Between Science, Music and Politics
Abstract of the lecture
I began to learn the piano at the age of 14 and also immediately to compose music. At the same time, through my fascination with the structural representation of complex compounds, I developed a strong interest in organic chemistry. Between the age of 15 and 18, I focused mainly on mathematics and subsequently passed the entrance examination in mathematics and physics at the University of Cluj (Kolozsvár). However, in 1941, I was refused admission because, in Hungary, Jews were bound by a numerus clausus. Fortunately, I was accepted to study music theory and composition at the conservatory of the same city.
My studies were interrupted by the war: I was called up for forced labor in the Hungarian army and my family was deported to concentration camps, from which only my mother survived.
After the war, instead of returning to science, I went to Budapest to study composition at the Music Academy, where, in 1950, I was appointed teacher for harmony and counterpoint. After having escaped the Nazi oppression, the whole of Eastern Europe was now tortured by another terrorist system, Soviet communism. This kind of life was unbearable to me and therefore, after the Hungarian revolution was crushed by the Soviet army in 1956, I fled to Austria. From Vienna I went to Cologne, where I was able to learn the techniques used for creating electronic music. However, I was soon disillusioned by the technical limitations and decided instead to apply these techniques to multilayered orchestral and vocal music.
Thus, in the late fifties, I developed the technique of "micropolyphony" in my large orchestra works "Apparitions" and "Atmosphères," as well as later in the "Requiem" (1965). During those years, I also composed the "phonetic" pieces for singers and chamber ensemble, "Aventures" and "Nouvelles Aventures." Concentrating on multilayered rhythmic structures, which I had applied in the "Poème Symphonique" for 100 metronomes (1962), in "Continuum" for harpsichord (1968), and in the "Three Pieces for Two Pianos" (1976), I developed a new kind of rhythmic order in the Studies for piano and the Piano Concerto (1985 - 2001). I also used non - tempered harmonies, such as in my "Hamburg Concerto" (1999), which includes an ensemble of five natural horns.
I was also a teacher for most of my life, not only in Budapest in the fifties, but in Stockholm as well from 1961 to 1972, at Stanford University in 1972 and finally in Hamburg from 1973 to 1989.