Kurt Schwitters was born in Hannover in 1887. Refused by the Berlin Dadaists, he started a one-man Dada group in Hannover called Merz . He made paintings, collages and objects; he wrote poems, sound poems and plays, which he published in his own magazine, also called Merz.
In 1919, after gaining a national reputation with the absurd love poem An Anna Blume, he made contact with fellow Dadaists Hans Arp and Raoul Hausmann. In 1937 Schwitters had to flee the Nazis, via Norway to England, where he died in 1948 at sixty years of age.
At the source of Schwitters' Ursonate or sonate in urlauten (sonata in primordial sounds) are two Plakatgedichte (Poster Poems) by Raoul Hausmann which provided the sonata's opening line:
Fumms bö wö tää zää Uu, pögiff, kwii Ee
Schwitters used phrases such as this to provoke audiences at literary salons, who expected traditional romantic poetry, by endlessly repeating them in many different voices. In the course of ten years he expanded this early version into a 30-page work, which he later considered one of the two masterpieces he had created during his artistic career; the other one being the Merzbau in his house in Hannover, destroyed in 1944.
The Ursonate has a structure similar to that of a classical sonata or symphony. It consists of four movements: Erster Teil, Largo, Scherzo and Presto . After a short introduction the first movement opens with an exposition of its four main themes (subjects), each of which is subsequently developed, leading to a coda. It is noteworthy that the theme returns before each new development but the last one.
Both the Largo and the Scherzo have a centred (a-b-a) construction in which the middle part contrasts with the two identical outer parts. The Presto has a strict rhythm broken only by a few interjections from the first movement and the Scherzo. Like the first movement, it follows the sonata form: exposition (repeated immediately in this case), development and recapitulation.
Next is the Cadenza, which leaves the reciter free to choose between the written version and his/her own. However, in his written instructions for future performers of the piece, Schwitters says that he wrote his cadenza only for those among them who "had no imagination" and Jaap Blonk, in his performances of the Ursonate , always creates an improvised cadenza on the basis of the sonata's thematic material. As a Coda, Schwitters uses one of his earliest Dada poems: the German alphabet read backwards, here repeated three times.
Schwitters wrote a few pages of instructions for reciters of the Ursonate , mainly dealing with the correct pronunciation of the letters; apart from that, brief prescriptions regarding tempo, pitch, dynamics and emotional content are scattered throughout the sonata's text. (Jaap Blonk)