About this Recording
8.554039 - KODALY: Duo for Violin and Cello / Hungarian Rondo / Adagio for Cello / Sonatina
English 

Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967)
Music for Cello, Volume 2
Prelude and Fugue (J.S. Bach, tr. Kodály); Sonatina for Cello and Piano
Adagio for Cello and Piano; Capriccio for Solo Cello
Hungarian Rondo for Cello and Piano; Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7

 

The son of a railway booking-clerk, Zoltán Kodály was born in 1882 at Kecskemét, fifty miles south-east of Budapest. In 1900, after a childhood largely spent in the Hungarian countryside, Kodály entered the pázmány University in Budapest, studying German and Hun­garian. At the same time he took lessons at the Academy of Music, where his composition teacher was Hans Koessler, a cousin of Max Reger, a musician for whom traditional Hungarian folk-song had no place. However, Kodály's doctoral thesis in 1906 was devoted to just this subject, in the collection and investigation of which he had already busied himself, together with his close contemporary Béla Bartók.

After a brief period of study in Berlin, Kodály returned to Hungary to join the staff of the Academy where, in 1908, he took over the first-year composition class. In the following years he continued his activities as a composer and as a collector of folk-song, finding in the second activity a necessary foundation for art music that was genuinely Hungarian rather than in the conventional German mould. He became deputy director of the Academy, which was granted the status of a university in the short-lived Hungarian Republic established in 1919, but he was barred for a time from teaching after the fall of the Republic four months later and the accession to power of Admiral Horthy.

Kodály's music attracted increasing international attention in the following years, particularly with the first performance outside Hungary of his Psalmus Hungaricus in 1926 and the success of excerpts from his essentially Hungarian Singspiel Háry János. When he resumed his duties as a teacher, he was able to exert a strong influence on younger composers and a still greater influence over the whole process of musical education in Hungary, with methods that have, however imperfectly, been much imitated elsewhere. The task he set himself was to establish a truly Hungarian musical tradition, to be absorbed, as it was in his own music, into a recognisably Hungarian form of art music. While Bartók, whose style as a composer was generally more astringent and more experimental than Kodály's, took refuge abroad, Kodály remained in Hungary during Admiral Horthy's period of rule, as he did under the new dispensation established in the years after the war, much honoured at home and abroad. He died in Budapest in 1967.

Kodály's transcription for cello and piano of the Prelude and Fugue in E flat minor from the first book of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier was made in 1951 and dedicated to Pablo Casals, who had emerged from self-imposed silence in 1950 for the Bach bicentenary. Kodály offers the transcription to Casals 'in grateful memory of his wonderful renderings.' Transposed to the more convenient and, for the cello, more resonant key of D minor, the Prelude allows melodic interest to the cello, which, in the Fugue provides the third and fourth entries of the fugal subject.

The Sonatina for cello and piano was completed in 1922 and originally intended as an additional movement for the two-movement Sonata for cello and piano, Opus 4 of 1909 (Naxos 8.553160). Kodály found, however, that his style had changed during the previous decade, making its inclusion in the earlier sonata inappropriate. Broadly symmetrical in structure, with varied and transposed earlier material returning in the second part of the movement, the work remains thoroughly Hungarian in its melodic contours.

Kodály's moving Adagio for cello and piano, which also exists in versions for violin or viola, was written in 1905 and dedicated, on its subsequent publication, to the violinist Imre Waldbauer of the Waldbauer-Kerpely Quartet, an ensemble then of great importance in the encouragement and performance of contemporary Hungarian chamber music. It was to this quartet that Kodály dedicated his own second work in that form, while providing the cellist, Jenő Kerpely, with a cello sonata. Tripartite in structure, the first section, which frames a more overtly Hungarian central section, returns in a modified form, slowly and gently unwinding to provide a conclusion.

The Capriccio for solo cello, written in 1915, makes greater technical demands on a performer. After a dramatic introduction it moves forward to a rapid passage of divided octaves, framing a further passage of more complex virtuoso display. The Capriccio ends with gently plucked chords, after an emphatic chordal flourish in a dramatic coda.

Two years later Kodály wrote his Hungarian Rondo, the title of the version for cello and piano of the work for chamber orchestra first performed in Vienna in 1918, under the title Old Hungarian Soldiers' Songs. This is an apt enough description of the thematic basis of the work, with its first characteristic melody used to frame a series of episodes based on other traditional Hungarian material.

Written in 1914, the Duo for violin and cello, Opus 7 was first heard abroad at the ISCM festival of 1924 in Salzburg. The work maintains a perfect balance between the two instruments. There is something gently rhapsodic in the Hungarian contours of the opening, as the instruments take it in turns to accompany in plucked notes or to state the principal melody, developing into fiercer textures. There is an expressive second movement, thematically related to what has passed, leading to dramatic rhetoric, as the dialogue between the two instruments continues. The cadenza-like Maestoso e largamente, ma non troppo lento is followed by a rapid Presto that sometimes suggests in its sonorities the work of Ravel for violin and cello, before its final march to a brilliant conclusion.

Keith Anderson


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