Art, a game as serious as children’s games, relieves men from their servile subjection towards reality and teaches a kind of creativity which is a free construction of their own personalities.
It is after having observed children and their creative playing, that Kurtag following his composing crisis of the ‘70s, began composing Jatekok: “I got the idea from children who were spontaneously playing an instrument, children who still saw the piano simply as a toy. They try to touch it, to caress it, they attack it and let their fingers run along the keyboard […] pure pleasure in the act of playing, joy of daring, fast movements along the whole keyboard instead of a clumsy reading of notes and a laborious solfege”.
If Kurtag was able to rediscover his creativity through his refound childhood, on the contrary Mozart never had the chance of being a child in the true sense of the word: he was already sitting at a piano at the age of three, at four he was able to play small pieces, at five even composing, an authentic child prodigy constantly involved in practicing and performing. But this was the price to be paid for being a child in the highest possible sense of the word. He is a child, a young boy, an eternal adolescent who talks to us through his music. His undeniablility in practical matters (especially financial ones) and his playful extravagances in letters and in conversations until the very end certainly gave rise to this characterization. But if we really want to see the child in him, we need to go much deeper and to consider that this man -a true master of his art- never burdened his audience with his technical and stylistic conquests: he just let them take part in his free game. Just like a child, he is able to talk to us laughing and crying at the same time.
“His ten fingers run along the keyboard up and down like ants escaping from their destroyed nest…”: as the organist Norbert Lehmann vividly reported after having witnessed a stunning Mozart improvisation.
Improvisation and spontaneity link Kurtag’s pieces and Mozart’s Variations. Performing Kurtag’s Games requires a great sense of freedom and drive, leaving ample room for free declamations and his typical parlando rubato and all the other distinctive features of improvisation.
Another aspect that links the two composers is their fragmentary character: both Kurtag’s Games and Mozart’s Variations seem to be complete and yet unfinished at the same time. In Mozart, at the end of each Variation you have the feeling of conclusion and of opening towards a new improvisation/experimentation at the same time. Equally, Kurtag’s miniatures are complete in their form but incomplete in their substance; therefore, when listening to them, you have the feeling that at the end of each piece, the suite of pieces is finished and at the same you feel the opposite, that after each piece there may follow another and another and so on.
Jatekok is not just an anthology of Kurtag’s style and language, it is a living organism; it is an Open Work, a work-in-progress constantly growing and which loans itself to be paired with other pieces of music. Kurtag himself plays transcriptions by Bach and selections from his Games in public.