Ursula Mamlok: Molto Vivo


Born on February 1st, 1923, Ursula Mamlok was born in Berlin, Germany into a primarily Jewish family. Her biological father, Hans Meyer, died when she was a baby, but her mother remarried fairly soon after. Mamlok composed and performed as a child in Berlin, however, due to the ongoing Nazi persecution, Mamlok and her family immigrated to Ecuador. Due to the lack of high music education in Ecuador, Mamlok asked her mother to ask the American consul if a petition could start to allow music conservatories in the USA to accept Mamlok in to study. Soon this was accepted and Mamlok enrolled on a full scholarship to study composition at the Mannes School of Music.

In 1940, Mamlok travelled on her own, at the age of 17, to New York to begin her studies. Her parents followed her the next year. Whilst at Mannes she studied composition with George Szell, who taught he about the nineteenth-century Romanticism style. In 1944, she wanted to learn more modernist techniques, so she studied with composer Ernst Krenek at Black Mountain College. Throughout her early stages of composition education she studied under composers such as Roger Sessions, Stefan Wolpe and Ralph Shapey. In the 1950s, Mamlok became an American citizen and also received both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music. After graduating, Mamlok continued to compose as well as teach in institutions such as City University New York and Temple University. Her style is thoroughly avant garde and she has written a range of works for a number of different-sized ensembles such as vocal, chamber and solo instrumental pieces.

Mamlok’s style often employed the techniques found in serialism, although a lot of her music also does not fit into this restrictive category. She was influenced by the likes of Berg, Webern and Schoenberg, and her music can reflect this a lot. Her use of textures and timbres really shine out and is at the centre of her musical style. Although very dissonant and harsh at times, her deliberateness of textures, wit and rhythm are clear and bring a new sense of clarity to her works. She once said that:

“My music is colourful, with the background of tonality – tonal centres. I can’t shake it completely!”


The Music

Composed in 1947, Molto Vivo is a short work for solo piano. Less concerned with complex harmonic language, and more focused on rhythmic integrity, Mamlok’s music during Molto Vivo is full of excitement. Clear links with her American inspirations, this virtuosic piece is full of scalic runs, big dynamic swings and a very cheeky main melody. The sparkling interactions between the two hands adds to the effect of this piece, which creates a sonorous atmosphere. Only lasting c.2 minutes in duration, Molto Vivo certainly packs a punch!


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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