Reactionary Composer of the Week: Stefania de Kenessey

Today’s reactionary composer, Stefania de Kenessey, is a recent discovery of mine. De Kenessey is a Hungarian currently living in the United States, and is the founder of the Derriere Guard, an affiliation of anti-modernist artists whose best known member is the author Tom Wolfe. While I’ve heard de Kenessey’s highly tonal music described as “neoclassical,” it differs in some very important ways from the compositions of the original neoclassicists, an early to mid-20th century school whose most notable representatives were Igor Stravinsky and the group of French composers known as Les Six. (No bonus points for correctly guessing how many members Les Six had.) For one, it seems completely free of the winking, self-conscious irony typical of the original neoclassicists. For another, de Kenessey is not, as many of the original neoclassicists were accused of being, a dry and unemotional composer. Her music is earnestly lyrical, as neoromantic as it is neoclassical. The name that kept popping into my head as I listened to this CD of her chamber music was Schubert’s; in particular, I hear strong echoes of the first movement of the “Death and the Maiden” quartet in parts of the first movement of the clarinet quintet Shades of Darkness. My one major complaint about the music on the CD (which is my only exposure to de Kenessey so far) is that I found it a little tiring in large doses, as she has a tendency to overuse certain motifs and ideas. (To see what I mean, listen back-to-back to Shades of Darkness‘s “Death and the Maiden”-ish opening and the very beginning of the piano trio Traveling Light, or compare the first entry of the clarinet in that same movement to the first entry of the flute in The Passing.) I couldn’t find excerpts from the CD on YouTube, but on Amazon and, you can listen to some free samples and buy full MP3s for a pittance.

2 thoughts on “Reactionary Composer of the Week: Stefania de Kenessey

  1. Great name for a reactionary group – a nice self-deprecatory pun.

    I love Stravinsky for the most part. A reactionary approach to the arts should always be tempered by an awareness that ‘the only thing that does not change is change itself’ – for instance, romantic attempts at reviving baroque polyphony are, nevertheless, extremely romantic. A similar effect, I’d imagine, would be discernible in contemporary efforts to imitate romanticism.


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