Bálint Bethlenfalvy - Zugzwang

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The composition is based on an early novel by Vladimir Nabokov: Luzhin's Defense (Zashita Luzhina). All that the chess grandmaster protagonist of the novel can do is play chess, and this made an indelible impression on me as a child, the theme of "art at all costs" and to the extreme seemed to completely envelope it. It is however a complex psychological drama too, and lots of fun. After trying to work out a defence against his arch rival, Luzhin suffers a breakdown at a tournament in the middle of the book, and spends the rest of the novel recuperating, but always falling back into thinking like a chess player, putting together the pieces and figuring out the plot. My short quartet reflects the tension and play of the first half in a limited frame whirl of twining and crossing pulsations then to reveal the blank of his recuperation with sensations and ideas galloping through his mind in a texture of arpeggiated harmonics passed around a slow, pensive cello solo, until surges of odd events tie into the stream revving it up to a sort of break neck speed.

I have relied on the aspects of string instruments that feel both sonorous and very particular in terms of colour, and am most concerned that its integrity, continuity of ideas is experienced as a single whole. I have loved working with friends on the manageability of the instruments' individual techniques involved in achieving the colours I would desire, hope have left a great deal to still be created as its is first performed, and count on being able to whittle away at it some more.

The piece also is new for me in how it is structured around a few ideas, and goes on from there, but explores each idea at length, as well as being a determined and thoughtful effort to make new ground in letting the instruments grow, transform, and change me, or the way I can give them free rein, still in my mind. Nabokov's novel was, in fact, also a tool in his hands, a way for him to make new ground as an emigré writer, using a plethora of popular subjects, positioning him for his future novels too. I hope this music will feel as lively as these intellectual ploys are engaging and life-like to me.

Composer: Bálint Bethlenfalvy

Composer photo
Photo: Bálint Bethlenfalvy

Bálint Bethlenfalvy decided to compose at the Music Theatre Workshop in Delhi, having spent his childhood in India and Hungary. He earned a 4-year scholarship to the Purcell School of Music London to study composition and was deeply inspired and attended workshops with Oliver Knussen. He then completed a degree at Oberlin Conservatory (Ohio) majoring in composition under the Schoenberg pupil and secretary amanuensis Richard Hoffmann. In Hungary, attending the contemporary music seminar in Szombathely, and as active participant of a Chamber Opera Writing Workshop in the Ulysses Network project “Out at Sea”, 2013, he had opportunities to learn briefly from Péter Eötvös.

His works were performed at Glasgow European Capital of Culture by the SPNM, Harrow Chapel in London by soloists from the London Sinfonietta joining the Purcell School Orchestra conducted by Oliver Knussen, in Oberlin by the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble conducted by Timothy Weiss, at the Purcell Room in London, and in Budapest at the Italian Institute under Andreas Luca Beraldo, the Old Academy of Music, Bartok House, FUGA and the International Library. His multimedia work includes music for Monochrome-Clack, an ongoing project of painter Éva Köves and VJ artist Andi Stojanovics, and theatre and film music with the Roundtable Theatre Group. Balint now lives in England.