About this Recording
8.573274 - ZÁDOR, E.: Dance Symphony / Variations on a Hungarian Folksong / Festival Overture (Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV, Smolij)

Eugene Zádor (1894–1977)
Dance Symphony • Variations on a Hungarian Folksong • Festival Overture


Eugene Zádor spent a lifetime devoted to composing music—everything from operas and ballets to symphonies and concertos. After the rise of Nazi Germany cut short a successful career in Europe, he made a living for himself in America by composing and orchestrating film scores—continuing his outpouring of concert works on his own time. Music was second nature to him. As he once said, “I like to write con amore. Music is a love affair with me. I compose when I walk, eat, and sometimes even when I sleep.”

Born in the village of Bátaszék, Hungary, on 5 November 1894, Zádor first fell under the spell of music when he heard the sound of a piano emanating from a neighbour’s house. He stopped to listen for so long in the freezing weather he contracted pneumonia. His mother promised him anything if only he would recover, so he asked for (and received) a piano. He was only six years old.

In 1911, after initial study in piano and composition at the conservatory in Pecs, Zádor entered the Vienna Conservatory. The following year he moved to the Leipzig Conservatory, where his teachers included Max Reger. After earning a doctorate in musicology from the University of Münster in 1921, he settled in Vienna and began to teach composition at the Neues Wiener Konservatorium (in the same room where he had been a student ten years before). He wrote his first symphony, the Romantic, in 1922. The first of his twelve operas, Diana, a grand-Guignol piece about a medieval knight, had its premiere at the Budapest Royal Opera House in 1923.

During the 1920s and 1930s Zádor lived a productive life as a teacher and composer in Vienna. He was prosperous and well-connected, numbering among his friends Béla Bartók, who came to visit Zádor whenever he was in the city. In addition to more operas, Zádor composed such notable works as Rhapsodie für grosses Orchester (1930), Kammerkonzert (1931), Sinfonia Technica (1932), Rondo for Orchestra (1933) and Hungarian Caprice (1935)—all of which added to his growing stature. He was awarded the Hungarian National Prize in 1934 for his Piano Quintet, and made an honorary professor at the Royal Academy in Budapest the following year.

Zádor left Vienna on 12 March 1938—the day of the Anschluss—fleeing to Budapest. A job offer from the New York College of Music enabled him to obtain a visa, and in March 1939 he embarked for America. He lived in New York for about a year, working as an orchestrator for the Ford Sunday Evening Hour on radio. His opera Christopher Columbus, presented in concert form at Radio City Music Hall in New York and broadcast nationally, was a huge success. When he received an offer from M-G-M to compose music for films, he accepted it and moved to Los Angeles.

As was typical of the day, Zádor composed (or at least contributed to) numerous scores in the early 1940s for which he received no screen credit. He also began what would become a career-long stint as the exclusive orchestrator for three-time Oscar winner Miklós Rózsa—who, like his fellow Hungarian, enjoyed success both in the cinema and in the concert hall.

Shortly after Zádor retired from orchestrating, he received word that Zubin Mehta had selected A Festival Overture for the opening week of the new Los Angeles Music Center—home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Mehta conducted the premiere of the work there on 10 December 1964. As befits the occasion, the overture is filled with bravura; as befits a composition by Eugene Zádor, it is constructed with rigorous musical logic. It opens with two short fanfares—the first is warm and noble (horns and trumpets punctuated by sonorous polychords in trombones and strings); the second is more festive and brilliant (glittering triplets in brass and woodwinds). Zádor repeats these before introducing his principal idea: a martial theme characterized by dotted rhythms (including a prominent Scottish snap), perfect fifths (used both melodically and harmonically) and a buzzing, mordent-like figure. The composer exploits these characteristics extensively in a lengthy development which at one point is interrupted by a return of the fanfares. Two-thirds of the way through the piece, the celebratory mood takes an abrupt turn. Low strings announce a solemn fugal motif—again featuring a prominent fifth—that builds to a great climax into which elements of the first theme (dotted rhythms, the mordent figure) intrude until they overtake the musical argument. The fanfares return (albeit in reverse order) to bring the work to a brilliant (dare one say cinematic?) conclusion.

Although Zádor left Hungary when he was still in his teens, his music remained firmly rooted in his native soil. “You can discern the Hungarian flavour in practically every work of mine”, he said in a 1974 interview. “I’m grateful that I was born in Hungary and have this Hungarian music in my blood, in my system, because if I want to advance in my style, I don’t have to go in the direction of atonal music. I always say, ʻI’m sorry, gentlemen, but what I write is Hungarian folklore (or folklore imitations) so I will be tonal always. You have to excuse me.” Certainly no excuse is needed for his Variations on a Hungarian Folksong, written in 1919 and premiered in Vienna on 7 February 1927. The theme—a simple D-major tune with three phrases, of which the last is longer than the first two—is introduced by a quartet of low woodwinds (two clarinets and two bassoons). The ten movements which follow are not only variations on the tune but also diverse mood pictures inspired by it. Zádor gave each a revealing subtitle (“Bagatelle”, “Burleske”, Scherzo”, “Serenade” and so forth). This allowed him to make great use of orchestral colour, approaching in some variations a nearly Straussian opulence. (Among Zádor’s most prized possessions were two pages from the original manuscript of Die Liebe der Danae given to him by Strauss.)

The most “Hungarian” of the variations is the eighth, “Alla zingaresca – quasi Csárdás”, in which Zádor cleverly mimics the sound of the native cimbalom with lower strings, piano and clarinets. The final variation begins with a fugal development of the theme, starting on bassoons and clarinets as though reflecting back on the beginning of the work. The theme is soon picked up by oboes, flutes and violins, and the piece concludes with an assertive, full-orchestra statement.

Ten years later, after Zádor had been living, teaching and creating in Vienna for sixteen years, the Hungarian flavour in his music had receded and the Viennese influence was at its peak. Hans Knappertsbusch conducted the premiere of Zádor’s third symphony, the Tanz-Symphonie, on 8 February 1937. Bearing absolutely no trace of the dark, angst-ridden tenor of the times, the work is a sunny homage to the composer’s adopted home. The first movement develops two equally festive themes in a frothy Viennese confection. The first features a fanfare-like motif that suggests the ebullience of Korngold; the second—opening with a yearning, rising seventh—surges forward with the fervour of Strauss.

The contrast of themes in the second movement is greater. The first idea, introduced by clarinet against divided violins, suggests a Hungarian folksong. Although it could conceivably indicate a longing for the composer’s homeland, Zádor dresses it in lush Viennese colours, with particularly expressive writing for horns. The second idea is more playful, its compound metre flirting with that most Viennese of dances—a waltz. When the folksong-like motif returns to close the movement, the waltz idea continues in the three flutes, as though it will not be forgotten in the midst of the more sombre theme in lower strings.

The third movement is a traditional scherzo—but without a trio. The sprightly woodwind idea heard at the outset is present throughout, subjected briefly to contrapuntal development and played in counterpoint to more lyrical lines (usually in lower strings or horns). In the final movement, which Zádor described as a rondo, frequent hemiolas (already employed in the scherzo) provide rhythmic flavour. It opens with rich, polychordal strings and a clarinet solo (harkening back to the second movement), before horns announce the rondo theme. Whenever the motif returns it is always in brass (horns, trumpets, trombones). At the concluding fortississimo climax, the Korngoldian theme of the opening movement returns to put a final, cyclical seal on this Viennese valentine.

Zádor once said, “The technique of the composer is like digesting food. Compositional technique is to me as important as the knowledge of the alphabet to the writer. Every great composer had great technical knowledge.” As demonstrated by this ongoing Naxos series of the composer’s works, Zádor’s music was imbued not only with technique but also with heart. Con amore indeed.

Frank K. DeWald

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