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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Maurico Kagel Died the Other Day

I can't pretend to know much about the music of Mauricio Kagel, but at least one performance of his music was very important to me. JoJo and I went to see the Carnegie premiere of Kgael's crazy oratorio Abduction at the Concert Hall not too long after we met—god, eight years ago?—and for all its hokey moments, it was a thrill. Metadrama in the concert-hall! (Simulated) explosions! You can read Paul Griffiths on the piece here. Kagel studied English and American literature under no less an authority than Jorge Luis Borges, and his music might be heard as an attempt to do for music what Borges did for words. True, the words themselves in Entf├╝hrung im Konzertsaal left something to be desired—maybe it worked better in German?—but conceptually and musically, it was a buzz. The other piece on the program was a kick in the pants as well: Mitternachtsst├╝k(sic), a suitably bizarre choral setting of excerpts from Robert Schumann's unrealized sketches for a truly demented gothic-horror opera libretto. In his program notes, Kagel quoted admiringly from other mysterious fragments from Schumann's diaries, including one motto—opera without words—that has lingered in my imagination ever since. I mean, I guess it also happens to be the name of a few of those opera-for-dummies series of easily digested classical CDs, but what I mean is that it rings true for me in the way that only a myth rings true—like Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk or Bazin's mythe du cinema total—as an unrealizable principle towards which to aspire. I think Kagel aspired to it, in a sense, and came as close to realizing it as I've ever heard, with his metadramas and antidramas, whole histories and narratives built into the music itself, and "the music itself" expanded into realms undreamed of. (The photo above is a still from his film Ludwig Van, just out on DVD; the soundtrack to this scene is the piano music of Beethoven played off the surface of the objects in this room as the camera pans across them.) His influence will be felt for decades—and so will, every bit as much, his absence.

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