Saturday, November 1, 2008

Mauricio Kagel (1931-2008) / Mark Alburger

Mauricio Kagel (December 24, 1931 - September 18, 2008) was born into a Jewish family which fled from Russia in the 1920's. He studied music, history of literature, and philosophy at the University of Buenos Aires.

In 1957, he came as a scholar to Cologne, Germany, where he lived until his death. From 1960 he taught at the International Summer School at Darmstadt.

Kagel taught at the State University of New York at Buffalo from 1964 to 1965 as Slee Professor of music theory and at the Berlin Film and Television Academy as a visiting lecturer. He served as director of courses for new music in Gothenburg and Cologne.

Many of his pieces give specific theatrical instructions to the performers, such as to adopt certain facial expressions while playing, to make their stage entrances in a particular way, and to physically interact with other performers. His work has often been compared to the Theatre of the Absurd, including such pieces as Match (1966), a tennis game for cellists with a percussionist as umpire.

In the radio play Ein Aufnahmezustand (1969), the incidents surrounding the recording of a radio play turn out to be the work itself .

Kagel also made films, including Ludwig van (1970), a critical interrogation of the uses of Beethoven's music made during the bicentenary of the elder composer's birth. In it, a reproduction of a Beethoven composing studio is seen, as part of a fictive visit of the Beethovenhaus in Bonn. Everything in it is papered with sheet music of Ludwig's pieces. The soundtrack of the film is a piano playing the music as it appears in each shot. Because the music has been wrapped around curves and edges, it is somewhat distorted, but recognizable exceprts can still be heard. In other parts, the film contains parodies of radio or TV broadcasts connected with the Beethoven Year 1770.

Kagel later turned the film into a composition which could be performed without the film -- the score consists of close-ups of various areas of the studio, which are to be interpreted by performer[s].

Staatstheater (1970) also demonstrates Kagel's absurdist tendency. The work is described as a "ballet for non-dancers," though in many ways it more resembles an opera, with musical instruments including chamber pots and enema equipment. In the spirit of Ein Aufnahmezustand, as Staatstheater progresses, the piece itself, as well as opera and ballet become its subject matter.

Other pieces include Con Voce (With Voice) (1972), where a masked trio silently mimes playing instruments, and Match (1966), a tennis game for cellists with a percussionist as umpire.

He was professor for new music theatre at the Cologne Conservatory from 1974 to 1997.

Kagel also wrote a large number of more conventional pieces, including music for orchestra, chamber ensembles, and films.