American Record Guide

Thomas Fortmann was born in Switzerland (1951) and has a musical career that began in rock and pop music. He quit in 1976 to devote his time to classical music. The works here are mostly tonal, but he also employs horizontal serial techniques that are vertically connected to interval structures. He does this in Tango Catolico , which really only hints at the tango. The rhythms are all shot to pieces, which makes the work all the more interesting.

Requiem for an Unborn Child crosses a horizontal serial technique with a vertical hierarchy found in Hindemith. The lyrics (libretto) are by Fortmann himself, and they read like Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder writ small. The soprano is Danielle Jungblut, and her voice is not quite as clear as the work requires – an engineering indiscretion, perhaps. And it kept reminding me of Mahler – and I don’t think that was Fortmann’s intention. (But how can a song sung in German about unborn children not remind you of Mahler?) Ladyboy (no date given) is, according to the composer, a manifest for “A new understanding of partnership and sexuality”. Whatever that means. Ladyboy is for string trio and is a sharply atonal work of cogent phrasing and distinct sonic colors, none of them predictable, all of them interesting. Forget the new sexuality stuff in the booklet. That kind of pseudointellectual claptrap serves no one.

Fortmann for all of his apparent skill really hasn’t found his voice yet. These pieces, while competent, remind me of graduate student works that are passable but seem unwilling to delve into anything truly original (or inspirational). True, chamber works are often seen as intensely personal (and intentionally obfuscating) when they come out (note early reactions to Bartok, Prokofieff and Shostakovich). Taken together, this music is a decent foot forward, but I would prefer works that were a bit more fired up with creative vision rather than mere accomplishment and an understanding of one’s forebears.

—Cook