Although the performance of a complete work by a particular composer for a single cast, whether in one or several evenings, is quite common on world stages, it is rather rare in the Czech Republic. However, the Lieder Company Prague decided to commemorate the significant anniversary of the birth of two composers – the Czech composer Viktor Kalabis and the Hungarian composer György Ligeti – by presenting their complete song works in one evening.
The combination of these two composers may seem unexpected, as their musical aesthetics differ considerably in their key works. While Kalabis was largely based on a style of neoclassicism, which was highly chromaticised and achieved a more expressive style in his mature works, Ligeti’s best-known work is more of a timbral nature. Their song works, however, are significantly out of these classifications, although hints are understandably evident.
Both authors were born in 1923 and died in 2006. Their early songwriting originated in virtually the same post-war years and bears links to national poets, folk poetry and folklore. Viktor Kalabis’s early cycle Lessons from the Son, Op. 1 was composed while he was still a student at the conservatory to poems by František Halas. The cycle has never been published in print and is therefore not performed at all. Ligeti’s early cycle Három Weöres-dal (Three Songs on Weöres) was also composed in 1946-47 and is the only one from this early period that he had published in print during his lifetime. Kalabis composed his next cycle, Bird Weddings, Op. 5, almost immediately afterwards (1949), to folk texts with bird themes, and although the title might make it appear to be a children’s cycle, the opposite is true. Not only does it place high demands on the performers, its expressive aspect is also more serious and deals in a figurative (almost fable-like) way with love and relationships. Ligeti’s 1952 cycle Öt Arany-dal (Five Songs on Arany) is very similar in theme and folkloric stylisation.
Both composers departed from the genre of chamber song in the 1950s in a very identical way. It was not until 1974 that Kalabis’s impressive cycle Five Romantic Songs of Love, Op. 38, set to poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, was written. This exists in two versions – with string orchestra accompaniment and piano accompaniment. The latter is considerably more intimate and gives the performers greater scope for expressive and dynamic nuance. After a long hiatus, Kalabis returned to the song in 1988-89 and gave birth to his last cycle, Carousel of Life, Op. 70, which is a clear reflection of his attitudes towards the political as well as cultural situation of the time. Not only does he choose very serious, almost philosophical poems by Rilke, the stylisation of the vocal and piano part is also strongly expressive, almost merciless, which gives the cycle an almost tragic feel. This work is also out of print and is not often performed because of its extreme difficulty.
Ligeti also returned to songwriting for the last time in 1989, when he composed a highly original independent song Der Sommer to a poem by Friedrich Hölderlin. This is more serious in expression and music than his early work. From this point of view, there is an interesting coincidence in the inclination of both authors towards the German classics and in the thematic consideration.
Songs by Viktor Kalabis and György Ligeti will be performed by leading Czech singers: soprano Jana Sibera, last year’s winner of the Thalia Award, tenor Ondřej Holub and baritones Roman Janál and Vojtěch Šembera. The piano parts will be performed by pianists Jan Dušek and Bohumír Stehlík.
The concert will take place on Sunday 25 June at 7.30 pm in the Great Hall of the New Town Hall in Prague.