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Curtis Takes On The Forbiddingly Dense Music of the Darmstadt Composers

Composer Henri Pousseur, pianist David Tudor, music critic and theorist Heinz-Klaus Metzger, composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and composer Pierre Boulez in Darmstadt, 1956.

The Curtis Institute of Music is in the midst of an all-school, all-year project for 2015/2016 devoted to avant-garde music that Philadelphians often avoided when it was new 50 years ago - works by the so-called "Darmstadt" composers. The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns asks just how well the music has aged.???

David Patrick Stearns: Darmstadt. Even the name sounds scary. Named for summer think-tank sessions in the 1950s and '60s, the Darmstadt composers, who were from all over Europe, were radical, mathematical, and believed that their way was the only way. And now that we know that's not true???

David Ludwig: I think it's important to explore what you are not, and it's important to explore where you've not been.??

DPS: That's Curtis Institute faculty composer David Ludwig talking about why [Curtis], a school that has long championed American composers, is looking at forbiddingly dense music by Boulez, Stockhausen, Ligeti - in a series of concerts showing what led up to it, and where it went. ?

Amid the ruins of two world wars, the musical past was not to be re-built, but abandoned. Maybe the music isn't as abstract as it once seemed, starting with that bête noir, Arnold Schoenberg, in this recent Curtis performance.

DL: We did Pierrot Lunaire this year and it was so expressive and so romantic and over the top, and actually so much more effective.??

DPS: You can still drive yourself crazy wondering how this music is made, but that's not the point.??

DL: The way of telling the story changes. That's why so many questions are asked and not answered. ??

DPS: So it's an experience without a set conclusion, which puts this 20th-century music much more in step with our increasingly uncertain 21st century.

Learn more about the Darmstadt school and the Curtis year-long project here.