Existentia was conceived as a memoriam to the great Hungarian poet Sándor Weöres (1913-89), whose work virtually everyone in Hungary encounters already in childhood. Like E.E. Cummings or Maurice Sendak, Weöres created work that appeals both to children and adults. He lived most of his life in Budapest, enduring the political and artistic oppression of the Communist era, during which time he wrote children’s verse and was a prolific translator of Chinese and Japanese texts. His interest in Eastern philosophy appears in his poetry, including the texts that inspired Bálint Karosi’s piece. Of the three sections, only the final brief section is sung; the other episodes are instrumental responses to the words. In addition to the tribute to Weöres, Existentia is a tribute to Hungary more generally, made clear in the use of the peculiarly Hungarian cimbalom as well as a folk melody. The use of folk music details is also, more obliquely, tribute to Ligeti and Bartók, and there is a direct quote (albeit perhaps obscure) of Franz Liszt.

                The three movements represent pre-birth, life, and death. Cimbalom, vibraphone, harp, and celesta form a kind of percussion continuo whose almost constant presence lends a distinctive sound to the orchestra. The first movement is a sustained, shimmering sonic field, with slowly cycling lines and harmonies and much tremolo. The second (representing life) features a constant pules and dancing energy. A folk melody that Karosi encountered on Hungarian radio is introduced here but remains incomplete until the last movement. The finale refers directly to the start of Franz Liszt’s beautiful late tone poem From the Cradle to the Grave. Suggesting that full knowledge of life comes after death, the folk tune is heard in full, and Weöres’s words (from “Post-Existentia”) are finally heard out loud.

(Program notes by Robert Kirzinger, for the BMOP premiere on January 24, 2015 at Jordan Hall) 
Boston Globe
Boston Classical Review
Boston Musical Intelligencer

Weöres Sándor: Existentia


Isten gondol öröktől fogva téged,
elméjében léted mint szikla áll.
Mi ehhez mérve habfodornyi élted?
És mit változtat rajtad a halál?

To God you are a thought for eternity, your existence a steady rock. But here your life is like the sea foam.  What could death then bring you?


Felébredek: nem az vagyok, ki voltam.
Elalszom: holnap megint más leszek.
De élve, holtan, utcán, kriptaboltban
én emlékezem és én feledek.

I wake up, I am not who I was. I fall asleep, tomorrow I will be different/someone else. But alive, dead, on the streets and in the crypt, I remember and I forget.


Nem nyughatsz addig, se halva, se élve,
míg át nem szőtted árnyad és szined
a szerelem végtelen szőttesébe, a béke aztán lesz csak a tied.

You will not rest, dead or alive until you saw your shade and color into the eternal homespun of love. Peace will only be with you then.

Featured folk tune:

(Gyimesi lassú Magyaros folk tune)
Kelet fele van egy homály
Az én rózsám allatta vár
Gyere ki rózsám alóla
Megver az esö alatta
(Haj da da da)

Ölelnélek egy óráig
Úgysem látlak már sokáig
Gyere ide jer ide hogy üljek az ölödbe
Hogy nézzek a két ragyogó szemedbe
(Haj da da da) 

A rózsamhoz elkerülek
A hegyeken fölkereslek
Minnél inkább tiltnak töled
Annál inkább szólok véled
(Haj da da da)

Rough translation: 
There is a cloud in the East
My rose is waiting for me beneath
Come away my rose
Lest the rain lash against you
(Haj da da da)

I would hug you for an hour
I won’t see you for much longer
Come here, right here, so I may sit on your lap
So I may look into your brilliant eyes
(Haj da da da)

 To my rose I would go
I seek you in the mountains
The more they forbid us
The more I speak of you
(Haj da da da)


 Soprano Solo
Flute, change to piccolo
Clar I in Bb
Clar II change to Bass Clarinet and Eb
Horn in F
Tenor Trombone 
Percussion I:
Vibraphone, Cymbals, Bass Drums, Xylo, Glockenspiel, Crotales, Tam-Tam, 2 timpani
Percussion II:
Cimbalom, susp. cymbal
Violin I-II
Double Bass