Metamorphosen. Beat Furrer an der Hochschule für Musik Basel. Schriften, Gespräche, Dokumente. Edited by Michael Kunkel. Saar - brücken: Pfau, 2011. [298 p. ISBN 9783897274563. i30.] Music examples, facsimiles, photographs, works list, chronology, discography.
From October 2007 to June 2008, the composer and conductor Beat Furrer was resident in Basel as a visiting professor at the Hochschule für Musik Basel and the Musicological Institute at the University of Basel. The volume under review was prepared as a commemoration of the activities surrounding this year in residence (editor Michael Kunkel is the director of the research department at the Hochschule für Musik). One example of the book's direct relationship to the events of Furrer's year in Basel is the text printed here of a roundtable discussion by a group of musicologists at the Basel Music Academy on the subject "Does New Music Need Mediation?" (pp. 199-211; translations throughout this review are my own). The book, however, aspires to be more than a simple catalog of the events of Furrer's residence, a goal that is realized by the incorporation of useful reference information, essays and interviews from a range of years, and assorted documentary material. In addition, scholarly investigations by leading musicologists offer insight into specific topics relating to Furrer's music.
An excerpt from Ovid's Metamorphoses (the "house of rumor" passage that inspired Furrer's opera Fama) serves as a kind of extended epigraph for the volume (pp. 10-11). The passage's evocations of noises, echoes, voices, openness, and space provide a vivid introduction to Furrer's philosophical ideas and compositional materials. These ideas are explored in detail in the essay by Kunkel later in the book, both in reference to Fama and to other Furrer works such as the First String Quartet, the opera Narcissus, and the Aria for voice and ensemble (pp. 81-116). Kunkel's essay is the most comprehensive survey of Furrer's style in the book, and provides welcome concrete music examples for the abstract concepts that are so liberally dispensed in discussions of Furrer's music elsewhere in the book, including in the composer's own essays. Kunkel also emphasizes the influence of Furrer's teacher, Roman Haubenstock-Ramati, who was renowned for his innovations in graphic notation; the unconventional visual aspects of Haubenstock-Ramati's scores opened the conceptual gaps necessary to reconceive the relationship between music and space as Furrer has done. A similar desire to trace Furrer's influences surfaces in Simon Obert's essay on the "resonances" of Schubert and Feldman in Furrer's works (pp. 126-45) and Ulrich Mosch's analysis of how Furrer's organizational strategies for his musical material are a kind of post-serial procedure governing such param eters as rhythm, pitch, and register (pp. 146-68). The extensive tables of pitch patterns presented in Mosch's article tip the essay more toward analysis than explanation, and the paper thus occupies a relatively higher plane of musicological specialization than the book as a whole, with the potential to intimidate the uninitiated.
One of the most useful historical aspects of this book is how Kunkel has chosen key essays and interviews to reproduce in one place. Ten different primary sources are included, ranging from 1989 to 2009. The almost purposeful inconsequentiality of reprinting Furrer's recipe for pumpkin soup (likely delicious, but this reviewer did not attempt to make it, p. 49) and his surprisingly simple sketch in answer to the question, "Can you draw your music?" (p. 43) add a charming sense of the composer's everyday humanity. Particularly valuable for their conceptual breadth, on the other hand, are lectures by Furrer at Darmstadt in 2006 about the spatial aspects of music theater (pp. 55-60) and in 2009 about "composition with language and spaces" (pp. 73-78). In the latter he treats both the practical aspects of his works ("my problem over the years has been the integration of the singing voice with the ensemble," p. …