Peter Durkó (*1972) studied first at the Béla Bartók Secondary School of Music in Budapest, then at the Budapest Liszt Academy. His teachers were Miklós Kocsár, Emil Petrovics, Sándor Balassa, Attila Bozay and Sándor Szokolay. He received his degree as a composer in 1997. In 1996 he was admitted to the Conservatoire Supérieur de Paris to study composition and musical civilization, where, having studied with Jacques Charpentier, he received a first class degree. In 2000– 2001 he took part in a post-graduate course at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He received the Benedek Istvánffy Award of the Hungarian Composers Union for two of his compositions: the Double Concerto and Mosaic for Six Bows. In 2002 he was awarded the stipend of the Corvin Chain. His compositions have regularly been performed in Hungary and abroad, occasionally with the composer performing. Awards for his compositional activity are the Zoltán Kodály Creative Scholarship (1996, 2000 and 2001), the Eötvös Scholarship (1996– 1997 and 2000), the Scholarship of the French Government (1997), and the Académie des Beaux-Arts (1999). In 2000 he received the SACEM Prize as well as the “Most Distinguished Artist” award of the IBLA Music Foundation in New York. In 2006 he was awarded the Erkel Prize Durkó, commissioned by the Budapest Saxophone Quartet, composed Kvadrosaxofonia in 2006, a through-composed piece of three and a half minutes for soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones consisting of a slow (Andante tranquillo) and a fast (Allegretto) section, rounded off by a few bars largamente broadening. The sound of the four saxophones are mostly softly blended during the piece, the parts moving in concord, but each player is given the chance to sparkle their soloistic talents for a few bars. At first glance, the two brass Monologues might appear as pieces of a series but, glancing at the score, it is clear that, apart from a few small differences, they are arrangements of the same composition. The structure and motives of the trombone (2003) and horn (2019) versions are basically identical; their tonality is also the same. Only a few small effects, honing the musical expression to the technical solutions of the given instrument, adjust both pieces truly to their instrument. Nothing proves this understanding of the particular instrumental characteristics more than the fact that the trombone version became a set piece at the trombone competition held at the Budapest Liszt Academy. The structure of the piece is similar to that of the Kvadrosaxofonia: a slow (Andante con mosso; Cantabile) and a fast (Variante; Allegro vivace) section are followed by a largamente, maestoso character thus ringing out the brass Monologues.
The tone of the two works written for brass ensemble is similar. The movements of the Quintet in Six movements (2004) and the Brass Engravings for Four Trombones (2009), which unites several short sections, take the characters of the instruments as a starting point and consciously neglect any poetic title. Concerning the characters, performers can rely only on performance directions and the character of the musical material. The Quintet, composed for the Ewald Brass Quintet, has attacca movements with alternating slow and fast tempi. Some musical affects are extremely emotional, almost as if created for the stage. This is emphasized in the score by performance markings like libero teatrale or poco più drammatico. The piece demands a high quality of chamber music making from the performers. This is true not only for the complex rhythmic patterns but also for sections where the instruments are to play without written rhythm but, according to the composer’s indication, con quasi sincronità. Brass Engravings, which was performed by the Corpus Trombone Quartet, features an extremely wide spectrum of the scale of expressions for trombones, reflecting the ample knowledge of the composer about the techniques of brass playing. The many-coloured musical material comprises militarily decisive and majestically festive tones as well as melodious, speech-like utterances and light flips.
Reflections from the Cello Concerto [Surface of the Water] (2000) is a movement for cello and piano, in which Durkó reflects on his own composition, the fourth movement of the five-movement Cello Concerto. The original is emphatically chamber-music like. This was not Durkó’s first string concerto: he also composed a Violin Concerto enriching the string repertory. The choice of instrument is not surprising since Durkó studied the violin and could apply his practical experiences as a string player to the elaboration of the solutions to the cello as well. Looking at the score of the piece, the pedal markings of the piano part are striking. The markings do not mean that the pianist is only allowed to use the pedal at these given points but it calls attention to the close harmonic unity of the sections marked in spite their wide registers, as the performers must demonstrate that they belong together. Durkó’s musical expression was characterized in the basis for this piece, the Cello Concerto, by searching for harmonic resolutions which, in addition to conveying tones of emotional content, emphasize the intellectual aspect of music.
The first of the composer’s three string quartets (1998) was written during his time in Paris. The gradually unfolding, expanding introductory
part (Andante) is followed by contrapuntal musical material (Poco più precipitando). The single-movement composition is built up of colourful characters while the structural principle of recurring motifs in varied forms and the virtuosic use of the instruments are organic to the piece throughout. The piece may derive spiritually from the creative world of Ligeti and Lutosławski. The quartet has been performed at several venues, from the Budapest Mini-Festival to London.
Mosaic for Six Bows (2005) was commissioned by the violin, viola and cello playing Bánfalvi, Bársony and Onczay father and son duos. The two-movement piece is devoid of any iconoclasms but it is still interspersed with a constructive experimental attitude. The musical material of the first movement (Andante con moto) continues in the attacca second movement (Allegretto) in varied form. Irrationally vibrant, personal intonation wedged in a calm character is in line with contemporary acoustic ideal.
Nature Music, for six-voice female choir, composed on poems by William Blake (Soft Snow; To Mrs. Ann Flaxman) and Percy Bysshe Shelley (The World’s Wanderers) was commissioned by the International Kodály Society. The three natural landscapes are philosophical character sketches at the same time. The exciting harmonic progressions, the complex rhythm and the modern effects demand high-level professionalism from the performers.
Written by Viktória Ozsvárt
translated by Kata Ittzés