Compositional processes of Davorin Kempf
"The compositional process is the perception of possibilities (the more creative a person is, the more he perceives them) and then the selection of those possibilities that imply a certain artistic and aesthetic attitude. Every effort of the composer to reach a solution is in fact his effort to harmonize the organization of sound in the passage of time with his vision. "
This is how the recently and prematurely deceased Davorin Kempf (Virje, 1947 - Zagreb, 2022), a great Croatian composer and a PhD scholar, academician and professor at the Music Academy of the University of Zagreb, spoke about his process. Kempf has been a member of the Croatian Composers’ Society since 1976, and his works have been regularly performed at events organized by the Society, often at the request of the organizers.
Kempf has been represented at the Music Biennale Zagreb since 1977, when his composition Interference, for organ and electronics, was premiered; later compositions often contained electronics, but he wrote for other ensembles as well. In 1983, he wrote Music for Chess, Two Dancers and an Ensemble, for the Biennale, choreographed by Milana Broš, which he called "the only trace of Kagel's Musical Theater" in his opus. About his orientations, he said: “The experiments of the avant-garde and the new musical theater remained outside the circle of my interests. In contrast, working in electronic studios revealed some new dimensions of sound that attracted me much more (…) Already in the electronic studio (College of Music) in Cologne, I became aware that I was primarily interested in the possibilities of electroacoustic transformations of instrumental and vocal sound.”
More recently, he has presented orchestral works at the Biennale: In 2013, for example, he was a resident composer of the Zagreb Philharmonic and wrote a work for the Philharmonic's performance at the Biennale. It was the Concerto Corale, his first piano concerto, and the title suggests that the work varied two initial motifs from Bach's choral Es ist genug. Kempf wrote the work with the pianist Mia Elezović in mind, who premiered it, and conceived the piano section "virtuoso", as an "homage to the piano as a solo instrument par excellence of the Romantic era." He also created a "masterfully conceived solo section" at the MBZ in 2019, but for saxophonist Lovro Merčep, who premiered Kempf's Concerto for alto saxophone and chamber orchestra with the Slovenian Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, a "predominantly polyphonically conceived work" that marks dense polyphony combined with apart harmonic progressions "
"For my musical work, the whole experience of delving into the European musical tradition, including its early roots, such as the Gregorian chant, was equally important."
In 2011, Cantus released a double portrait CD with works by Davorin Kempf. The composer chose piano works and works for chamber ensembles as a sound carrier. Numerous Croatian and foreign performers like to perform Kempf's complex compositions, so Pavica Gvozdić, Martina Filjak, Arditti Quartet, Dunja Vejzović… were among the great performers on these sound carriers, along with the author's own performances. Pavica Gvozdić told Vijenac magazine, “I loved to play Kempf because of the special sound of his music. I really like those aliquot tones, which are only cleaned afterwards ... ", while organist Ljerka Očić said that Kempf's music is built on "a specific sense of balance of diverse elements ". The double CD is accompanied by the composer's comments on the most important structural and technical elements of the compositions, but also the inspirations for them, ranging from poetry by Juan Ramón Jiménez, music by Bach and Bartók to views of Osor Cathedral and the idea of Light and Creation through the folklore idiom of Dalmatian Zagora and Gregorian chant to the electroacoustic transformation of the piano sound.
"…the ideas we draw from within, with all the reflections that we can't even recognize the sources of, are filtered through our personality."
For the occasion of Davorin Kempf's 70th birthday, 2017, Croatian Composers’ Society and Cantus organized a concert dedicated to Kempf’s compositions at the "Blagoje Bersa" hall of the Music Academy. The program consisted mostly of compositions composed after 2000, but the oldest work on the program was the electroacoustic composition Pyramids, from 1984, and the author's works again attracted excellent performers. The composer's birthday was celebrated with several piano works - Prelude and Fugue-Hommage à Bach (Vlasta Gyura), Three Views of the Osor Cathedral (Danijel Detoni), Zvukolik (Mia Elezović) and Mariposa de luz (Adela Liculescu); Magnificat performed by the Girls' Choir “Zvjezdice”, Sanctus performed by the Antiphonus Ensemble and the Trio for violin, cello and piano (Anđelko Krpan, Zlatko Rucner, Nada Majnarić).
The accompanying publication quotes art historian and writer Tonko Maroević saying that "in the case of Davorin Kempf (…), the paper with notes becomes a place of real struggle of dynamic opposites, an arena of fierce contrasts that often results in an unusual, difficult, burdensome equilibrium."
Composer's quote from the beginning, ends with an explanation of his entire poetics:
"The pursuit of beauty is also 'incorporated' into my musical poetics. Beauty, of course, has more faces and it is not possible to define it unambiguously, but without its atmosphere, music as art is inconceivable to me.” Croatian music will miss his work, but his compositions remain marked – by the pursuit of beauty.