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Some of his pieces give specific theatrical instructions to the performers (Kennedy and Bourne 2006), such as to adopt certain facial expressions while playing, to make their stage entrances in a particular way, to physically interact with other performers, and so on. For this reason commentators at times related his work to the Theatre of the Absurd. He has been regarded by music historians as deploying a critical intelligence interrogating the position of music in society (Griffiths 1978, 188). He was also active in the fields of film and photography, proving that the possibilities of music are inexhaustible. In 1991 Kagel was invited by Walter Fink as the second composer featured in the annual Komponistenporträt of the Rheingau Musik Festival. In 2000 he received the Ernst von Siemens Music Prize.
Staatstheater (1970) remains, probably, Kagel's best-known work. It is the piece that most clearly shows his absurdist tendency. He described it as a "ballet for non-dancers,"[This quote needs a citation] although it is in many ways more like an opera; the devices it uses as musical instruments include chamber pots and enema equipment. As the work progresses, the piece itself, and opera and ballet in general, becomes its own subject matter.
Similar is the radioplayEin Aufnahmezustand (1969) which is about the incidents surrounding the recording of a radio play. In Con voce (With Voice), a masked trio silently mimes playing instruments. Match (1964), is a "tennis game" for cellists with a percussionist as umpire (Griffiths 1978, 188) (for Siegfried Palm), also the subject of one of Kagel's films and perhaps the best-known of his works of instrumental theatre (Griffiths 1981, 812).
But Kagel wrote a large number of more conventional "pure" pieces too, including orchestral music, chamber music. Many of these make references to music of the past by, among others, Beethoven, Brahms, Bach and Liszt (Warnaby 1981, 38; Decarsin 1985, 260).
Kagel also made films, with one of the best known being Ludwig van (1970), a critical interrogation of the uses of Beethoven's music made during the bicentenary of that composer's birth (Griffiths 1978, 188). In it, a reproduction of Beethoven's studio is seen, as part of a fictive visit of the Beethoven House in Bonn. Everything in it is papered with sheet music of Beethoven's pieces. The soundtrack of the film is a piano playing the music as it appears in each shot. Because the music has been wrapped around curves and edges, it is somewhat distorted, but Beethovenian motifs can still be heard. In other parts, the film contains parodies of radio or TV broadcasts connected with the "Beethoven Year 1770". Kagel later turned the film into a piece of sheet music itself which could be performed in a concert without the film--the score consists of close-ups of various areas of the studio, which are to be interpreted by the performing pianist.
Dos piezas for orchestra (1952)
Heterophonie for orchestra (1959-61)
Zehn Märsche, um den Sieg zu verfehlen (Ten marches in order to miss victory), for brass orchestra (1979)
Les idées fixes, rondo for orchestra (1988/89)
Opus 1.991 for orchestra (1990)
Konzertstück (Concert piece), for timpani and orchestra (1990-92)
Études for orchestra (I 1992, II 1995/96, III 1996)
Fremde Töne & Widerhall (Strange sounds and echo), for orchestra (2005)
Attinello, Paul. 2001. "Kagel, Mauricio." The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
Decarsin, François. 1985. "Liszt's Nuages gris and Kagel's Unguis incarnatus est: A Model and Its Issue", translated by Jonathan Dunsby. Music Analysis 4, no. 3:259-63.
Griffiths, Paul. 1978. A Concise History of Modern Music: From Debussy to Boulez. London: Thames and Hudson. ISBN0-500-18167-5. (Originally published as A Concise History of Avant-garde Music: from Debussy to Boulez. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. ISBN0-19-520044-6 (cloth), ISBN0-19-520045-4 (pbk.). Reissued as Modern Music: A Concise History from Debussy to Boulez. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1985. ISBN0-500-20164-1. Revised edition, as Modern Music: A Concise History. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1994. ISBN0-500-20278-8.)
Griffiths, Paul. 1981. "Unnecessary Music: Kagel at 50". Musical Times 122:811-12.
Heile, Björn. 2006. The Music of Mauricio Kagel. Aldershot, Hants; Burlington, VT: Ashgate. ISBN0-7546-3523-6.
Kennedy, Michael, and Joyce Bourne Kennedy (eds.). 2006. "Kagel, Mauricio". The Oxford Dictionary of Music, second edition, revised. Oxford, Toronto, New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN0-19-861459-4.