Verbalia III - Rafał Augustyn International Festival of Contemporary Music Warsaw Autumn

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“We would like to present you not only as a composer, but also as a scholar and writer, a multifaceted personality,” is more or less what Jerzy Kornowicz said when offering me a place in this year’s Warsaw Autumn programme. We considered many options, but eventually agreed on a single, sizeable composition. 

The word verbalia was used (and probably also coined) by Zbigniew Karnecki when we were preparing the scenario of an event dedicated to various types of word-and-sound relations. The event took place, not without technical mishaps, in 1984 at Wrocław’s National Museum during the Festival of Polish Contemporary Music, then freshly revived After the martial law break and later known as Musica Polonica Nova. I borrowed this word as a label for a concert of my compositions held during the 2000 edition of that festival. It is now reused as the title of a work that is new as a whole, though at one point it incorporates the material of my old piece titled Szczebrzeszyn, originally for children’s choir; here, for a mixed vocal-instrumental ensemble.

A new work, but the problem is old: words in music, around music, next to music, replacing music, etc. Besides, the word itself, its origins and functions, form and content, successes and failures, texts, and contexts. I do not attempt to answer the question of whether “music is a language.” I believe it more likely is not, but it all depends on what we mean by language, music, and by... the very word “is.” 

There is no denying that Verbalia would have been impossible without my predecessors, from Bogusław Schaeffer to Heiner Goebbels, from Dieter Schnebel to Mauricio Kagel, and many other travellers in the musical-literary borderlands and peripheries, including, naturally, the one who is most important to me personally: Luciano Berio. 

Many years ago a reviewer, evidently doing her best to find fault with my piece performed at Warsaw Autumn, repeated sneeringly that the composer of that op is “a philologist from Wrocław,” which constituted a separate point in her indictment. Well, indeed, one can hardly escape one’s biography, but it does not bother me in the slightest. Though in general I would prefer Verbalia III to be perceived as first and foremost a musical work, I still think that some elements of the “discourse” of a lecture or treatise, or even a popular talk, may have found their way into that form as well. 

I dedicate this piece to its excellent performers: Spółdzielnia Muzyczna and ProMODERN sextet. 

Rafał Augustyn