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8.223668 - LAJTHA: Capriccio, Suite de Ballet
László Lajtha (1892–1963)
László Lajtha, one of the greatest Hungarian composers of the first half of the twentieth century, was born in Budapest on 30 June 1892. He took his composer’s diploma as a pupil of Viktor Herzfeld at the Budapest Academy of Music and continued his studies in Leipzig and in Geneva, until 1914 spending six months of each year in Paris. There Lajtha was a pupil of Vincent d’lndy, who introduced him to the musical world of Paris and the periods he spent there brought friendship with a number of people who exercised a decisive influence on his musical language. He began to collect folk-music in the second decade of the century, then spending the four years of the war at the front as an artillery officer. In 1919 he was appointed to the teaching staff of the Budapest National Conservatory. From 1928 Lajtha was a member of the International Commission of Popular Arts and Traditions of the League of Nations and then a member of the Commission of Arts and Letters until the outbreak of the Second World War. He was also a member of the committee of the International Folk Music Council, based in London. It was in 1930 that he signed his first contract with the Paris publisher Leduc, his exclusive publisher from 1948. His international career as a composer began in 1929 with the award of the Coolidge Prize for his Third String Quartet.
After the Second World War László Lajtha became director of music for Hungarian Radio, director of the Museum of Ethnography and of the National Conservatory. In 1947, commissioned to provide film music, he spent a year in London, but on his return lost all his official positions, for political reasons. In 1951 he received the Kossuth Prize for his activities in the field of folk-music. He was the only Hungarian composer since Franz Liszt to be elected corresponding member of the French Académie des Beaux-Arts. Lajtha died in Budapest on 16 February 1963.
The one-act ballet Capriccio was written in 1944. Lajtha worked here on a cheerful, light and brilliant piece of music at one of the darkest periods of modern Hungarian history. Contrasts of this kind between the internal and external worlds are characteristic of the composer, for whom composition was an escape from harsh reality. His orchestral Mass, Missa in diebus tribulationis, Opus 50, for example, was written in 1950, the year in which the Hungarian church was under strong attack, with the suppression of the monasteries. The same period, between 1948 and 1950, saw the birth of his ingenious opera buffa, The Blue Hat, Opus 51, (Le chapeau bleu). While working on the orchestration of this composition, he wrote in a note to one of his sons: “Just as in the town l have a room that is mine and only mine, so I have in my soul a secret room of my own. It has nothing to do with reality, yet it is more real”. One of the closest associates of the composer, Margit Tóth, revealed that while composing Capriccio, Lajtha “often refused to stop working when an air-raid was sounded, because he was working on apart that gave particular delight”. The original work is for four hands and was later orchestrated by the composer (Tibor Devai adapted Capriccio for two pianos).
Lajtha had a peculiarly strong affinity with the period around 1700 and Capriccio, like The Blue Hat, is set in that time. “The costumes and the architectural style recall the age of Watteau”, he wrote on the first page of the scenario. In an interview with the publication Film, Theatre, Music in 1962 he remarked: “I like stage subjects evoking the 1700s; I like those years of the theatre, when actors were stock characters, and it intrigues me how a man of today can move these figures from another age”. As for Capriccio he said: “Today’s ballet genre, for me, is a comedy on a workable plot. It is easier to dance farcical situations”. Capriccio, more than any other work by Lajtha, shows a clear relationship with the commedia dell’arte, with popular Italian theatre of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This is already clear from the names of the dramatis personae, Arlequin, Colombine, Pantalon, the Captain and so on, but the story itself is also typical. It is not too far-fetched to describe Capriccio as a twentieth century commedia dell’arte. There is here too a close kinship between the comic opera The Blue Hat, with a libretto by Salvador de Madariaga, and the ballet, both of them inspired by the same artistic intention. It is possible, moreover, that Lajtha only had a commedia dell’arte stage-work in mind, with action taking place around the year 1700, with the actual genre only appearing later, leading first to a ballet and then to an opera. Lajtha’s posthumous papers suggest that the libretto is based on an idea by the French writer Francois Gachot, while the meagre literature on Lajtha alleges that Kálmán Csathó was his co-author.
The setting is a clearing in a large park. To the left there is a mill “for honest labour” and to the right the drive-way to the castle.
1. Ouverture. (Presto molto) The director of the puppet-theatre, as an exception not wearing costume of the Watteau period, but tails and top-hat, arranges and winds up the puppets. These include Arlequin, Colombine, the Captain, Isabelle, the Baroness, Pantalon, the Ballerina and Mezzetin, as well as servants, butlers, orderly and peasants.
2. Complainte et Arlkequin consolateur (“Complaint and Arlequin as Consoler”). (Andantino) Colombine is distressed, for the mill rented by her husband Arlequin and her has broken down. Arlequin, back from the war, repairs the mill.
3. Marche goguenarde (“Mocking March”). The Baroness has decided to sell her mill to Pantalon, who wants to convert it into a bar for his girl-friend, the Ballerina. Arlequin twice chases away the servants who want to put up the new trade-sign.
4. Isabelle. (Molto con moto) Isabelle, the niece of the Baroness, plays about with the letter that announces the sale of the mill, ignorant of its contents. She joins Arlequin and Colombine in begging the Baroness not to sell the mill, but in vain. The contract is signed. Arlequin and Colombine walk sadly away. The Baroness waits excitedly for the Captain, whom she has chosen as a husband for Isabelle.
5. La marche du Capitaine (“The Captain’s March”). The Captain presents the Baroness with a bunch of white roses and wants to give Isabelle a bouquet of red roses, but she declines it. Pantalon introduces to the Ballerina the Captain, who takes a liking to her.
6. Serenade de Mezzetin. (Allegretto) The poet Mezzetin serenades Isabelle, then they dance together.
7. Menuette et Musette. (Le leçon d’amour, “The Lesson in Love”). The Ballerina stealthily watches Mezzetin and Isabelle first chasing each other and then embracing. She runs off to the castle and tells on them to the Captain.
8. Toccata. (Presto) The Captain challenges Mezzetin to a duel. The former “fights” with a toy sword, the latter with his guitar, then a stick. The Ballerina calls the Baroness, Pantalon and the servants, while Isabelle runs for Arlequin and Colombine. When the belligerents are separated, the Ballerina dances an alluring dance to the Captain and the four drink until they are intoxicated. Mezzetin’s friends help him, in the meanwhile, to steal away.
9. Rondeau etcouplet. (Allegro) The Captain, the Ballerina, Pantalon and the Baroness dance in pairs or all four together, pas de deux and pas de quatre alternating, then they fall asleep drunk on a stone bench.
10. Romance. (Andantino) Isabelle and Mezzetin dance, later joined by Arlequin and Colombine.
11. Scherzo. (Vivace) Seeing the drunken company, Arlequin racks his brains to find a way of recovering the mill and righting matters for the lovers. At last they turn to the Director for help and he dresses Arlequin up as the Emperor of the Moon, with the others as his retinue.
12. Marche plutôt gracieuse pour un empereur de la lune (“A Rather Graceful March in Honour of the Emperor of the Moon”). The Emperor of the Moon and his suite appear. The Emperor offers “treasures” (illuminated inflated plastic bags) for the castle to the Baroness and for the mill to Pantalon. An agreement is concluded, and the Emperor gives presents to everyone, before leaving with his attendants.
13. Les regrets (Regret). (Andantino) The Ballerina is the first to open her bag of “treasure”; the light dies out, it is empty. Everyone loses heart.
14. Finale. (Vivace) Arlequin, now dressed as himself, brings matters to rights. The Baroness gives Isabelle and Mezzetin her blessing and the castle. Arlequin and Colombine recover the mill. The Captain consoles himself with the Ballerina, the Baroness with Pantalon. They dance a round-dance in pairs, but when the curtain goes up again to the applause, the puppets are all still in their places, and the Director bows.
The delays that were the lot of Capriccio, and much of Lajtha’s work, were most unworthy of one of the greatest Hungarian composers of the present century. A letter from Lajtha in 1960 to the directorate of the Hungarian State Opera reveals that the work had been left lying at the Opera for ten years. “There must have been enough occasions during this time to stage my work at the Opera House. This, however, has not been done. The excuse is immaterial, libretto, music or something else”. Lajtha knew full well what he was driving at: since he never surrendered to the communist regime, he was politically a persona non grata in artistic life. Between 1948 and 1962, for example, he was not granted a passport and he was dismissed from the positions he held. In an interview in the daily Magyar Nemzet in May 1959 those in charge of the Opera announced Capriccio as “the great novelty of next year’s ballet scene”, but the production never took place. The same article declared that Lajtha considered making an opera from the ballet, but this too remained only an unrealised project.
Now, after three and a half decades, Capriccio has still not been staged, as far as is known, nor has the choreography been completed. Of Lajtha’s three ballets, Lysistrate, Opus 19; The Grove of Four Gods, Opus 38, and Capriccio, only the first was performed at the Budapest Opera House in 1937 and that for a mere four nights. Hungarian Radio recorded the complete score of Capriccio in 1987, 43 years after its composition.
The composer suggested three different suite sequences of ballet movements:
Suite No.1: movements 1, 2, 5, 13, 14
Five movements of Capriccio were performed by the Hungarian State Orchestra under János Ferencsik in April 1963, that is, after the death of the composer. The critic Andras Pernye wrote at the time in Magyar Nemzet: “As if Lajtha had condensed all his composing abilities and qualities in these five short movements, every detail of his work is permeated with sparkling wit, French ease and the tone of warm, humane humour”. Another reviewer, Esti Hirlap, described Capriccio as “so fresh, refreshingly charming, so much tailored for dancing and set to such a joyful story that it is hard to understand why there has been such delay and why it has not been billed at our ballet theatres: to one’s delight, one catches here a glimpse of the rare, smiling face of László Lajtha, who is known to seek expression usually for serious meditations and philosophical questions on which he has long ruminated”.
Emöke Salymosi Tari
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