About this Recording
8.572749 - KODALY, Z.: Háry János Suite / Dances of Galanta / DOHNANYI, E.: Konzertstuck (Starker, Seattle Symphony, Schwarz)

Zoltán Kodály (1882–1967): Háry János Suite • Dances of Galánta
Ernő Dohnányi (1877–1960): Konzertstück for Cello and Orchestra, Op 12


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 Galánta, on the main line from Budapest to Bratislava, the capital of modern Slovakia. This was followed by a further eight years in the largely Slovak town of Nagyszombat (Trnava), where his father had been transferred. In 1900 Zoltán 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 folk-song, 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.

Kodály’s music received increased international attention in the coming years with publication and performance abroad. When he was able to resume his duties as a teacher, Kodály continued to exercise a strong infl uence on younger composers and a still greater infl uence 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 Kodály 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 opera Háry János, more of a popular tale than a true opera, was first performed in the Hungarian capital in 1926. It centres on the exploits, largely imaginary, of the soldier Hary János, an inveterate liar, who sits in the tavern, telling anyone who will listen to him of his famous adventures, escapades that include the personal defeat of the French Emperor Napoleon, a love affair with the Empress Marie-Louise, the single-handed shifting of the frontier, and, of course, the receipt of lavish honours bestowed upon him by a grateful Emperor.

The music, like the story, is essentially Hungarian. Its introduction, the opening of the Fairy Tale, suggests that what will follow has all the exaggeration of a dream. In the Suite taken from the opera the excerpts are not kept in their original order, but the Prelude is followed by the famous musical clock of Vienna, with its model soldiers that mark the hour. The Song that forms the third movement of the Suite is the love-duet between Hary János and his first love, Orzse, to whom he finally returns, a folk-song played first by the solo viola and then transformed by the orchestra. It is followed by the mock-epic battle in which Napoleon and the Marseillaise are put to fl ight, the movement ending in a funeral march, dignified by a melancholy saxophone. The Intermezzo is in the form of a Hungarian verbunkos, a recruiting dance, a musical means of augmenting the imperial forces, at a time when other countries used drink and the press-gang. It leads to the last movement of the Suite, the Entrance of the Emperor and His Court, the climax of the hero’s career, in his own imagination. A brisk march introduces the Royal Guard and the Emperor himself, to a highly coloured orchestral accompaniment.

Galánta became part of the new republic of Czechoslovakia in 1920, but under Hitler became once more part of Hungary. The composer spent seven years there, a period later refl ected in the Dances of Galánta. These 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 Galánta Dances are essentially in the Hungarian verbunkos tradition, making use of existing folk-material, giving rise, however, to its own peculiar musical idiom. Kodály presents the dances in the form of a rondo.

Ernő Dohnányi was born in 1877 in Poszony (the modern Slovakian capital, Bratislava). His father, an amateur cellist and composer, taught there at the Catholic Gymnasium, where Bartók’s widowed mother was to be employed and where Dohnányi and Bartók were both pupils. Four years the latter’s senior, Dohnányi had organ lessons and instruction in music theory from Karl Forstner, organist at the Catholic cathedral, and began to enjoy early and precocious success. In 1894, rather than study in Vienna, as might have been expected, he chose instead to become a student at the Budapest Music Academy. There he was a piano pupil of István Thomán, a former pupil of Liszt and principal piano teacher at the Academy, where his composition teacher was the German composer Hans Koessler, a cousin of Max Reger and admirer of Brahms. Bartók was to study under the same teachers, but Dohnányi, while sharing Bartók’s later prowess as a pianist, was more strongly infl uenced by the German school of composition.

In 1897 Dohnányi prepared for his début as a pianist in Berlin by brief study with Eugen d’Albert. He went on to give concerts in Germany and Austria, and in London with Hans Richter. Thereafter he embarked on concert tours throughout Europe, in Russia and in the United States, establishing himself as a virtuoso to equal Liszt. At the same time he won attention with his compositions. In 1905 he was invited by Joachim to join the staff of the Berlin Musikhochschule, where he taught until 1915, when, with the Great War now under way, he returned to Hungary, teaching at the Budapest Music Academy and doing much to reform systems of musical instruction in the country. In 1918 he became Principal Conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra and President of the Philharmonic Society, holding the latter position until 1944. He was briefl y director of the Hungarian National Music High School in the newly established republic after 1918, but was dismissed in favour of Hubay by the right-wing Horthy government that soon took power.

Dohnányi’s career as a conductor and pianist continued in Hungary and abroad, particularly in the United States, where, from 1925 to 1927 he served as Principal Conductor of the New York State Symphony Orchestra. In 1928 he returned to Hungary to teach at the Royal Franz Liszt Music School, of which he was to become director from 1934 until his resignation, for political reasons, in 1944. In 1931 he was appointed Music Director of Hungarian Radio. After his resignation in 1944 Dohnányi moved to Austria, a step that brought later criticism from his opponents and affected his post-war concert career. While he had been strongly against the antisemitic policies introduced into Hungary through German intervention, he had no sympathy with the left-wing forces that were to come to power in Hungary after the war. In 1948 he moved to England and then to Argentina, and finally to the United States, undertaking various teaching duties in the last two countries. He died in 1960 in New York, where he was involved in recording sessions, at a time when his reputation was starting to recover from the political attacks that had been made on him in the aftermath of the war.

Dohnányi’s Konzertstück in D major for Cello and Orchestra was written in 1903 and 1904, the choice of solo instrument in what is in fact a concerto doubtless infl uenced by the fact that his father was a proficient amateur cellist. The work was dedicated to the cellist Hugo Becker, who gave the first performance. With three linked movements, the piece soon brings the entry of the cello with a rhapsodic melody played on the A string and accompanied principally by the strings of the orchestra. The secondary thematic material explores a wide range of the solo instrument in music that is skilfully scored, so that the soloist, always prominent, is never obscured by accompanying orchestral textures. There is a shift of key for the central Adagio and the third section opens in contrast with more dramatic orchestral activity. As the work comes to an end, there is a cadenza and final reminiscences of what has gone before.

Keith Anderson

Close the window