kagel's 4 Piezas para Piano (1954), Aloys Kontarsky briefly surveys the composer's music for keyboard, whether in a traditional solo capacity, as member of a larger ensemble, or within the context of Horpsiele or theater pieces. As important stations in Kagel's approach to keyboard music, Kontarsky discusses Transcision II fur Klavier, Schlagzeug, und zwei Tonbander, a work seen as embodying many of the heterogeneous streams in keyboard music before 1960. Later keyboard composition is presented in such contexts as earlier compositional models, musical quotation, and problem of execution. Wieland Reich's "Bachianas Kagelianas," viewing the Sankt Bach Passion as the opus summum of Kagel's creative development until 1985, emphasizes the various techniques developed by the composer up to that time, spotlighting the notion of "serielle Tonalitat." The evolution of Kagel's harmonic techniques is traced across a series of works from Programm (1972) through Gegenstimmen, Recitativarie, Mutation, Variationen ohne Fuge, and Chorbuch to the Passion. The study also takes up issues such as Kagel's reception of Schoenberg and his concept of music as a sonic interpretation of history.

Taking as its point of departure a well-chosen quotation concluding "a mask, that's what it was, that I needed" from Umberto Eco, Karl-Heinz Zarius's essay, "Danse Macabre," contemplates Kagel's spoofing and clownery, whether in sonic or in visual terms, for this is the intentional disfigurement yet interlacing of the comic, grotesque, and tragic elements of Kagel's allegory. Reinhard Schulz, in his essay "Die Gesetze des Alltaglichen," again spotlights the ultimate social nature and sociality of Kagel's music. Other contributions include Dieter Schnebel's aphorisms "Zeitfragen" and Gerd Sacher's aesthetic meditations as a performer on the Improvisation ajoutee. Clytus Gottwald's essay, "Hallelujah," on the theory of communicative action, posits an explanation of the performance of this work in light of sociological theory from Emile Durkheim to George Mead as well as Jurgen Habermas.

In combination, these two books admirably demonstrate the deeply humane yet deceptively dialectical character of Kagel's spiritual and creative persona. From his earliest championship of a freedom of musical expression, implicitly proscribed in an era of Peronista-favored neoclassicism in Argentina, to his challenging and questioning the philosophies of Western cultural history through its musical and other artistic manifestations, Kagel emerges as a critically and sonically interpretative historian of ideas. Both volumes are significant contributions to Kagel research, the first also serving as a valuable introductory study for those as yet unfamiliar with the composer but ready to explore the mind, ethos, and persona behind the music.

ANDREW D. McCREDIE University of Adelaide
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Author:McCredie, Andrew D.
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1994
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