Ákos Rózmann (1939-2005) was born in Budapest where he studied organ and composition at the Liszt Academy. From 1971 to 1974 he studied composition at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and from 1978 he was an organist at the catholic cathedral in Stockholm. Throughout his life Rózmann dedicated himself to musique concrète developing one of the largest and most rewarding bodies of work in this, the most alchemical of all musical genres. In the early eighties, Rózmann started to build a private electroacoustic studio which he installed in the basement of the Catholic Cathedral whilst continuing to work in tandem at the Elektronmusikstudion (EMS Sweden) where he produced his earlier masterpieces.
With an unwavering commitment to the creation of music Rózmann would often lock himself up in his windowless studio working into the night in order to achieve the results he desired. He did not seek the approval of his peers nor the satisfaction of his audience with the only concern being the perfect articulation of his vision. This combination of vision, passion and stubbornness resulted in one of the most singular catalogues within the field of musique concrete. Commissioned by the Hungarian composer Miklós Maros who requested a five-minute work for piano and voice. Rózmann accepted the offer with the intention of writing a tape piece made from recordings of Miklós’ wife, the soprano singer Ilona Maros’ and his own experiments with prepared piano. The elements recorded here became the source material for Twelve Stations, a work which flew far from the initial five minute brief to land 20 years later as a spirit stretching journey of more than 6 1/2 hours. The compositional process is unique in Rózmann’s output due to the 18 year gap between the initial phase and completion of the final work. The first phase made between 1978-1980 consists of an exploration of traditional musique concrète techniques such as speeding up, slowing down, cutting and splicing tape. The last four stations made between 1998-2001 embrace digital technology where small sections of the original recordings from 1978 were fed through an effects processor and improvised on a sampler keyboard. Despite this gap and the different techniques deployed at each period of creation the monumental result sits as a complete and staggering whole.
Within the set limitations of the source material Rózmann’s skill unfolds in an uncanny ability to coax a vast world of flexible sound from the original piano and voice recordings. The result is a maelstrom of dynamic audio and one of the most daring, challenging and rewarding works of musique concrète from the 20th Century. ‘Property – Room’ parts I and II initiate proceedings with a vast landscape of Sturm und Drang. The original material of piano and voice are dissected and reconstructed as a means of evoking an aggressive otherworldly atmosphere. ‘The Contents and Life of the Black Pit’ shifts further outside with an expansive palate of heavily corrupted voice and frenzied electronics dancing in a most unsettling fashion. ‘The Abandonment of Hell’ leads the listener into a sophisticated and shocking melange of audio disorientation, one with a distinct ‘musical’ quality. One senses a master craftsman quietly whittling away at the individual elements in order to harness the previously unobtainable world within. Part V ‘The Awakening’ implants female forms in the mix as the growling, belching, disturbing voices of the early sequences are replaced with more heavenly voices ascending the malformed matter below. Rózmann was typically ambiguous about the meaning behind his work despite suggesting earlier that the first part of ‘Twelve Stations’ was an interpretation of the ‘Tibetan Wheel of Life’. Alongside his interest in Tibetan Buddhism he maintained his following of the catholic church and as a consequence one may also read this sequence, with its uplifting motifs as an ascent from hell into heaven. Rózmann concludes proceedings with ‘The Celebrators’, which presents itself not as an ending but rather a continuation of sorts. A short musical refrain conjures a prism where refractions of voice and sound appear like a hall of mirrors, spiralling onwards and outwards, without end.
Epic in scale, timbre, technique, mood and movement, Twelve Stations is a unique masterpiece of 20th Century musique concrète and presents itself as an intensely personal and bold realm of sound, an offering as such, a radical mass open to all.
Man meets different difficulties and sufferings through his wandering. These are forces between which a continuous struggle is going on. He cannot control and preside over these forces. He is being tossed up and down, powerless, like snowflakes in the storm: chaotic thoughts and feelings, gladness and suffering, which flow without intermission like a river that has no beginning nor end. All these are the fruits of our own deeds. However, in this life you have the chance to make easier those life wanderings that are to come. - Rózmann (from the programme notes for the 1984 premiere of the first seven stations).
– Mark Harwood
released November 24, 2014
Composed at the studio of the Swedish Royal College of Music, Stockholm (parts I-II, up to station 7/f); Ákos Rózmann’s private studio in the Catholic Cathedral of Stockholm (part II, station 7/g-i);
Ákos Rózmann’s private studio in Skogås (part II-VI, from station 7/j to 12);
Elektronmusikstudion EMS (part I-VI) `
Composed during the following periods:
Part I // Stations 1-5: June 1978 – June 1979
Part II // Stations 6-8: July 1979 – January 1980 up to station 7/f; July – August 1984 up to station 7/i;
March – May 1998 up to station 7/n and 8 Part III-1 and III-2 // Station 9: June 1998 – August 1999
Part IV // Station 10: November 1999 – March 2000 Part V // Station 11: March – July 2000
Part VI // Station 12: July – November 2000
Mixing and mastering: December 2000 – April 2001
Contributors for the basic sound materials:
Ilona Maros – soprano
Ákos Rózmann – prepared piano
Viveca Servatius, Miklós Maros, Ákos Rózmann – voice