Sándor Vály


Sándor Vály
Born 1968 in Budapest, Hungary
Lives and works in Helsinki
Studies: Secondary School of Visual Arts, Budapest
Exhibitions in Finland and abroad from 1985


Music: Éva Polgár and Sándor Vály
Libretto: Karl Georg Zwerenz
Film: Sándor Vály

Die Toteninsel is a fictional reconstruction of Jenő Zádor’s (1894-1977) lost partiture. The original music was based on the libretto of German poet, Karl Georg Zwerenz (1874-1933). The theme of Die Toteninsel (1919) is based on the painting of the same title by Swiss painter, Arnold Böcklin (1827 - 1901). The drama involves a romantic triangle, a typical topic of the era. The music was composed by Hungarian born Jenő Zádor who emigrated to the United States at the beginning of World War II. The piece sank into oblivion after its 1927 premiere at the Hungarian Royal Opera House.

After many years of research, it seems the opera is lost forever. We will never know how the original piece may have sounded. However, finding the libretto and its content were a great motivation to me to “reconstruct” the partiture. The history of the piece and its clash with its time (20th century!) fascinated me: the work was written in the middle of European revolutions, only one year after World War I. It seems that Zwerenz ignored the historical circumstances, which, being German himself, undoubtedly affected him as well. This work could well have contained a protest, aristocratic pretension, and even dada in itself. These are the exact reasons why it does not fit in its time period. The work reacts to the reality of those times as if it never happened.

Sándor Vály: Die Toteninsel and Die Toteninsel (FISCHERCHOR) Karaoke, 2015,
installation (photo: Timo Nieminen).

I have collaborated with pianist Éva Polgár for several years now [Mondrian Variations (2012) Ektro records, Gilgamesh (2014) Ektro records] and it felt natural to “reconstruct” Die Toteninseltogether.

The libretto was written in German, thus the decision to sing the parts in German seemed obvious. Besides co-composing the piece with Éva, I took on Arnold Böcklin’s role on the recording in spite of the fact that I don’t speak German. From this came the idea to invite for the other roles artists who preferably did not speak German either. This increased the fluxus-experience. The team was comprised of Nea Lindgrén, painter; Juha Valkeapää vocal artist; Mikael Jurmu, musician; Pia Karspuro, dancer; Nouk Vály, musician; J.K.Ihalainen, poet; Zoltán Márkus, cartoonists; and Tuukka Tammisaari, painter.

The recording from the beginning to the end is improvised. We did not rehearse even once. Thus, the piece is not performable live. Beyond the intricate music parts, a live performance would also be impossible due to the lack of the singers’ language knowledge. The story characters’ conflict and misunderstanding of each other compounds with the performers’ lingual misunderstanding, misreading, and pronunciation. I have not shown the libretto’s instructions to the vocalists. As a result, they raise their voice when they would have to whisper and they whisper when they would have to scream from pain.

The recording sessions happened in two continents and four cities through the internet. Because Éva lives in the United States, I could not meet her during the working process. Similarly, the singers did not meet with each other. They did could not rely on how the previous artist sang his own part.

As a result, the unpredictable layers of the complete piece bear such additional qualities that were impossible to anticipate at the beginning. Language, identity, fate, history, tradition, and art were all in question.

Music has dominated my audiovisual projects more and more throughout the years. At my past exibits, the audience played over the silent movies on a piano placed in the exhibit hall. This idea lead to novel pieces of art thanks to the different musical interpretations of the movies. The outcome dramatically changed the original meaning of the project at certain occasions.

At this exhibit a karaoke microphone is available to the audience.

Karaoke as a phenomenon has interested me for a while now, it provoked the artist in me to find alternate possibilities. I became excited about a more extreme version of classical karaoke: imagine, someone goes to the pub and after ordering a glass of beer he sings Schubert’s lied, Der Wanderer D.493 for instance that was inspired by Caspar David Friedrich’s painting.

I developed my first experiments with Juha Valkeapää through our collaboration singing dadist lieds to my movies in real time. The title of our project was Hans Arp Karaoke. I came up with the format of my recent exhibit by taking this experience to the next level: the visitor is free to sing on any chosen section of Die Toteninsel movie with abandon, playfulness, and/or infantile devotion. In German of course!

Sándor Vály

A detail from the installation Die Toteninsel (FISCHERCHOR) Karaoke.

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