From the Sleevenotes: Otto Zykan

Sleevenotes from the release Otto M. Zykan plays Schönberg and Scriabin
Duncan Honeybourne plays Otto M. Zykan

Disc 1
[1-6] Schönberg: Suite für Klavier op 25 [10:11]
[7-9] Drei Klavierstücke op 11 [10:12]
[10-11] Zwei Stücke für Klavier op 33 [04:49]
[12-17] Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke op 19 [04:48]
[18-22] Fünf Stücke für Klavier op 23 [09:54]
[23] Scriabin: Prelude op 15 nr. 5 [01:15]
[24] Prelude op 15 nr. 2 [00:50]
[25] Prelude op 11 nr.14 [00:55]
[26] Prelude op 22 nr 2 [01:08]
Total: [46:40]

Disc 2
[1] Zykan: Nachtstück [03:08]
[2] Choral [04:26]
[3] Stücke 1 [01:33]
[4] Stücke 2 [03:15]
[5] Stücke 3 [03:22]
[6] Gelenkte Improvisation [17:55]
[7] Nachtstück [05:27]
[8] Skizzen: Ruhig, legato [03:14]
[9] Skizzen: Symphony [05:13]
[10] Skizzen: Ruhig [06:18]
[11] Nachgereichte Kadenz ohne Konzert [17:05]
Total: [71:03]

Otto Josef Matthäus Zykan

Otto Josef Matthäus Zykan was born in Vienna on 29 April 1935 and died in the countryside near Vienna (Lower Austria) on 25 May 2006. He was a composer; he was also a pianist, performer, poet, filmmaker, actor, and ensemble founder. Zykan worked freelance his entire life. He was a child prodigy on the piano, which was recognized at an early stage and encouraged by Zykan’s father Otto, a guitar teacher and composer. In Zykan’s early childhood, his mother was vulnerable to the threat that was the Nazi regime, to which his grandparents fell victim – memories that cut deep.

Zykan was first taught the piano by his paternal grandmother; he then received lessons at the Vienna Academy of Music from professors Marianne Lauda, Friedrich Ebenstein, Bruno Seidlhofer, Richard Hauser, and Josef Dichler. Zykan, who was five years younger than Seidlhofer’s student Friedrich Gulda, did not live up to expectations of becoming a second Gulda. He entered the Academy at the age of 11, after spending a year with the Vienna Boys’ Choir, finishing his high-school studies in 1953. Zykan graduated in piano in 1958, having obtained excellent results his the final examination and a distinction in 1958; he studied composition with Karl Schiske at the same time. For Zykan, the piano was the starting point for composition and performance, as well as for engagement with the music of the 20th century. The piano is a springboard, self-accompaniment for the singer of his songs and a playground.

Richard Hauser, who had himself been proscribed by the Nazis, took up the suggestion made by Schönberg’s pupil Erwin Ratz, to study Arnold Schönberg’s works for solo piano; this would prove decisive for Zykan. Zykan’s repertoire was the music of the 20th century, and Schönberg’s complete piano works, which he was the first to perform by heart, occupied a special position within it. Further, several piano recitals, e.g., at the Wiener Festwochen, led to his being broadcast on ÖRF and to an LP that caused a stir, because the cover showed Zykan, elegantly dressed and wearing a bow tie, next to his one-year-olddaughter, naked! Ever since the record was released by Amadeo in 1970, Schönberg and Zykan enthusiasts have been waiting for a reissue. In 1996, Joachim Kaiser called Zykan’s Schönberg recording of the complete piano works ‘clear, captivating technically and spiritually in equal measure, more modern, less Brahmsian, clearer and more vehement than that of Eduard Steuermann’.

As a performer, author, critic, and composer, Zykan was inspired by Schönberg throughout his life. The highpoints of Zykan’s pianistic career were several highly acclaimed piano recitals and the award of the Kranichstein Music Prize at the Darmstadt Summer Course in 1958. The members of the jury for this were Eduard Steuermann, Rene Leibowitz, David Tudor, Ernst Krenek, and Margot Pinter. Seidlhofer,the most prominent piano teacher in Vienna, constitutes a bridge to Duncan Honeybourne via his British student, Rosemarie Wright, Duncan’s teacher at the Royal Academy of Music in London.

Zykan started composing for the piano as a teenager, and most of his piano oeuvre was intended for him as performer and interpreter. An exception is the piano concerto cadenza entitled ‘Nachgereicht ausfrüher Zeit’ (‘a late submission from an earlier time’), with the direction ‘frei, fast ohne Metrum’ (‘freely, almost without metre’), which he prepared for Mihaela Ursuleasa when she participated in the Credit Suisse Young Artists Award in 2004. Gelenkte Improvisation (‘Guided Improvisation’), composed in 1983, also constitutes part of Zykan’s music for his 1984 arthouse film Pour Elise oder die Orgel der Barbarei (‘For Elise, or the Organ of Barbarism’). As a piano piece, the work was first performed at the Wiener Festwochen in 1983. Nachtstück (‘Night Piece’), composed in 1968, is part of a series of ‘night pieces’ dedicated to members of Zykan’s family, to Austria’s chancellor, and to Friedrich Gulda. The Skizzen (‘Sketches’) are two piano pieces that were possibly composed in the 1970s; at the top they are headed ruhig, legato (‘calm,smooth’), and Symphony –schnell, brillant, sowie ruhig –Synchronisationen sind zufällig, aber deshalb nicht unbeabsichtigt (‘Symphony – fast, brilliant, as well as calm – any synchronization to happen by chance, though this does not mean that they are unintended’). Choral und drei Stücke (‘Choral and Three Pieces’, withthe pieces marked (1) crochet = 132, (2) crochet = 50, and (3) crochet =50), is an undated early work that bears the code ‘11’, marking it out as acompetition entry.

With thanks to Duncan Honeybourne for his dedication to Zykan’s music; to Steve Plews for his willingness to act as producer; to Elke Tschaikner for providing the tapes; to Martin Bernhofer for his essential work in facilitating this project; to Hannes Heher for providing historical documents; and to Veronika Weiher for her work on the contract.

Zykan, Seidlhofer and the Viennese Tradition: a personal note by Duncan Honeybourne

I was fascinated and delighted to hear from Irene Suchy in the autumn of 2019. She had featured my recordings in her role as a producer for Austrian Radio (ORF) and she suggested to me a project which instantly captured my imagination: that I should record the piano music of Otto Zykan, a musical polymath of undoubted genius and originality. Zykan studied with Bruno Seidlhofer (1905-1982), a legendary Viennese pedagogue who loomed large in my own musical upbringing. He taught my own teacher, Rosemarie Wright (1931-2020), who spoke of him frequently. Rosemarie and Otto Zykan would have been contemporaries as students in Vienna, and I wrote to Rosemarie shortly afterwards asking her about him. She was frail by this time and died afew weeks later. But my letter was on her piano at the time of her death, so she was aware that a connection had been established and I can only hope that it might have stirred some happy memories. Certainly the Viennese pianistic tradition loomed large in her life and work, and I am sure that news of my latest assignment would have given her pleasure. I have Rosemarie to thank for opening the Second Viennese School to me when I was barely a teenager, and for her inspiring professional mentoring and example over many years.

Exploring this fascinating heritage has brought me much joy and satisfaction. I lived with these extraordinary pieces throughout the Coronavirus Lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, absorbing and practising them daily and finding more artistic riches and musical secrets within them at every turn. Zykan’s early piano pieces are distinctly Schönbergian, his later creations highly improvisatory, colourful and original. But a distinctive pianistic imagination is common to all. It has been a privilege to explore Zykan’s piano oeuvre, to perform some of it at the Austrian Cultural Forum in London in 2022 and to make this recording of it. In doing so, I feel I am giving something back to my own professor and to the flame of tradition which she was always passionate to enliven in me.

Duncan Honeybourne

Duncan Honeybourne enjoys a diverse profile as pianist and in music education. Following his concerto debuts at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, and the National Concert Hall, Dublin, he made recital debuts in London, Paris and at international festivals in Belgium and Switzerland. Commended for his “gripping performances” (The Times), “glittering performances” (International Piano) and “great technical facility and unfailing imagination” (Musical Opinion), Duncan has toured extensively as soloist and chamber musician throughout theUK, Ireland and Europe, broadcasting frequently on BBC Radio 3 and radio networks worldwide. His many recordings reflect his long association with 20th and 21st century British piano music, and his debut recording as a harpsichordist was released in 2023. Duncan Honeybourne teaches piano and chamber music at the Royal Academy of Music Junior Academy and is a Lecturer in Piano at the University of Southampton.


Disc One

A recording by the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (Radio Österreich 1)
Recorded in the studios of Österreichischer Rundfunk (ÖRF), Wien/Vienna, 16th and 19th March 1969
Producer: Gerhard Lang, Sound Engineer: Kurt Kindl

Disc Two

Tracks 1 and 11 recorded at St Elizabeth’s Church, Ashley, Cheshire, UK, 29th March and 26th May 2023
Piano/Klavier: Bösendorfer
All other tracks recorded at Holy Trinity Church, Hereford, UK, 17th July 2022
Piano/Klavier: Steinway
Producer and Sound Engineer: Steve Plews, Mastering: Simon Crosby Buttle