Winner of the 2012 Composition Award: Beat Furrer

Beat Furrer (*1954), one of the most distinguished and prominent contemporary composers, is the recipient of the 2012 Erste Bank Composition Award. Imbued with eminent drama, his music takes us to the core of sound, mediating in a subtle and compelling manner between contrasting spheres. His new work for bass flute and double bass will premiere on 3 November 2012, at a portrait concert, performed by Eva Furrer and Uli Fussenegger as part of the  WIEN MODERN festival.

Portrait Beat Furrer

He ranks among the most important contemporary music dramatists and narrators. Yet in the case of Beat Furrer, who is regarded as one of the most sought-after composers of his time, the concept of drama and narrative cannot be understood in the usual sense of the word. Much rather, his special approach is best explained by two of his own statements. “The fading away of each sound is already a drama in itself”, Furrer once said. This means that the dramatic is not restricted to vigorous outbursts and highly charged crescendos – although both exist in his music as well.

Equally important in Furrer’s aesthetics, however, is the suspense of the silent, the inner creation of sound and the microscopic changes taking place there, which the composer subtly turns inside out to startling effect. The fading away of a sound takes its time until it leads into silence. And the latter occupies its own place in Furrer’s work, just like phases of endurance, reflection and rigidity. It is in this aesthetic system of coordinates where the composer’s dramatic musical work takes place. Furrer himself considers this as “narrating” – which, however, he once qualified in an interview about his music theatre piece Begehren (“Desire”): “I am more interested in finding theatrical figures that I project into the present in my imagination, and in the question of who they could actually be.”

Thus, Furrer is less interested in rendering a linear action, than in issues regarding the identity of figures, which he often (re)invents on the basis of classical texts, but always conceives from a contemporary perspective. His music theatre pieces (to date: Die Blinden [“The Blind”], Narcissus, Begehren [“Desire”], Invocation, Fama and Wüstenbuch [“Desert Book”]) cannot be viewed in isolation from his concert music. They are closely linked through their creative process, especially since the composer considers his work as a permanent process of development, and subsequently elements of existing compositions often live on in others.

An even more significant aspect is the common aesthetics of the two genres, playing an important role both in Furrer’s works for the concert hall and music theatre: The composer always tries to emphasize the “spoken element” in the instruments as strongly as he adds a level of noise to the sound of a voice. This results in points of contact between different spheres on an additional level. Among other elements, they are connected through Furrer’s focus on the musical space, some parts resounding from a great distance, others radiating utmost presence and immediacy. Furrer’s music simultaneously takes us to the core of sound and human existence.

Text: Daniel Ender

About the Music

Beat Furrer’s oeuvre includes several masterpieces for orchestra and other complex scores for large ensembles. Yet, the power of his art also lies in his ability to achieve an equally great complexity with the most minimal instrumentation. In addition to works for solo instruments and chamber music, are a number of duets that also represent a very special aspect of Furrer’s aesthetics: Here, the composer pursues the principle of dialogue, often in the sense of (mutual) communication, but also in the negative sense of failed communication. At the same time, he increasingly renders musical ideas of the echo and the convergence of contrasting positions.

This is particularly exciting in works with very different instrumentation; in recent years, for example, Lotófagos [“The Lotus Eaters”] for soprano and double bass. The composer also likes to use instruments from various families with extreme ranges, illuminating unusual aspects, especially in the case of very low instruments by extracting oscillating noise sounds and overtones in high frequency range.

Furrer’s new work for bass flute and double bass, which will premiere on 3 November 2012, at a portrait concert, performed by Eva Furrer and Uli Fussenegger as part of the WIEN MODERN festival, is a preliminary study for a music theatre work-in-progress. It promises to take up some of the afore-mentioned central themes that run like threads through Furrer’s oeuvre, spinning them anew.