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8.223667 - LAJTHA, L.: Symphony No. 7 / Suite No. 3 / Hortobagy (Pécs Symphony, Pasquet)

Laszl6 Lajtha (1892 -1963) Suite No

Laszlo Lajtha (1892 -1963)

Suite No.3, Op. 56

Hortobagy, Op. 21

Symphony No.7, Op. 63 "Revolution Symphony"


Laszlo Lajtha, one of the greatest Hungarian composers of the first half of the twentieth century, was born in Budapest on 30th 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 Laszlo 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 Academie des Beaux-Arts. Lajtha died in Budapest on 16th February 1963.


Although the genre of symphony is very rare in Hungarian music, Lajtha's nine symphonies form the climax of his creative work. The original descriptive title of his Seventh Symphony. Autumn, was omitted from the printed score, referring as it did to the events of autumn 1956. In a letter to his sons, written in 1957 or 1958, he describes the symphony as really very tragic, dramatic and revolutionary, adding that some day it might carry the title Revolution Symphony. The brutal suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 against Communist dictatorship and Soviet oppression made a deep impression on the composer, an impression echoed by the Seventh Symphony.


The first performance of Lajtha's Seventh Symphony, as one might expect, was not given in Hungary, although the work was broadcast. On 26th April 1958 György Lehel directed the Hungarian Radio Orchestra in the Salle Pleyel in Paris. On this occasion so many comments of a political character were made that Lajtha felt compelled to add his own declaration:


"I wrote the Seventh Symphony in 1957. The tragic character of the work, gloomy and emotional in its melancholy, was the result of an accumulation of feeling over the years, just as Magyar poets have always entertained the same emotions. This is natural, since Hungarian history is full of tragic events, which have often raised questions of existence or non-existence. This plan, maturing for many years, was influenced by the events of 1956 too, like ash disturbed by the wind. l would not be a Hungarian artist, had I not been influenced myself by these events. It is indeed a tragic historic event when hostility can burst out between a Hungarian and his fellow-countryman, hostility that may endanger future and work to be done. The musical instruments grieve at the tragedies of Hungary, pray for truth and quote the sounds of the hymn for a peaceful future."


Lajtha follows the normal order of movements in his symphonies, a fast movement followed by a slow and a final fast movement, here marked Modere - Agite, Lent and Agite. The musical quotations used in the composition include the opening of the Marseillaise in the third movement, a clear reference to the French Revolution and its ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. This leads later to a chorale-like melody. The final cadence recalls the Hungarian National Hymn, but in a distorted form. This melody seeks the blessing of God and is interrupted by great orchestral chords, a reminder of the suppression of the 1956 Revolution.


The first performance of Lajtha's Seventh Symphony in Hungary was given by the State Orchestra under Janos Ferencsik on 16th February 1959. Other performances followed in various countries, in London under Eugene Goossens and in Paris under Manuel Rosenthal. The symphony was also welcomed by enthusiastic reviews elsewhere, in Munich, Rotterdam, Toronto, Amsterdam and Lisbon.


The Third Suite is exceptional among Lajtha's compositions in this form, since it is not drawn from music for the ballet. The First Suite comes from a ballet called Lysistrata, Opus 19, the Second Suite is from a one-act ballet- comedy, The Park of the Four Gods, Opus 38. Three suites were drawn from the one-act ballet Capriccio, Opus 39. The Third Suite was written for the hundredth birthday of the Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra, as its dedication reveals, but it was not performed at the centenary concert. It is well known from one of Lajtha's letters to his wife in 1953 that the leading figures in official Hungarian musical life would have been eager to include the work in the programme of the Second Hungarian Music Week .To his wife Lajtha wrote: "I am not going to give it, neither is the Philharmonic." Janos Ferencsik was much in favour of conducting the Third Suite at a concert between Bart6k's Divertimento and Kodaly's Peacock Variations. There was a proposal that the programme should be a celebrational one to open the centenary season of the Philharmonic. If that was the case, he was not going to join "the worms". These few remarks clearly show the humiliation and grief of the writer in these circumstances.


Lajtha's widow records the suite as "gay and melodious, something for the general public". The work is light in tone, in the manner of a divertimento. The five movements are marked Tres vif, Andante, Presto, Allegretto and Gai. According to her notes, it was first played in Paris in 1955 by the Lyon Orchestra under Maurice-Paul Guillot and in Hungary in 1958 by Janos Ferencsik and the Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra.


It was a Hungarian photographer, Laszlo Schäffer, who first drew the attention of the Austrian film-director Georg Höllering to the wild beauty of Hortobagy. Höllering moved there, living with the native horsemen of the region for a few years and shooting there an enormous amount of film. His work shows the daily life of the district, the great Hungarian "puszta", in the manner of a documentary. The result is a nature film that offers a cathartic experience. A short story by Zsigmond Moricz called The Gloomy Horse was later added to the film to add a love interest. The characters are amateurs, peasants. At first Lajtha was not interested in composing music for the film, but after watching the beautiful pictures of the life of the Hungarian "puszta", both genuinely and poetically depicted, he undertook the commission. The two artists got on remarkably well, both acknowledging the equal role of words, pictures and music. "I was searching for the expressive, mutually balancing unity of picture and music, and Laszl6 Lajtha quickly understood my message" declared Höllering in 1967 in the Hungarian weekly Film, Theatre, Music. Lajtha gave a detailed description of his aesthetic principles in writing music for a motion picture. In a lecture for the BBC in 1948, published in The Chesterian, he said: "Let us forget the so-called background-music. Let music be music, and it will be far more affecting than any of those 'illustrative' tone-pictures... Film music worthy of its name must be good music independently of all outside circumstances, considerations and requirements, which is only possible if the music could stand on its own feet, i.e. without the film; just as the story must be a good one independently of its 'photogenic' qualities ... Film music may well be as 'pure' as most exponents of contemporary music would like it to be, purged of all foreign elements."


Two other films resulted from the collaboration of Höllering and Lajtha, a version of T. S. Eliot's play Murder in the Cathedral, Lajtha's Opus 45, written in 1948, and a short fine-art film Shapes and Forms, Lajtha's Opus 48, composed in 1949. The film Holtobagy won considerable success during a long run in London, as in Paris, in Germany and in the United States of America. In Hungary, however, it has seldom been shown. Lajtha arranged the music from the film in movements as a suite. In 1965 two movements were published in Paris, The Great Hungarian Plain (Andante) and Gallop in the Puszta (Presto). Although some genuine folk-songs and some instrumental folk music can be heard in the film, the orchestral part itself and the two suite movements are newly composed. The suite was performed on 25th January 1946 by Janos Ferencsik and the Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra as Two Symphonic Pictures.


Emöke Solymosi Tari  

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