About this Recording
8.550520 - KODALY: Galanta Dances / Marosszek Dances / The Peacock

Zoltán Kodály (1882–1967)
Dances of Galanta
Dances of Marosszék
Variations on a Hungarian Folksong (The Peacock)


The development of national consciousness in the second half of the nineteenth century led to some curious misunderstandings, not the least of which were Liszt’s use of Hungarian gypsy music in his popular Hungarian Rhapsodies, music that was essentially composed for the entertainment of audiences, rather than genuine folk-song or folk-dance. It was left to Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály to put matters to rights, with their better informed investigations of the true folk-music of the different regions of Hungary and neighbouring countries.

Zoltán Kodály was born in 1882 at Kecskemét, fifty miles south-east of Budapest, where his father, an employee of the railways, was booking-clerk. The following year the family moved to Szob, where Kodály’s father became station-master, and in 1885 there was a further transfer, this time to Galanta, on the main line from Budapest to Bratislava, the capital of modern Slovakia. Galanta became part of the new republic of Czechoslovakia in 1920, but under Hitler became once more part of Hungary. The composer spent seven years in Galanta, a period later reflected in the Dances of Galanta. This was followed by a further eight years in the largely Slovak town of Nagyszombat (Trnava), where his father had been transferred. In 1900 he entered the Pázmány University in Budapest to study German and Hungarian, at the same time taking lessons at the Academy of Music, where his composition teacher was the German Hans Koessler, a cousin of Max Reger, a musician for whom Hungarian traditional folk-song had no place. His doctoral thesis in 1906 was devoted to a study of Hungarian folksong, in the collection and investigation of which he had already busied himself, together with 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 accepted German mould. He became deputy director of the Academy, which was granted the status of a university in the short-lived Hungarian Republic that was established in 1919, but was barred for a time from teaching after the fall of the Republic four months later and the accession to power of Admiral Horthy.

Increasing international attention grew in the next years, with publication of Kodály’s music abroad and in particular with the first performance outside Hungary of Psalmus Hungaricus in 1926 and the later performance abroad of excerpts from Hary Janós. When he was able to resume his duties as a teacher, he was able to continue to exercise a strong influence on younger composers and a still greater influence over the whole process of music education in Hungary, with methods that have continued to find considerable favour elsewhere. His essential task was to establish a truly national Hungarian musical tradition, to be absorbed, as it was in his own music, into a recognisably Hungarian form of art music. Kodály remained in Hungary, when Bartók, another opponent of the Horthy regime, took refuge abroad. Nevertheless he was accorded various honours in Hungary, which continued under the new post-war dispensation, coupled with international recognition of his work as a composer and as a teacher. He died in Budapest in 1967.

The Galanta Dances were written in 1933 and first performed in Budapest in the same year at a concert by the Budapest Philharmonic Society, which had commissioned the work in celebration of its eightieth anniversary. Based on an earlier collection of folk-dance melodies, the Galanta Dances are essentially in the Hungarianverbunkos tradition, in origin a recruiting dance, lacking the brutality of the press-gang or the subterfuge of the King’s shilling adopted by other nations. The verbunkos made use of existing folk-material, giving rise, however, to its own peculiar musical idiom. Kodály presents the dances in the form of a rondo.

The Dances of Marosszék have an earlier origin in a group of piano pieces that Kodály wrote in 1927. They were orchestrated in 1930 and make use of the composer’s collection of Transylvani an folk-music. Both sets of dances were used for a ballet by the Hungarian-Italian dancer and choreographer Aurel von Milloss.

The Variations on a Hungarian Folksong were completed in 1939 in response to a commission by the Concertgebouw Orchestra in celebration of its fiftieth anniversary. The Variations were first performed the same year in Amsterdam under Mengelberg. The folk-song on which the variations are based, The Peacock, was drawn from the district of Somogy and the Mari people. The allusive words describe the flight of the peacock to the Town Hall prison, for the freedom of many a young man; the bird promises a new future, rather than a continuation of present sorrows. The text of the song was, of course, unacceptable to the authorities in Hungary, but represented well enough the feeling of many at the time, as it had done in earlier Hungarian history. The thematic material is at first presented in simple and then in elaborated form, before a series of sixteen variations and a finale, meticulously orchestrated and providing a treatment of the original melody that is both within and beyond the folk traditions of Hungary.

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