Friday, December 19, 2014

Hódolat Magyarország

No. 178 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

pcast178- Playlist

The last of our montages for 2014 (already!) also completes our trifecta dedicated to the music of Hungary. Our yearly programming has always had summer montages that fall under the broad category of “musical passports”, collages of music inspired by or featuring artists from different parts of the world. Because we decided to take a break this summer, we didn’t have any such montages thus far. Today, we oblige with a tip of the hat to artists, music and the gypsy flair associated with the “other half” if the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Hungarian folk music includes a broad array of styles, including the recruitment dance verbunkos (central to Liszt’s Hungarian rhapsodies), the csárdás and nóta.

Three names pop up of our playlist this week, all three are not only Hungarians but  they are also significant comntributors to the musical scene of the 20th Century: Zoltán Kodály, Béla Bartók and George Szell.

During the 20th century, Hungarian composers were influenced by the traditional music of their nation which may be considered as a repeat of the "nationalist" movements of the 19th century (notably in German and Russian traditions) but is probably more an opportunity to break from the form and rigour of the classical tradition. Béla Bartók took this departure into the abstract musical world in his appropriation of traditional Hungarian folk music as the basis for symphonic creations.

Kodály (like Bartók) was an ethnomusicologist, interested in preserving the Hungarian folk music tradition and one of his most enduring works, the folk opera Háry János, is a spoken play with songs, in the manner of the German Singspiel. Kodály wrote in his preface to the score: "Háry is a peasant, a veteran soldier who day after day sits at the tavern spinning yarns about his heroic exploits... the stories released by his imagination are an inextricable mixture of realism and naivety, of comic humour and pathos." People may assume that the title Háry János refers to a man named Harry. In Hungarian, names are always presented in the order 'surname', 'first name' (as in Bartók Béla and Liszt Ferenc). Therefore, the title refers to a man called János (a common first name in Hungary, equivalent to the English John), whose surname is Háry…

Kodály extracted the orchestral Háry János Suite from the music of the opera. The suite notably includes the cimbalom, a traditional Hungarian variant of the hammer dulcimer. The legendary George Szell conducts the suite in today’s montage, a memorable oft-reissued vintage recording.

Bartók contributes one of his many pieces inspired by Hungarian folk music, improvisations on Peasont Songs “op. 20”. This composition is the last one on which Bartók put an Opus number, because henceforth he would treat his folk music and his more artistic side as equal. However, interestingly, this work is far from his folk pieces, with its abrasive harmonies and rhythms. The great Murray Perahia is at the keyboard.

Sprinkled about in the first portion of the montage are “inspired” pieces from non-Hungarian composers: Tchaikovsky and Hector Berlioz. The "Rákóczi March" (Hungarian: Rákóczi-induló) was the unofficial state anthem of Hungary until 1823. Berlioz included the music in his composition "La Damnation de Faust" in 1846, and Franz Liszt wrote a number of arrangements, including his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 15, based on the theme.

The works by Rachmaninov, Popper and Sarasate that constitute the latter section of the montage make the transition from a more folk/peasant Hungarian atmosphere to the Romani or “Gypsy” tradition, which was also exploited by Johannes Brahms in his Hungarian Dances.

Azt hiszem, szeretni fogja ezt a zenét is!
(I think you will love this music too!)

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