About this Recording
8.573647 - LAJTHA, L.: Orchestral Works, Vol. 5 (Pécs Symphony, Pasquet)

László Lajtha (1892–1963)
Suite No. 3, Op. 56 • Hortobágy, Op. 21 • Symphony No. 7, Op. 63 ‘Revolution Symphony’


László 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 Paris musical scene, and this period 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 Lajtha became director of music for Hungarian Radio, director of the Museum of Ethnography and of the National Conservatory. In 1974, 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 Académie des Beaux-Arts. Lajtha died in Budapest on 16th February 1963.

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. 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, which found musical expression in his Symphony No. 7.

The first performance of Lajtha’s Symphony No. 7, 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. I would not be a Hungarian artist, had I not been influenced myself by these events. It is indeed a tragic history event when hostility can burst out between a Hungarian and his fellow-countryman, hostility that may endanger the future 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 Modéré &Ndash; Agité, Lent and Agité. 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 its 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 János 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 elswhere, 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 a ballet. The First Suite comes from a ballet called Lysistrata, Op. 19, while the Second Suite is from a one-act ballet-comedy, The Park of the Four Gods, Op. 38, Three suites were drawn from the one-act ballet Capriccio, Op. 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.” János Ferencsik was much in favour of concluding the Third Suite at a concert between Bartók’s Divertimento and Kodály’s Peacock Variations. There was a proposal that the programme should be a celebrational one to open the centenary season of the Philharmonic. However, Lajtha declined the opportunity to join, as he saw it, ‘the worms’.

Lajtha’s widow records the Suite as being “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 Très 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 János Ferencsik and the Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra.

It was a Hungarian photographer, LászlóSchäffer, who first drew the attention of the Austrian film-director Georg Höllering to the wild beauty of Hortobágy. Höllering moved there, living with the native horsemen of the region for a few years and shooting an enormous amount of film. His work shows the daily life on the great Hungarian grassland plain known as the Hortobágy Puszta. The result is a documentary-style 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 and peasants. At first Lajtha was not interested in composing music for the film, but after watching the beautiful pictures of life on 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 LászlóLajtha 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 which was published in The Chesterian in 1948. In it 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, 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 Lajtha’s collaboration with Höllering: a version of T.S. Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral, Lajtha’s Op. 45, written in 1948, and a short fine-art film Shapes and Forms, Lajtha’s Op. 48, composed in 1949. The film Hortobágy 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 Galop in the Puzsta (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 first performed on 25th January, 1946 by János Ferencsik and the Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra as Two Symphonic Pictures.

Emőke Solymosi Tari
Edited by Naxos 2017

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