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Though Kurt Schwertsik’s 85th birthday concert celebrations in Vienna in the spring were COVID-closure casualties, recent months have seen performances conducted by Dennis Russell Davies and Marin Alsop, a new book published and a recording of his piano music.

The 85th birthday of Kurt Schwertsik has been marked by a revealing new book, collecting together his thoughts on “what & how do you learn?” (was & wie lernt man?), alongside a new recording of his piano works on the Gramola label performed by Aya Klebahn, and performances of his orchestral music in Austria and beyond.

The book, published by Musikzeit Edition and designed by Andrea Neuwrith, covers crucial aspects in Kurt Schwertsik’s years of music development. The composer looks back at his origins and his years of study with the best teachers in his subject, who were awake both to earlier music and the diversity of today's world. Schwertsik shows a refreshingly light sense of mercurial thinking. Although a student of Stockhausen, he turned from serialism towards a new tonality. While music may seek to entertain the listener, these ‘love dreams’ take a first step towards an ‘alternative’ modern culture.

As Der Standard noted in a birthday tribute article, “the book presents the charming character of a contemporary composer whose interests and concerns extend far beyond his field of work. There are ideas even about the entire cosmos. Schwertsik also shares his deep closeness to nature as well as his concern for the ecological and political climate… In addition to introductions to his works and reflective texts, the book also contains a cycle of poems that may refer to the agony of composing, with the title “I can’t do it! The dark side of enlightenment & how I felt my way through”.

> Further information on the new book

The new recording of Schwertsik’s piano works by Aya Klebahn provides a companion to the recently published Boosey & Hawkes collection Albumblätter. The disc ends at the beginning with Schwertsik’s Eden-Bar Seefeld, dating from his early Darmstadt years and premiered in 1961 by the composer at the bar of the title within a Fluxus event. The Cinq Nocturnes are transitional as the composer was moving from Stockhausen’s strictures towards a new tonality, with the flexibility to be both tender and temperamental. The core of the recording is the intimate cycle of fourteen Albumblätter (Album Leaves), each taking the form of a personalised diary entry. The Fantasia & Fuga, composed for Angela Hewitt’s Bach Book in 2010, is the most ambitious and contrapuntal of his keyboard works, while the recent Am Morgen vor der Reise offers a further album leaf.

> Buy the piano works album on Amazon
> Buy the Boosey & Hawkes piano collection from our online shop

Concerts planned earlier this year to celebrate Schwertsik’s 85th, with chamber and orchestral works at the Konzerthaus and Musikverein in his home city of Vienna, sadly fell victim to COVID closures. This made it welcome that the autumn has been able to see a range of Schwertsik performances, launched with Marin Alsop conducting Sinfonia-Sinfonietta in a livestream by the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna in September. Dennis Russell Davies gave the first performance of a newly extended version of Herr K. entdeckt Amerika, inspired by the anti-hero of Kafka’s ‘comic’ novel, with the Brno Philharmonic at the start of October. Davies is also on the rostrum with the Brucknerhaus Orchestra in Linz on 4 November with Schwertsik’s Violin Concerto No.1 featuring Benjamin Herzl as soloist.

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