About this Recording
8.557541 - Violin Recital: Barnabas Keleman

Maurice Ravel (1875-1937): Tzigane
Béla Bartók (1881-1945): Andante • Romanian Folk Dances • Rhapsodies Nos. 1 and 2
Franz Liszt (1811-1886): Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth • Romance oubliée • La lugubre gondola
Pablo Sarasate (1844-1908): Zigeunerweisen


The French composer Maurice Ravel's career as a composer, interrupted by the war of 1914-1918, centred on Paris, while his musical language was able, at times, to draw on a Spanish element inherited from his mother. His Tzigane, a gypsy piece to end all such pieces, was written in 1924 for the Hungarian violinist Jelly d'Arányi, whose own improvised additions the composer added to the completed work, remarking, it is reported, that he did not know what she was doing, but he liked it. The work, heard here in its original form, for violin and piano, was described by one of Ravel's friends as a violinist's minefield, and it is certainly designed to test the virtuosity and technique of any player who tackles it. The Tzigane opens in true gypsy fashion, with an unaccompanied violin introduction, making full use of gypsy melodic formulae. This is followed by music that, while more characteristic of Ravel in its harmonies, continues to use the repeated turns of phrase that give the work its character.

The Hungarian composer Béla Bartók was born in 1881 in a region that now forms part of Romania. His father was a keen amateur musician, while it was from his mother that he received his early piano lessons. The death of his father in 1889 led to a less settled existence, as his mother returned to work as a teacher, eventually making her home in Pozsony, the modern Bratislava, where Bartók passed his early adolescence, counting among his school-fellows the composer Ernő Dohnányi. Offered the chance of musical training in Vienna, like Dohnányi he chose instead Budapest, where he won a considerable reputation as a pianist, being appointed to the teaching staff of the Academy of Music in 1907. At the same time he developed a deep interest, shared with his compatriot Zoltán Kodály, in the folk-music of his own and adjacent countries.

As a composer Bartók found acceptance much more difficult, particularly in his own country, which was, in any case, beset by political troubles. Meanwhile his reputation abroad grew, particularly among those with an interest in contemporary music, and his success both as a pianist and as a composer, coupled with dissatisfaction at the growing association between the government of Admiral Horthy and National Socialist Germany, led him in 1940 to emigrate to the United States of America. In his last years, after briefly holding teaching positions at Columbia and Harvard, he suffered from increasing ill-health and from poverty which the conditions of exile in war-time could do nothing to alleviate. He died in straitened circumstances in 1945, leaving a new Viola Concerto incomplete and a Third Piano Concerto more nearly finished.

Bartók's Andante for violin and piano was written in 1902, seemingly with Jelly d'Arányi's sister, Adila, later Adila Fachiri, then a student at the Budapest Academy, in mind. It is a piece of delicate and romantic charm, a world away from the more astringent musical language that the composer later developed.

The two Rhapsodies for violin and piano were both written in 1928, appearing in versions for solo violin and orchestra, as well as in versions in which the violin was replaced by viola or cello. Both works are in two movements, lassú followed by friss, as in the standard Hungarian dances, the verbunkos, or recruiting dance, and the csárdás. The lassú of the First Rhapsody, dedicated to Joseph Szigeti, who gave the first performance in November 1929, starts with a melody that is initially based on the ascending scale in the Lydian mode. A second section is dominated by the characteristic short-long rhythm also familiar in traditional Scottish music. The movement ends with the return of the opening material and a closing reference to the second. The friss, after a brief introduction, turns to a melody that may seem all too familiar. The second section, with its variations of speed, moves on to music of greater excitement, finally slowing to a reminiscence of the lassú and a brief cadenza.

Both Rhapsodies were subject to much revision by the composer, the Second Rhapsody notably in 1945. Dedicated to Zoltán Székely, the opening lassú starts with a characteristic melody in D minor that re-appears twice, first in a higher register, with a harmonically contrasting accompaniment, and finally in conjunction with another theme that had appeared in the second episode of what is, in fact, a rondo. Characteristic rhythmic opens the friss, introducing the modal first melody. A second section, marked Molto moderato, pesante, leads to the increasing excitement expected of the dance, before an Allegro non troppo and music that continues to use varied and innovative technical, harmonic and rhythmic devices.

Bartók's Romanian Folk Dances, a reflection of his interest in folk-music and his great ability in using such melodic material so as to set it off in a new way, was conceived in 1915 for piano and is now equally well known in an arrangement for violin and piano by Zoltán Székely, and a version for solo violin and string orchestra. The short dances, based on material collected from Romanian sources in Hungary, are Stick Dance, Sash Dance, In One Place, Horn Dance, Romanian Polka and a final rapid Mǎruntel.

Born in 1811 at Raiding (Doborján), a largely German-speaking area of Hungary, Franz Liszt was the son of a steward in the service of Haydn's patrons, the Esterházys. His early career as a virtuoso pianist was based on Paris, where his liaison in 1835 with a married woman, the Comtesse Marie d'Agoult, led to his departure for years of travel abroad, first to Switzerland, then back to Paris, before leaving for Italy, Vienna and Hungary. By 1844 his relationship with his mistress, the mother of his three children, was at an end, but his concert activities continued until 1847, the year in which his association began with a Polish heiress, the estranged wife of a Russian prince. The following year he settled with her in Weimar, the city of Goethe, turning his attention now to the development of a newer form of orchestral music, the symphonic poem, and, as always, to the revision and publication of earlier compositions. It was in 1861 at the age of fifty that Liszt moved to Rome, following Princess Carolyne, who had settled there a year earlier. Divorce and annulment seemed to have opened the way to their marriage, but they now continued to live in separate apartments in the city. Liszt eventually took minor orders and developed a pattern of life that divided his time between Weimar, where he imparted advice to a younger generation, Rome, where he was able to pursue his religious interests, and Pest, where he returned now as a national hero. He died in 1886 in Bayreuth, where his daughter Cosima, former wife of Hans von Bülow and widow of Richard Wagner, lived, concerned with the continued propagation of her husband's music.

Liszt was a prolific composer, both for his own instrument, the piano, and in other forms. In 1841 he found refuge on the small Rhine island of Nonnenwerth in a deserted convent, working in preparation for coming concert tours, and accompanied, during these final years of their relationship, by Marie d'Agoult, who took less delight in this relative isolation on an island, where, according to legend, the hero Roland had died of love. Liszt had discovered Nonnenwerth with his friend Prince Felix Lichnowsky, nephew of Beethoven's patron, and in Die Zelle in Nonnenwerth (The Cell in Nonnenwerth) set a poem by Lichnowsky, dedicating it, and a setting of Heine's 'Die Loreley' to his mistress. He later arranged the song as a piano piece, dedicated to Lichnowsky, and in 1860 arranged it for violin or cello and piano. The Romance oubliée, a nostalgic piano piece written in 1880, belongs to a group of 'forgotten' pieces, as Liszt now reflected on his past. It was originally scored for viola, violin or cello and piano. La lugubre gondola, a harmonically innovative evocation of the funeral gondola carrying its burden to the island cemetery of San Michele in Venice, was written in 1882, scored for violin or cello and piano. Both pieces were also arranged for piano alone.

The great Spanish violinist Pablo Sarasate was born in Pamplona in 1844. After study in Madrid, at the age of twelve he entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he became a pupil of Delphin Alard and also embarked on the study of composition. By the age of fifteen, however, he had launched himself on a concert career, at first winning a reputation in Spain and France, before more extended tours to North and South America and throughout the rest of Europe. Composers who wrote for him included Saint-Saëns, Bruch, Lalo, Wienawski and Dvořák and he remained distinguished for the purity and beauty of his tone, perfection of technique and musical command.

Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs), published in 1878 as Op. 20, is among the best known of Sarasate's compositions, an effective re-creation of rhapsodic quasi-improvisatory gypsy style in its first slower section, followed by a second section of great rapidity, the lassú and friss of the Hungarian recruiting dance, adopted by gypsy musicians in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Keith Anderson

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