About this Recording
8.574184-85 - BREINER, P.: Slovak Dances, Naughty and Sad (PalĂșch, Lenko, Friedl, Slovak Philharmonic, Breiner)

Peter Breiner (b. 1957)
Slovak Dances, Naughty and Sad


The history of European music can be seen as an oscillation between the periods focused on the formation of a universal language and periods in which the individual variation of this language becomes the ideal. A constant aspect of European music is also an oscillation between the written, composed music, and extemporised music, joined with oral tradition. The individualisation of the 19th-century Romantic universal language was instrumental in the origination of its national variants. Great European cultures started to search for substantiations of their variations in archaic mythical times, soon followed by smaller cultures of Europe.

During the 19th century Slovakia was part of the Austro- Hungarian Empire. The Slovak language, codified by Ľudovít Štúr as the national language, became the political and cultural means of the endeavours in self-determination on a new cultural-political basis. After the first collections of national poetry (Pavol Jozef Šafárik, Ján Kollár) the collections of national songs appeared, followed by the arrangements of this national tradition designated for domestic music-making. The usage of local folklore in composed music started to be understood as a way towards the origination of national music, to individualised variation of the universal language. Shortly after the constitution of a new political unit, the Czechoslovak Republic, orchestras were established able to realise the ideal of national music on the highest artistic level. Slovak folklore found its way into the chamber and symphonic music of groundbreaking composers such as Ján Levoslav Bella.

The uniqueness of Slovak folk songs also attracted other composers: in his works Béla Bartók (1881–1945) used no less than 84 records of Slovak folk songs. For the generation of Slovak music modernism—Alexander Moyzes (1906–1984), Eugen Suchoň (1908–1993), Ján Cikker (1911–1989), Dezider Kardoš (1914–1991)—inspiration taken from folk song became their manifested compositional starting point and their work could bravely challenge the music with similar aspirations written, for example, by Zoltán Kodály, Karol Szymanowski, Aaron Copland and Witold Lutosławski.

Peter Breiner was the last pupil of Alexander Moyzes. His boundless musicality has always led him to create fusions of the apparently most contradictory music grounds into a final whole. He thus became a pioneer of crossing or hybridisation of musical languages, a new synthesis of academic and oral traditions, of composed and unwritten music. His Slovak Dances are autobiographical in essence, marking the stops of his life journey (Humenné – Košice – Bratislava – Toronto – New York). Naughtiness and grief—through these words he characterised the emotionality of his native folklore tradition and both these extremes define also the emotional nature of his 16 pieces joined into one whole in the old model of Johannes Brahms and Antonín Dvořák. In fact, they are not dances but 16 paraphrases, or symphonic fantasias on 16 Slovak folk songs that ‘bewitched’ him and thus became an inspiration for his symphonic images. Breiner wrote his pieces far from his home, which enabled him not only to avoid the associations joined with traditional mandatory domestic adoration of the Slovak folklore, but also allowed him to be inspired by the endeavours of the world music movement. In an effort to embed his ‘Slovak character’—similarly to Peter Gabriel and Sting—he invited the top instrumentalists of the domestic ethno-tradition to participate in the realisation of his vision: the violinist Stanislav Palúch, multiinstrumentalist Marian Friedl and accordionist Boris Lenko. This synthesis resulted in an exuberating kaleidoscopic music monument rooted in Slovak, especially in Eastern Slovak music folklore.

Vladimír Godár

Peter Breiner: Slovak Dances as my Life Road Map

About 15 years ago I received an order to arrange Brahms’ Hungarian Dances for the London Symphony Orchestra. I found it quite interesting because I essentially continued what Brahms and Dvořák had started—orchestrating piano compositions. This project had various other, almost familial, connotations. Antonín Dvořák—who was my compositional great-grandfather—was the first to orchestrate Hungarian Dances and myself—as his great-grandchild—the last to date. I finished everything that Brahms and Dvořák hadn’t.

It occurred to me, while working, that almost all our neighbours and even non-adjacent nations in Europe and beyond have, like the Hungarians by Brahms, some form of classical orchestral collection based on folklore material. The Czechs have Slavonic Dances by Dvořák, the Germans have German Dances by Mozart, the Spanish have Spanish Dances by Granados (which I have scored for them), the Cubans have theirs by Copland, the Romanians by Bartók, the French by Hindemith, Englishmen, Irishmen and Scots by Arnold, the Bavarians by Elgar, Africans and the American Indians by Villa-Lobos, we could go on for a long time ... So I told myself I would make the Slovak collection myself.

I additionally remembered another connotation—my first paid commission, which—while still a student at the Košice Conservatory—I received from Košice Philharmonic’s conductor Bystrík Režucha in 1974. For the ‘spa’ orchestra that was formed during the summer holidays in Bardejov Spa, he asked for a small orchestral reduction of the symphonic suite Tance z Pohronia by my future composition professor Alexander Moyzes.

When all of these dots were connected, I began to remember the folk songs I had encountered throughout my life. I met and also asked Stano Palúch—who, in addition to the classics, tango, jazz, and who knows what else, is a great folk musician—to fetch me some more songs. In my free time, little by little, since it was not a commission, I started to transform them into symphonic pieces until there were 16 of them, just like the Slavonic Dances by my greatgrandpa.

One could say I have quite a personal relationship with the songs I used, or I associate them with interesting life experiences. They could even serve as a map of my life journey—from Humenné to Košice through to America.

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