About this Recording
8.572549 - ZADOR, E.: Divertimento / Elegie and Dance / Oboe Concerto / Studies (Budapest Symphony Orchestra MAV, Smolij)

Eugene Zádor (1894–1977)
Elegie and Dance • Oboe Concerto • Divertimento • Studies for Orchestra


Eugene Zádor was a prolific composer who, throughout a long and distinguished career, steadfastly maintained the virtues of conciseness, clarity, honesty and wit that characterized both the man and his muse. In this second Naxos volume of Zádor compositions, listeners will find the same neo-classical spirit behind each work, the same transparency of expression, and the same delight in the sheer joy of creation. “I like to write con amore,” the composer once said. “Music is a love affair with me. It never lets me go. I compose when I walk, eat and even sometimes when I sleep.”

Zádor was one of many composers with European roots who emigrated to the United States in the 1930s and 1940s and made a living in motion pictures while continuing to write music for the concert hall. Unlike his colleagues Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Waxman and Miklós Rózsa, however, Zádor’s original work for films is sparse—and mostly uncredited. Instead, he worked in Hollywood as an orchestrator, turning detailed “sketches” by other composers into full orchestral scores. From 1941 to 1963, he worked almost exclusively for Rózsa, who so admired his fellow Hungarian’s skill that he insisted on being given his orchestrator of choice (meaning Zádor) when signing his first contract with M-G-M in 1948.

Born in Bátaszék, Hungary, in 1894, Zádor demonstrated an early affinity for music (exhibiting great keyboard virtuosity) and, at the age of sixteen, went to study with Richard Heuberger in Vienna. A year later he moved to Leipzig, where he was a pupil of Max Reger. After completing his doctoral degree at the University of Münster, he returned to Vienna, where he taught at the New Vienna Conservatory through the 1920s. While there, he composed (among other works) a symphony and two operas (both produced by the Budapest Royal Opera). He left the Conservatory in 1928 to devote himself full-time to composition and he never ceased writing until his death in 1977. His final catalogue comprised numerous works for orchestra (including four symphonies), several operas, chamber music, piano pieces, choral works, songs and various concertos for what he liked to call “underprivileged” instruments—including trombone, cimbalom, double bass and accordion.

Although some of his pieces are overtly “Hungarian” in style, for the most part Zádor composed in a cosmopolitan but conservative twentieth-century idiom, firmly grounded in tradition, that is strongly tonal and highly contrapuntal. His formal structures are often elaborate but always tightly knit. Effective communication of emotion was his constant goal, and to that end he emphasized melodic expression and evocative orchestral colour. Many distinguished conductors, including Stokowski, Szell, Mehta, Weingartner, Barbirolli, Monteux and Furtwängler, performed his music in Europe and America.

Zádor wrote Elegie and Dance in 1954, when composing concert music was a welcome change from his studio work. Solo flute opens the Elegie with a long, pastoral (indeed, almost impressionistic) line that slowly builds to an impassioned climax for full orchestra at the apex of the movement. This is followed by solos for English horn and low-lying clarinet (exploiting its dark chalumeau register) as the movement winds down to a hushed conclusion. Zádor contrasts this with a broad motive for violins (initially playing on their lowest string and then muted) which emphasizes the raised fourth of the Lydian mode.

If Elegie is mysterious and nocturnal, the following Dance is sunny and celebrative. Brass (which—except for horns—have been silent in Elegie) intone a playful mixed-meter idea that Zádor develops in an ABA form (with a B theme introduced by flute). The music is relentlessly rhythmic and genial throughout—very much a reflection of its composer’s express desire to write music that communicates emotionally and directly.

Zádor’s Oboe Concerto is a late work (1975). Its three movements share the same formal plan: an ABA structure where the second A section is not so much a repeat of the first as it is a development of the same thematic material. The opening movement contrasts an easygoing tune in the Mixolydian mode with a more dour-sounding (and harmonically pungent) middle section. The second movement opens with a gentle cantilena; the B section is brief and the composer soon returns to his opening motive for extensive development. The concluding movement features a playful melodic idea that is only temporarily supplanted by a more ruminative passage before returning to conclude the work on a jovial note.

The Divertimento for Strings dates from 1954 and was written for the Musical Arts Society of La Jolla, California. Nikolai Sokoloff conducted the première at the La Jolla Music Festival in July 1955; two years later Eugene Ormandy performed it with the Philadelphia Orchestra. It is a mercurial work, rich in ideas and rife with contrapuntal techniques. Its occasional astringency and intermittent Hungarian characteristics give it a strong Bartókian flavour. It effectively demonstrates Zádor’s affinity for exploiting the sonorities of massed symphonic strings and is, not surprisingly, the composer’s most-performed piece.

The first movement alternates three ideas. The first is a thrusting, angular line with a prominent tritone; the second is gentler and features a common Hungarian rhythmic pattern. The final idea is a playful motive, opening with an octave, introduced by cellos before moving to violins. The Andantino second movement is, for the most part, more lyrical. It opens with a simple melodic idea in violas and builds to a fervent peak (with richly divided lower strings) before the initial motive returns for a hushed conclusion. The energetic final movement frames an extensive development of a nimble, teasing idea (introduced in a fugal passage) with an opening section motivically related to the first movement and a concluding passage of rich, modal chords.

By 1969 Zádor, having retired from orchestration work to focus instead on expanding his already impressive body of concert work, set out to compose a big piece which would encompass many moods and forms. He considered the resulting Studies for Orchestra—an eight-movement showcase for symphonic ensembles—his finest work because “it has the most color.” “I wanted to show all the possibilities of the orchestra,” the composer explained. “A flute has a high C, and nobody ever uses it, and a contrabassoon has a low B flat, and nobody ever uses it; but I used them, because if they weren’t useable, they wouldn’t be there.” Since Sixten Ehrling, then conductor of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, had been effusive in his praise of Zádor’s trombone concerto (which he had conducted several times), the composer sent him the score of the new work. Several weeks went by before a transoceanic phone call from Ehrling in Sweden informed Zádor that he had scheduled Studies for its world première in Detroit the following November.

Zádor wrote his own programme note for the piece: “This work consists of eight short movements, each of which has a specific character. The first, ‘Prelude’ (Allegretto), starts with a broad symphonic theme which is played at three different speeds; the second, ‘Slow Fantasy’ (Andantino), is an elegiac essay, flavoured by Hungarian folklore; the third is a gay ‘Capriccioso’ (Allegro vivo), played with pizzicato and col legno [effects]; the fourth is a polytonal ‘Introduction’ and light ‘Scherzo’ (Moderato, Allegro); the fifth is a ‘Potpourri,” a piece of unusual variety (Moderato, Vivo); the sixth, ‘Song’ (Allegretto), is a symphonic jazz piece; the seventh, ‘Crescendo-Decrescendo’ (Moderato), starts with ppp, rises to fff, then, from bar 23, the whole piece is written note by note backward, as a mirror, ending again in ppp. The final movement is a ‘Rapsodia’ (Molto moderato, Allegretto, Vivace).”

In spite of its great profusion of ideas, the work has a remarkable unity and consistency. This is due, in large part, to the prevalence of far-reaching melodic lines encompassing wide intervallic leaps in nearly every movement (the opening of the Prelude and the Introduction of the fourth movement being just two of the more obvious examples). These lines often struggle in counterpoint with other ideas, resulting in an over-all feeling of angst which firmly places Studies for Orchestra among the composer’s more sophisticated and somber works.

Eugene Zádor was a practical musician and well aware that his style (which he summarized as “exactly between La Traviata and Lulu”) was not always fashionable. “But I don’t apologize for writing music which is accessible to a wide audience. I write for the contemporary audience, not for my remote descendants.” Fortunately, 35 years after his death, his music is finding new audiences in a generation that has re-embraced tonality and can appreciate his superb craft and heartfelt sincerity.

Frank K. DeWald

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