Kurt Schwitters – ‘Ursonate’

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Along with his many drawings, poems, paintings and collages, the Dadaist Kurt Schwitters is perhaps most famous for his sound poem: ‘Ursonate’. Ursonate, or Sonata in primordial sounds, was a sound poem following the structure of a traditional classical Sonata. Written in 1922, Schwitters proceeded to spend the following decade of his life expanding the piece into a 30 page work – work he then considered to be the best of his life.

Using two of his fellow Dadaist Raoul Hausmann poster poems as his source, Schwitters used the following abstract phrasing as his opening line

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Ursonate – Kurt Schwitters

 

‘Fumms bo wo taa zaa Uu, pogiff, kwii Ee’

Repeating phrases such as this in many different voices and tempos, Schwitters would provoke audiences at literary salons, who were expecting traditional romantic poems.

Like that of a traditional sonata, Ursonate comprises of four movements: Erster Teil, Largo, Scherzo and Presto. Erster Teil consists of an exposition of its main parts, followed by a development, and finally a summary of the those parts; Largo consisting traditionally of a slow movement; Scherzo and Presto consists of ternary form construction (ABA) in which the middle part contrasts the two identical outer parts, Presto directs the part to be played in a high tempo. Schwitters then traditionally ended with the Candenza, which leaves the reciter free to choose between the written version, or his or her own improvised version. Schwitters used one of his earlier Dada poems: the German alphabet read backwards three times.

Complete in the 30 page score of Ursonate are detailed instructions for the reciter dealing with pronunciation, tempo, pitch and dynamics.

 

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