Kryštof MAŘATKA (b.1972)
Praharphona Sextet (2009) [25:11] ą
Hypnózy (2006) [25:25] ˛
Sandrine Chatron (harp) ą
Ensemble Calliopée/Kryštof Mařatka (director˛)
rec. January 2009 (Hypnózy) and May 2010 (Praharphona Sextet), Paris Conservatoire
DUX 0784 [52:34]
It has been a very long time since I have heard music so alien to my sense of what music should be about. This extends to the cryptogrammatic elements over which Czech-born composer Kryštof Mařatka lavishes such precision in the chamber version of his Harp Concerto, here - therefore - called Praharphona Sextet. The cryptogram question is too convoluted to get into, and seems to me as relevant as Eliot’s mucking about in the notes to The Waste Land. The purpose is twofold; to bamboozle and belittle. To bamboozle through crypto-profundity and obscurantism, and to belittle through the certain knowledge that your reader, or listener, could not possibly understand what you’re going on about – and will thus feel inferior and excluded.
Each movement of the sextet carries a bizarre series of words, letters, symbols and the like, all supposedly related to Prague, the city where the composer was born. We are perhaps aided thus to chart the music’s progress, or narrative, to understand where Charles University, or Kafka, or defenestration or the Jewish Quarter, or ‘Re-Catholicism’, or whatever, appear in the course of these movements. Of course they do no such thing. The pitchless, weird, scattered wisps of music, the off-colour percussion, and diffuse sense of direction are narrative-free. There are moments of reprieve; bell chimes, and an urgent rhythmic section – apparently to do with thoughts of the Czechoslovak state tourist office, C(edok, in authoritarian days. But it seems rather excessive to append what is called in Harry Halbreich’s somewhat collaborationist notes ‘obtuse goose stepping’, to a mere travel agency. To an army, maybe, but not a travel agency, surely. The anti-Communist dig is a humbug here.
Hypnózy is a 2006 Wind Quintet, divided into what the composer calls ‘sittings’ or ‘sessions’ - what you and I might call ‘movements’. There are five of them, whatever they are. At least there are no fatuous obscurities to divert one from the music pure and simple. There is some grumpy fanfare-like brass writing, fast tonguing flute, moments that sound vaguely Middle Eastern; others that remind one of the QE2 in the fog. I am astonished at the dedication of the musicians, who receive a solid round of applause from the student audience at the Paris Conservatoire.
The setting is appropriate. Because in the end, let’s face it, this is music for academics and other musicians. It’s not for audiences. For Halbreich, who has written wonderful books – not least on Honegger – to call Mařatka ‘a free creator in the wake of his great predecessor Leoš Janác(ek’ is breathtaking, albeit a sly piece of publicity. What that fierce Moravian Nationalist and anti-Germanic Russophile would make of Mařatka is probably best left unguessed.
Jonathan Woolf
Music for academics and other musicians; not for audiences.