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Mark Morris’s Guide to Twentieth Century Composers

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Hungary has had a long and fertile history of classical music, reflecting the location of the country within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. But, like the Czech lands, its relative position of subservience within German-speaking political dominance led to the rise of nationalism in the latter half of the 19th century, a process in which composers were involved. Ferenc Erkel (1810-1893) founded a national operatic style, while the major international figure, the composer and pianist Franz (Ferenc) Liszt (1811-1886) wrote some works with nationalist hues (such as the Hungarian Rhapsodies), even if his major legacies were an extension of tonality (that makes him a precursor of Impressionism), new structural principles, the development of pianistic techniques, and a sense of the visionary. The major Hungarian representative of Romanticism in the 20th century, who combined the influence of Brahms with nationalist hues, was Ernö Dohnányi (1877-1960).

But it was two major international figures who released nationalist musical elements from their dilution in a Romantic idiom. Starting in 1905, Béla Bartók (1881-1945) and Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) together collected folk-songs from Hungary, Slovakia and Rumania, making some 16,000 recordings in the process. They both realized that the elemental power and unusual scales and colours of folk-music could be utilized as the catalyst for their own music, rather than being a colour element within a traditional framework. Bartók, in his expressive, often intimate, and sometimes barbaric idiom took this process further, evolving a system of harmony that was influenced by the scales of folk-music, and his resulting idiom has been deeply influential on later composers. Kodály's most important achievements are in vocal and choral music, drawing on that folk-heritage, and in his teaching system (the `Kodály method') founded on singing. The third figure of this generation, Leo Weiner (1885-1960), was an important teacher, but his own compositions, such as the String Quartet No.2 (1921) or the String Quartet No.3 (1938) are bland, if well constructed.

The influence of Bartók and Kodály was paramount on subsequent Hungarian composers until the 1960s. They dominated Hungarian composition until the Second World War; the invasion of Hungary by the Nazis (1944), following pro-Axis governments, and the rise of the communists (1947, with full communist control in 1949), effectively cut off Hungarian composers from any further developments in Western music. However, from 1959 Hungarian composers were more open to Western influences, discovered 12-tone and serial music, and very rapidly absorbed both the musical legacy of the previous two decades and the latest techniques and developments. Some had fled, especially during or after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1955; the most prominent of these was György Ligeti (born 1923), whose chief contribution to modern music has been the development of choral techniques based on clusters, creating a luminous and ethereal sound that has been much emulated. The chief figure that stayed, György Kurtág (born 1926), remained silent through the more repressive years of the communist regime, but from 1959 has produced a series of works remarkable in their sensitivity, their deep emotions, and their development of the miniature idiom of Webern.

One of the reasons that Hungarian composers so quickly absorbed new ideas from 1960 was the remarkable fertility of development that had continued even within Iron Curtain constrictions. Of all the ex-communist countries, Hungary was the least affected by Soviet Socialist Realism, and virtually none of the composers in this section have written anything in that banal idiom. Instead, composers turned to an increasing refinement of idioms often derived from Bartók or Kodály, and a development of expressive possibilities within that refinement, and this characteristic has continued in rapid developments of techniques since the 1960s. Hungary has continued to produce a remarkably large number of composers of a consistently high standard in addition to the internationally-known figures, and this Guide only reflects the better-known. As Hungary emerges from communism, this has created an exciting base for the future of composition in the country, as well as providing the opportunity for some of these composers to receive the wider exposure that they deserve.

Besides the major figures already noted, the best known of the inter-War generation of Hungarian composers outside Hungary is probably Miklós Rózsa (born 1907), creator of some of the most famous Hollywood film-scores. His concert work concentrated on two areas, chamber music for smaller forces, and concertos. It is primarily motivated by the integration into the Austro-Germanic tradition of the Hungarian folk music of his childhood, in an accessible, rather self-consciously traditional idiom that concentrates on technique and craftsmanship (especially traditional forms such as sonata movement) rather than the assimilation of new ideas. The folk influence includes characteristic Magyar intervals and inflections rather than direct quotation. Of his concertos, the Piano Concerto (1966) is, in spite of its driving opening, typically Romantic in tone and feel, with virtuoso solo writing. More effective and more individual is the Cello Concerto of 1969, while the Violin Concerto (1953) is considered by many to be his finest work. His more opulent film music, which numbers over 80 scores, has included glittering epic scores of enormous panache, and huge orchestral and choral effects that employ the modal melodies characteristic of his lyricism (Quo Vadis?, 1951, or Ben-Hur, 1959) as well as tense and gripping dramatic scores for works by such film directors as Alfred Hitchcock. He received three Oscars (for Ben-Hur, A Double Life, and Spellbound). More important to Hungarian music is the conservative but assured Ferenc Farkas (born 1905). Gyórgi Rankí (born 1907) achieved some recognition, especially for the orchestral suites (1954) from the opera Pomád kirly uj ruhja (King Pomade's New Clothes, 1953), a colourful but very conventional and rather shallow score. Its sense of folk-inspired humour and grotesqueness was a feature of his earlier music, as well as oriental touches derived from his studies of Eastern music. However, in the 1960s he turned to large-scale `historical tableaux' reflecting historical events with a strong dramatic content (1514 for piano and orchestra, 1961, or the oratorio 1944, 1966). These have slightly more modern elements, and strong dramatic gestures, but are rather portentous. Gyula Dávid (1913-1977) collected folk-music (at his teacher Kodály's suggestion), and his earlier music shows folk influence. Although he later turned to 12-tone technique, his idiom remained rooted in a more conservative Hungarian tradition: in the String Quartet (1962) in honour of Kodály's 80th birthday, the timbres, line and rhythms of Hungarian folk music are more in evidence than the dodecaphonic elements. His unassuming but attractive Viola Concerto (1951), with its echoes of a folk idiom, is a rare addition to that instrument's repertoire. The music of Rudolf Maros (1917-1982, not to be confused with his son, Miklos, born 1943, who works in Sweden) concentrated on works derived from folk and nationalist idioms, though the discovery of serialism at the beginning of the 1960s led to a more individual position using serial elements without any strict adherence. The Ricercare (In Memoriam, 1919) (1959) for orchestra combined mild 12-tone techniques with a lack of extremes much in the manner of Frank Martin, an influence at the time. The concern with delicacy of changing orchestral colours and clarity of sonority was expanded in such works as Three Eufonias (1963-1965) for orchestra, and colour effects (tone clusters, micro-tones) become evident. In his later music the scoring became simpler, while still concentrating on colour effect. András Mihály (born 1917) initially followed the example of Bartók and Kodály (e.g. the Cello Concerto, 1953), though the Violin Concerto (1959) has echoes of the Baroque. From the late 1950s his idiom became increasingly complex, notably in the Symphony No.3 (1962) or in the intensity of the Bartókian Dalok József Attila verseire (Songs on poems by Attila József, 1961), in an attempt to combine some of the idiom of Bartók with the ideas of the Second Viennese School: the influence of Berg is overt in the opera Egylt es egyedl (Together and Alone, 1964-1965) and that of Webern covert in the Symphony No.3. By the middle 1960s he started to incorporate some of the ideas of the avant-garde, including clusters and aleatory methods.

The next generation of Hungarian composers was the first to come to artistic maturity during the communist period. István Sárközy (born 1920) is discussed under his entry below. The earlier works of Kamilló Lendvay (born 1928) were influenced by Bartók, but from the 1960s his generally expressive style showed a clear awareness of the main currents of new ideas elsewhere in Europe. The dark and sometimes violent oratorio Orogenesis (`mountain slide' or `birth', 1969-1970) has some effective moments, while the cantata Jelenetek (Scenes, 1979-1981), based on texts by Thomas Mann, is recommended. The restrained orchestration, favouring higher registers and with a crumhorn in the final scene, was developed from the resonant orchestral palette of A csend harmnija (The Harmony of Silence for orchestra, 1980). It provides a sometimes dissonant colour for the expressive vocal line, the powerfully characterized text being sung in German. His television opera A tisztességtudó utcalány (The Respectful Prostitute, 1976-1979) is also worthy of note, its music an effective foil to a strong drama based on a Sartre play. András Szőllősy (born 1921) has written works of impressive sonorities and massed sound effects. István Láng (born 1933) has been one of the leading Hungarian composers to embrace serial ideas and then a personal and unusual expressive sound-world. The music of Zsolt Durkó (born 1934) has attracted attention in Britain, and perhaps deserves wider notice. Always meticulously crafted, his style is expressive, concentrating on rich textures and preferring episodic structures (e.g. the nine sections of Organismi, 1964, for violin and orchestra) and using an unextreme serial technique. Much of his output is vocal, including a setting of the first extant Hungarian text (the oratorio Burial Prayer, 1967-1972) and a large-scale opera, Moses (1973-1976). His sense of colour, which is almost Impressionist in the Turner Illustrations (1976) for solo violin and fourteen instruments, is evident in the use of wordless chorus in such works as Altamira (1968) for chamber choir and orchestra. Sándor Balassa (born 1935) has used 12-tone (but not serial) elements in his expressive idiom, often with a sense of fantasy, using contrasts of light and dark. Tabulae (1972) for chamber orchestra, and Calls and Cries (1982) for orchestra are a good introduction to his idiom, while his expressive opera The Man Outside (1973-1978), based on a drama by Wolfgang Borchert, has echoes of Berg's Wozzeck in its story of a soldier returning from the war to find his wife has left him; he is haunted by his dead comrades, and commits suicide. János Decsény (born 1927) has developed a Hungarian Minimalism. Although paralleling the use of repetition, small chamber ensembles, and ostinati units of such Minimalist composers as Glass, a conspicuous difference is the use of a 12-tone system. The results are far removed from the stifling harmonic sequences of so many Minimalists, and are handled with delicate textures, a sense of colour, and a structure that usually starts very simply but moves to a more complex idiom, an intentional attempt to move from the personal or the interior to the world view or the exterior. A prime example of this is the engaging and interesting Epitaph from Aquincum (1979) for soprano, electric organ and strings, set to a Latin epitaph of a young wife and musician, and whose haunting simplicity is perfectly judged. In less obviously Minimalist works, such as the String Quartet (1978) there is still a progression of the relationship between simplicity and complexity - here the first movement is based on seven tones, the second on twelve, and the sparse and beautiful third, pulling the music into an interior and eventually Minimalist reflection, on four.

Of the younger generation of Hungarian composers, Attila Bozay (born 1939) and László Dubrovay (born 1943), a pioneer of Hungarian electronic music, are discussed below. The Budapest New Music Studio (Űj Zenei Stúdió), founded in 1970, has been influenced by the ideas and music of Cage and then developed a more Minimalist approach, experimenting with extended instrumental techniques in the process. Its leading figures, and co-founders, are Zoltán Jeney (born 1943), Lászlo Sáry (born 1940) and László Vidovsky (born 1944), and other composers who have worked in the Studio include Kurtág's son, also called György Kurtág (born 1954). Jeney's austere music is often slow-moving and meditative, with shades of Minimalism in its concentration on gradual rhythmic changes (reminiscent of Reich) in such works as OM (1979) for two electric organs, or on rhythms and melody, as in To Apollo for chorus, electric organ, cor anglais and twelve crotales (a type of castanet). Laudes (1976) for orchestra took the adagio of Mahler's Symphony No.10, maintained all the pitches, dynamics and rhythms, but completely redistributed the order of notes and rests. Sáry has also concentrated on the constant variation of pitches, rhythms and dynamics, and has used hocket effects (see under Andriessen, Holland). Vidovsky's music has often included a strong visual or theatrical element. In Schroeder haláda (1975) for piano and three assistants, the piano writing consists of repeated scales; eventually the assistants, in the middle of the performance, prepare the piano, changing the sound until eventually the strings themselves are not sounding. The `musical farce' Narcissus and Echo (1981) for four soloists, girls' chorus and five amplified instruments, parodied the styles of Wagner, Liszt, Mahler and Weill. Many of these and other new Hungarian works have been heard in the Budapest Music Weeks, which since 1974 has included two weeks devoted to new music. Hungary has also produced some notable conductors, especially Antal Dorati (1906-1988), himself a composer, and Sir George Solti (born 1912), who left Hungary in 1939 and is famed for his conducting of Wagner and Mahler.

Readers should note that the normal Hungarian practice is to place the Christian name after the surname, which can cause some confusion if dealing with material of Hungarian origin - thus Franz Liszt is normally seen as Liszt Ferenc, and such an error has caused Kodály's opera to be known in English as Háry János, whereas the second word is actually the Christian name.

Hungarian Music Information Centre:

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born 25th March 1881 at Nagyszentmiklós

died 26th September 1945 at New York


Béla Bartók is Hungary's greatest composer to date, and one of the most important of all 20th-century figures. His singular achievement was to show how completely the influence of folk-musics, with rhythmic and harmonic traditions quite different from those of the classical tradition, could be absorbed into a distinctive and emotive modern idiom. He worked largely outside any school of 20th-century music, preferring to utilize those elements of his style that were appropriate to the particular work at hand. This is in general contrast to those composers, such as his contemporary Schoenberg or Stravinsky, whose individual works fit into a particular system or pattern. Therefore it is difficult to ascribe any `method' to Bartók, and those he has influenced - far more prominent now than in the days of the 1950s and 1960s avant-garde - have followed the intensity and integrity of emotion that is a primary motivation of his music, and his development of a harmonic freedom that emancipates his music from tonality while maintaining tonal points rather than the intellectual conceptualisation or abstraction of any `system'.

That being said, Bartók's mature works show a stylistic evolution rather than any abrupt separation into periods. Initially he left behind the vestiges of Romanticism, and began to assimilate folk-music into his idiom. Next the impetus of the elemental and the fecundity inherent in that folk-music became fully absorbed, controlled by brilliantly engineered interlocking constructions. The harmonic structures moved far from tonality, evolving new harmonic applications without ever completely loosing touch with tradition. Finally Bartók moved back to a more obvious tonal base and to the Romanticism of its origins, but in an idiom that had absorbed the constructional experience and which had refined the harmonic colours of the folk inspiration. As a rough guide, the dates of these three phases are from 1905 to 1917, 1918 to 1927, and from 1937 to his death. Some critics have attempted to postulate different stylistic periods based on these dates, but there is considerable overlap that makes such chronological pigeon-holing unreliable.

Bartók's youthful music included the ballet Kossuth (1903), a response with a Hungarian nationalist story to his discovery of the music of Richard Strauss, and the Rhapsody op.1 (1904) for piano and orchestra, which is indebted to the example of Liszt in the grand manner of the virtuoso solo part. But in 1905, Bartók, in company with Kodály and a recording gramophone, started the systematic investigation of folk-music that was to form the prime basis of his idiom, and which not only ranged through the countries of the Arab world as well as south-eastern Europe, but is in itself a major contribution to scholarship. In many countries (including Hungary), folk-music had already formed the basis of a nationalism in music, but only insofar as a folk idea or melody was modified to the demands of a late-Romantic idiom as a kind of exoticism. What Bartók discovered was that he could use the unmodified structural (in the widest sense of the word) characteristics of folk-music as the basis of a personal language that would be free from the inherent controls of that late-Romantic idiom. This paralleled other ways of musical emancipation, notably the neo-classicism of Stravinsky and his followers, and the 12-tone system of Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School. The difference was that these latter systems were founded on intellectual concepts. By the very nature of the source - folk-music, a form both instinctive and elemental - Bartók's evolution was founded on the emotional base that his temperament required.

Initially these folk influences were more obvious in smaller scale piano works (from the For Children collection of 1909 to the Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs of 1917). A series of stunning and sometimes savage stage works combined some of the new freedom inspired by folk-music in a large-scale guise of striking versatility and sharpness of orchestration with a barbarity of intent. This aggressive, sometimes motoric tone was heralded by the Allegro barbaro (1911) for piano, and led to such works as the Piano Concerto No.1 (1926). The climax of this period was the String Quartet No.3 (1927), and in such abstract works, however experimental the harmonies, the influence of folk music is often apparent at the start of a movement, in a melodic shape, or in the rhythmic activity. In the late works, where the melodic lines become more Romantic and more flowing and a clear sense of tonality returns, the modalities and scales are often derived from folk-music. In addition, throughout his career Bartók wrote pieces in more direct folk-song style, or arranged folk-songs, such as many of the Mikrokosmos (1926-1939) for piano, or the marvellous two- and three-part choruses for children’s or women's choir (1935); this aspect of Bartók's output is perhaps the least known outside Hungary.

In the bulk of Bartók's work these folk influences become absorbed into an idiom that shows a number of characteristics. Harmonically, the sense of tonal base is established, but the constraints of tonality are overthrown by movement around an axis that provides a basic pitch, often swinging around the interval of the tritone (augmented fourth). Chords are often built in fourths, rather than the traditional thirds, and piled on one another; movement is often in steps of more unusual intervals (2nds, 7ths), as do the dissonant clashes. The use of scales derived from folk music add to the sense of unusual harmonies, but the use of drone effects or reiterated bass notes reinforces that sense of a basic point of harmonic departure and return. Works are usually monothematic, subsequent material being derived from the opening idea, and counterpoint became more important as his idiom developed, creating linear flow and often dense textures. The vital rhythms often employ unusual and irregular metres, the combination of tempi within a pulse (for example 3+3+2), and alternating rhythmic ideas; ostinati abound. Percussion becomes an important element of larger-scale works, and even in the piano music the idiom often utilizes percussive effects. One recurring feature has become known as `night-music': movements or sections that have a nocturnal or crepuscular hue, the evocation often created by unusual orchestration or instrumental colours. In the string quartets, which form the heart of Bartók's achievement, string techniques are extended to encompass a very wide range of effects.

If Bartók's gradual development is best heard in those string quartets, it is most often to be encountered in the concertos. His earliest musical influences are clearly heard in the Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra (1904), modelled on Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies and in the grand Romantic virtuoso vein. The two movements of the Romantic Violin Concerto No.1 (1907-1908, though not performed until 1958) are a portrait of a violinist Bartók was briefly in love with. The first is full of a sad, limpid beauty, the second more lively; again, this work reflects his antecedents, not his mature voice. The Piano Concerto No.1 (1926) occupies a totally different musical world, percussive, aggressive, mysterious, elemental, and with just enough echoes of the traditional virtuoso concerto to emphasize how the tradition is being subverted. In this, and in some of the melodic shapes and harmonies, it recalls Prokofiev in similar vein. The frenetic opening movement remoulds Romanticism into Constructivism, but it is the slow movement that takes the concerto into uncharted regions. Much of it is given only to the piano and percussion, mysterious and dramatic, like the march of a few skeletons with the piano as ringleader, solo writing leaping into the extreme regions. A percussion outburst leads into the finale, which rushes forward as if the march had been joined by the masses, the piano caught in the melee. The excitement and elemental emotions of this concerto, exceptionally difficult to play, make it one of the most potent of the 20th century, arguably finer than its two successors. Two Rhapsodies for Violin and Orchestra (1928), also found in versions for violin and piano (with two different endings for the first, and with revision of the second in 1945) and for cello and piano, reflect the influence of folk music, both using actual folk tunes. The first, with the colour of the cimbalom prominent, is more obviously a folkish rhapsody; the second is musically more adventurous. In these works the soloist is prominent. In the Piano Concerto No.2 (1930-1931), as in the first, the soloist is more a partner with the orchestra. Here the aggressive intensity of its predecessor is toned down. The opening movement, using wind and percussion, is helter-skelter, but a disappointment after the first concerto. It is redeemed by the slow movement, opening with an adagio nocturne using timpani and muted strings, followed by a swirling scherzo (using strings, wind and percussion) dominated by piano arpeggios. The finale, bringing in the full orchestra, is buoyant, but if the overall progress and construction is more assured than that of its predecessor, the impact is lessened. The Violin Concerto No.2 (1937-1938) heralded the mellowing of Bartók's idiom. Each of the three movements uses variation form, with the last a free variation of the first, and the solo writing is dominant in the Romantic tradition. The first movement has a rhapsodic quality, harsher interjections from the orchestra constantly answered by a singing solo line; compared with Bartók's earlier concertos, the harmonies are more traditional, the absorption of folk harmonies and scales mainly audible in the melodic cast of the solo line. The central movement is a theme with six variations covering a wide range of expression, from the dance to the atmospheric Impressionist painting of the second variation, the soloist against woodwind, harp and celesta. In the finale the soloist reaches moment of ecstatic repose among the rhythmic energy; towards the end the orchestra alters its character, enlarging its sound into a more assured mood, answered by the soloist, for a feeling of completion and satisfaction (Bartók provided an alternative ending that is shorter and with the soloist silent). The assured construction of this concerto appeals to the intellectually minded, its direct, almost Romantic voice to general audiences, and this is Bartók's most popular concerto. The Double Piano Concerto (1940) is a version of the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, discussed below.

The heart of the Piano Concerto No.3 (1945), its last 17 bars finished by Tibor Serly, is the central adagio, a nocturne of great beauty populated at times by the almost tangible sounds of the night, and assuming nobility towards its end. Neither of the outer movements are as interesting, although this remains the most popular of Bartók's piano concertos, partly because those outer movements are in a more easy-going style. The Viola Concerto (1945) was reconstructed by Tibor Serly, in whose score the notes and rhythms are Bartók's, and the rather sparse orchestration Serly's. Its general tone is quickly established: a melancholy introductory song for the soloist contrasts with restlessness and agitation, leavened by lighter dancing moods. These emotional forces on the soloist emerge into an epilogue of beauty and resignation at the end of the first movement. In the slow movement the air of poignant rhapsody predominates, and the conflict between ominous ideas and the soaring viola towards the end of the movement is pure Romanticism. The finale takes up the mood of the dance, initially as almost pure folk-music, ending with an air of confidence that the rest of the concerto has not entirely confirmed.

Bartók's two important orchestral works both come from late in his life. Of the earlier works, the picturesque five-movement Suite No.1 (1905) for orchestra is late-Romantic in its harmonies and colours, chiefly interesting for its echoes of urbanized Hungarian gipsy music and its thematic derivation from a single thematic idea; much of it could have come from a Russian composer's pen. The first of the Two Portraits (1907-1911) is actually the first movement of the Violin Concerto No.1, the second an arrangement of a short bagatelle for piano. The first of the Two Pictures (1910) is a hazy Impressionistic painting, the second a refined rusticism portraying the `Village Dance'. The Dance Suite (1923), drawing very widely for its folk-derived material, summarises many of Bartók's folk assimilations. But with the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936) Bartók produced an orchestral masterpiece, whose four movements approximate the traditional symphonic layout, and whose tone creates the grandest scale out of the chamber textures. The strings are divided into two bodies, with the percussion, piano, harp and double bass in the centre; much of the material of the four movements is derived from the fugue of the opening movement. That opening is brooding, dark, and dense, articulated by the strings, the movement building into an arch, each entry of the fugue theme appearing a fifth higher or lower, and then reversing from the central climax onwards; in parallel, the dynamics slowly grow and then die down. The second movement has a pounding rhythmic intensity, a vital excitement accentuated by pizzicato effects and colour variations, while the third is an example of Bartók's `night music', the xylophone ushering in an eerie percussive atmosphere that becomes half-Impressionistic, half highly charged with ghostly tension. Its taut five-part structure includes the use of retrograde, where the material is heard again in reverse. The finale combines antiphonal effects, exuberance, and Bulgarian rhythms, kept under a taut rein. The Concerto for Orchestra (?1942-1943) is probably the Bartók work best known to a general public. In its five movements are found the darkness of the opening of Bartók's opera Bluebeard's Castle, Impressionistic hazes, vigorous rhythms, ideas of a chorale-like nobility, perky interjections, a parody of the reiterated theme from the first movement of Shostakovich's Symphony No.7, and touches of `night music', but also of pastoral simplicity, and a constant movement around the orchestra as various sections are highlighted, the full orchestral weight being reserved for the final movement.

Stage works form only a small, but important, part of Bartók's output. The one-act opera Bluebeard's Castle (A Kékszakállú herceg vára, 1911), Bartók's first undoubted masterpiece and one of the most unforgettable (if unusual) contributions to the 20th-century music stage, is a powerful allegory with haunting vocal lines. Its libretto by Béla Balázs is brilliant and poetic: Bluebeard is introducing Judith, his fourth wife, to his castle, whose main hall has seven doors. One by one she opens the doors, each showing a different aspect of the castle, but more important, of Bluebeard's subconscious. The final door, which he tries to persuade her not to open, reveals his previous wives, whom Judith joins, leaving Bluebeard alone in darkness. To view the opera as anything but an allegory would be a mistake; every element in the castle, from the haunting sounds to the vision of light, represents some aspect of Bluebeard, suppressed or otherwise, and the opera is a brilliant symbolic study of the unconscious forces at work on a complex personality. At the same time Balázs and Bartók succeed in making Judith, drawn into this personality, completely convincing in her curiosity and steadfastness, showing those elements of human personalities that remain (or should remain) separate in partnership. This profound, disturbing, tragic, and yet somehow uplifting story is contained in one act, and the structure of the opening of the different doors allows a clear musical pattern within the overall arch that Bartók creates. The movement of its melodies, centred around a single note rather than over a wide span, is characteristic of the composer, and the rhythmic structures reflect the influence of folk music. Its opening, with its Gothic setting, dark lower strings, and assertive figure passed around the large orchestra, leads out of late-Romanticism into the recess of the subconscious, the irregular rhythms of the vocal lines paralleling those of Janáček. The slow, brooding atmosphere and style of this opening reverberates throughout Bartók's later music, regularly reappearing in various guises. Dark hues predominate, the tension of the vocal lines is only for moments relieved by tender moments of great beauty, the delicacy of the shining jewels of the third door (where the influence of folk-music is immediately obvious) being extraordinarily beautiful. The point where Judith opens the door to survey Bluebeard's domains, the orchestra bursting in with the huge uplift of a vast vista, is one of the climactic moments of all opera.

The ballet The Wooden Prince (A fából faragott királyfi, 1914-1917), to a scenario by Béla Balázs, is an allegory of individual maturation (though the scenario allows a wide range of choreographic interpretations). A prince with a guardian fairy makes a wooden puppet to attract a princess, but she is more affected by it than him, until he leaves behind the fairy's magic. Besides the full one-act ballet, there are two suites (1921 and 1931), the first short, the second including more material from the original. The score has echoes of Strauss and Impressionism, including a beautiful prelude evoking the landscape; the work is dramatically descriptive, and written on a grand scale - Bartók uses a huge orchestra to create a `big' sound, though with sharp detail. The vivid ballet-pantomime The Miraculous Mandarin (1918-1923, and best known in the form of an orchestral suite) is the culmination of the barbaric (but not overtly violent) side of Bartók's earlier output. Its extraordinary symbolic story, where the wounds of a mandarin beaten up by thugs refuse to bleed until the whore who enticed him into the situation embraces him, was considered immoral by many. It builds its powerful expression on rhythmic, motoric impulses, with a particularly barbaric opening in often erotic, tense music that shows little overt trace of folk influence, which however affects the rhythmic power and the harmonies. In the full ballet a chorus is used at the end; this is omitted from the suite. In the same vein as these stage works, but written for the concert-hall rather than the stage, is Bartók's vocal masterpiece, the Cantata Profana `The Giant Stags' (A kilenc csodaszarvas, 1930) for tenor, baritone, double choir and orchestra. Based on a Rumanian folk-ballad (translated into Hungarian by Bartók), it tells of nine sons who have been brought up to hunt stags, but are themselves turned into stags. The father sets out to find his sons, and is about to shoot one of a group of stags. The stag calls out to him, and the father recognizes his sons, urging them to return. But their metamorphosis is too complete, and in this simple story lies a web of symbolism, of the universality of nature, of the need to leave behind each stage of life, of the apartness of the artist, of freedom of choice. Bartók responded with music consumed by a passion more intense than almost any other of his works. The long choral opening has an electric tension, the solo writing is highly charged, and although the cantata is not widely known, it makes an arresting introduction to his work. Containing this passion are many of Bartók's hallmarks: a symmetrical and intricate structure with a clear tonal centre, using one of Bartók's characteristic scales (the augmented 4th and diminished 7th prominent) as well as its inversion, pounding rhythms, choral writing clearly derived from folk-music, moments of melodic beauty, and his dark, brooding vein.

Bartók's chamber music is dominated by the six string quartets, generally considered to be the most important cycle since that of Beethoven. This justified reputation is based on three main factors. First, they are of exceptional technical interest, in the development of interlocking, sometimes symmetrical, and always satisfying overall structures, in the increasing use of a central axis around which the harmonies evolve, and in the motivic development from germ-cells. Second, they are of considerable emotional intensity, often on an almost symphonic scale, both in the overall impact and in the breadth of sound. Thirdly, they introduced new features into the medium: the assimilation of folk-music, rarely direct but almost always the impetus of the idiom, and an extraordinary range of instrumental effects, some of which are akin to the effects found in folk string-playing. The String Quartet No.1 (1908) is the most conservative, but it includes the suggestion of a folk drone, spinning off ideas, and tonal ambiguity, especially in the first movement. The rhythmic urgency of the final movement is characteristic, derived from Magyar folk-music. The String Quartet No.2 (1915-1917) makes a suitable introduction to the series, with thematically linked first and last movements and the clear influence of Arab folk-musics. The unsettled start germinates like flowers emerging in time-lapse photography, an effect matched by the wonderful muted dissonant chords of the opening of the third movement. A feeling of ambiguity, both emotional and technical, pervades the quartet's close.

The String Quartet No.3 (1927) is divided into two parts, to which are added a recapitulation of the first part and a coda, all performed without a break. It is the most compressed of the quartets, and harmonically far more astringent than its predecessors, often without a sense of key or tonal base. But it also has an urgent passion, audibly derived from the rhythmic drive of folk-music, and an impelling linear flow, with sometimes massive contrasts and a panoply of instrumental effects. At the same time, there is an emotional ambiguity, as if we had dropped in on a dialogue of great passion, and ended up uncertain of the nature of the dialogue, but fired by the passion. The String Quartet No.4 (1928) further develops both the instrumental effects and the harmonic acerbity, almost approaching atonality. It manages to be even more expressive and immediate than the third, the contrapuntal flow entirely offsetting the lack of obvious themes (the material being developed from germ-cells). This wider range of expression is partly created by the arch form in five movements, with the slow third movement forming the heart of the work, and the two outer movements (centring on C) flanked by two scherzo movements (centred a major third higher and lower respectively on E and A♭) that are linked thematically. This structure provides unity, but also strong emotional contrasts in each movement, with the fourth notable for its violent pizzicato. This quartet approaches the ideal of the form: an ever fascinating technical construction, so that the quartet can be appreciated entirely for its abstract musical solutions, and at the same time an emotional expression whose impact is vivid even without any knowledge of that construction. The String Quartet No.5 (1934) has a similar five-movement arch form, though the symmetry is even more marked (the central movement, for example, is in A-B-A). Here the second and fourth movements are slow, in the style of Bartók's `night music', and the overall tone is more airy and more graphic (with a barrel-organ parody in the final movement), with thematic material more obviously melodic and a neo-Romantic hue to the lovely second movement. The atmosphere of the String Quartet No.6 (1939) is rather different from its predecessors, with an aurora of the other-worldly, and a streak of the sardonic and the bitter; it is difficult not to equate the work with the political events in 1939, and it was the last work Bartók wrote in Europe. Each of its four movements are preceded by a gradually modified ritornello, which furnishes the material for the emotionally rather resigned final movement.

Of his other chamber music, the two fine violin sonatas (1921 and 1922) represent Bartók at his most harmonically radical. The Violin Sonata No.2 exemplifies Bartók's assimilation of folk-music: the lament that opens the work, so obviously derived from folk-music, quickly becomes merged with atonal Expressionism, but that folk-music impetus remains as a distant point of reference throughout the work. In the marvellous Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (1937), turned into the Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra in 1940, Bartók allied his sense of rhythmic drive to more directly tonal ideas than the earlier chamber works, and combined them with haunting textures and colours. The slow movement is a night scene, rustling with the sounds of insects, and with its Impressionistic touches and ebullient, sometimes perky finale where the percussion predominates, this is one of Bartók's most direct works. The chamber version is more remarkable for its colours and effects, but the orchestral guise is still beguilingly effective. Bartók's piano music ranges from the savage bite of the Allegro barbaro (1911), which not only predates Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (usually cited as the progenitor of such `barbaric' idioms) but also shows the difficulty of creating chronological periods for Bartók's idiom, to many works based directly on folk-music. These are very attractive, and well worth exploring if one is not expecting the complex harmonies and technical constructions of Bartók's major works. The piano music is dominated by the six books of Mikrokosmos (1926-1939), a huge series of miniatures ranging from folk-ditties to more complex pieces, designed to explore the range of piano technique. They are more interesting to play than to listen to. They were preceded by a series of 85 miniatures For Children (Gyermekeknek, 1909-1910), which make more attractive and direct listening.

Bartók's mature output might be described as transcribing a huge arch. Underlying the entire structure is folk-music, supplying a secure foundation to Bartók's music from 1905 until his death. The start of the arch appears rugged, Impressionism tinging some of its decoration, a village face peering out in places, figures of melancholy lovers in others. At its apex, it has transformed into intricate architectural patterns, as if a Roman architect had conspired with the builder of a Moorish mosque, and within these patterns are fantastical images, some mysterious, some brutish and aggressive, some of archetypal figures from the subconscious. At its end, it assumes graceful Classical proportions, less adorned, more assured, but carved from time to time into mournful lilies; but in those proportions the Classical architecture has been modified to provide new solutions within traditional structures.

In the development of new harmonic ideas that maintain their links with tonality, and in the absorption of new scales and intervallic progressions to populate those harmonic ideas, Bartók has no 20th-century peer, and it is this example that has been so influential on later composers. Similarly, his structural solutions derived from classical principles, and forged with such surety of proportion and unity, demonstrated that traditional forms were capable of renewal into manifestations that never lost touch with the old. There is scarcely a mature Bartók work where these elements are not the source of endless fascination; that alone makes him a great master. However, the success of the emotional content is more questionable. Time and time again in Bartók's music the emotions seem to be driven by the kind of fervour he found in folk-music, but as they are about to make an expressive statement they become constrained by the very technical processes designed to provide their framework, as if those techniques were being used by the composer as a repressive mechanism. This becomes more marked when compared with those works where Bartók does allow full reign to the emotive content, with such stunning impact - in the slow movement of the Piano Concerto No.1, or in the String Quartet No.4, the Cantata Profana or the Violin Sonata No.2. But these moments are relatively rare, and Bluebeard's Castle, that seminal Bartók work, remains the most complete expression of his emotional concerns. This reticence may explain why, for such a major composer, only a handful of works are known to a wider public, and also has parallels with one of Bartók's contemporaries, Stravinsky. It may be that, after the excesses of Expressionism, the experience of the First World War, and with the turmoil of central Europe between the wars, such repression, and the containment of emotions in the constraint of a technical straight-jacket, became a psychological necessity for such composers.

Bartók became professor of piano at the Budapest Royal Academy in 1907, and toured widely as a pianist. With Kodály he founded the New Hungarian Musical Society in 1911. A strong opponent of Naziism, he left Hungary in 1939 and moved to the U.S.A. in 1940.


works include:

- 3 piano concertos; Double Concerto for Two Pianos with percussion and orch. (from sonata); viola concerto (unfinished); 2 violin concertos; Rhapsody for piano and orch.; Scherzo for piano and orch.; 2 Rhapsodies for violin and piano

- Concerto for Orchestra; Dance Suite, Kossuth, 2 Suites, Two Pictures and Two Portraits for orch.; Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta; Divertimento for strings

- solo violin sonata; 2 violin sonatas; 2 Rhapsodies for violin and piano (from orch. version; also version for cello and piano); 44 Duos for 2 violins; sonata fro 2 pianos and percussion; Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano; 6 string quartets

- piano sonata; piano sonatina; Allegro barbaro, Bagatelles, For Children (85 pieces), 6 books of Mikrokosmos, Nine Little Pieces, Out of Doors, Suite, Ten Easy Pieces, Three Rondos, Three Studies and other works for piano

- song cycles Five Songs op.15, Five Songs op.16; folk-song arrangements

- Cantata Profana for tenor, baritone, chorus and orch.; Village Scenes for female chorus and chamber orch.; Olden Times for male chorus; many choruses and folk-song arrangements for chorus

- ballet The Wooden Prince; ballet-pantomime The Miraculous Mandarin

- opera Bluebeard's Castle


recommended works:

opera Bluebeard's Castle (1918)

Cantata Profana (The Giant Stags, 1930)

Concerto for Orchestra (1943)

Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936)

Piano Concerto No.1 (1926)

Piano Concerto No.2 (1931)

Sonata for Two Piano and Percussion (1937)

String Quartet No.1 in A minor op.7 (1908)

String Quartet No.2 in A min. op.17 (1915-1917)

String Quartet No.3 (1927)

String Quartet No.4 (1928)

String Quartet No.5 (1934)

String Quartet No.6 in D (1939)

ballet The Miraculous Mandarin (1919)

Viola Concerto (1945)

Violin Concerto No.2 (1939)

Violin Sonata No.1 (1921)

Violin Sonata No.2 (1922)



B.Bartók Letters, 1971

Essays, 1976

P.Griffiths Bartók, 1984

H.Stevens The Life and Music of Béla Bartók, 1953, 1964


BOZAY Attila

born August 11th 1939 at Balatonfüzfö

died September 14th 1999 at Budapest


One of the more interesting Hungarian composers of his generation, Bozay's talent was shown in the four lilting and haunting little miniatures of the song cycle Papírszeletek op. 5 (Paper Slips, 1962) for soprano, clarinet and cello. His subsequent output was limited in number but thoughtful in tone. In the middle 1960s he combined a preference for the lyrical with a not particularly rigid serial technique in works of short duration, which led to the expressive and rather sad String Quartet No.1 (1964) which has echoes of Bartók in the string effects; the overall form is of a sonata, whose sections act as movements. Other works of this period include the Piano Variations op.10 (1964), filtering folk material through serial technique, and the well sustained Pezzo Concertato No.1 op.11 (1965) for viola and orchestra, which is built on a 12-tone row, and whose single movement form is divided in a large number of small units with a homogeneous but transparent orchestration whose colours aim to match the viola. A similar structure is the basis for the Pezzo Sinfonico No.1 op.13 (1967), which extends the colour effects by the use of clusters. The composer himself acknowledged a change of direction in 1969, when his works became more extended in length and attempted to utilise both rigid pre-planning and organic development in the process of composition, as in the third and second movements of the rather severe String Quartet No.2 op.21 (1971), incorporating extremes of instrumental expression, or Malom (The Mill) op.23 for chamber ensemble. One of the most imaginative and attractive pieces of this period is Improvisations No.2 op.27 (1976) for recorders, violin, viola and cello, an unusual addition to the recorder repertoire, the South-American-influenced birdcalls of the recorders being thrown over a string trio.

Bozay has been considered a purist, but his uncompromising idiom is extended and popularized in the major work of his later years, the large-scale opera Csongor es Tünde (Csongor and Tünde, the last from the word for fairy) op.31 (1979-1984), based on the classic Hungarian fairy-tale play of the same name (1836) by Mihály Vörösmarty. It is a powerful work, at times down to earth, at times very beautiful, with some strong musical characterisation (especially of the seedier characters), the relative paucity of the story being redeemed by a panoply of Jungian archetypes. In the opera, Bozay convincingly blends a number of styles (with strong echoes of Bartók), including his own 12-tone experience (although this is not a serial work) with devices of mirroring and inversion. The basis of the parts of the lead characters is a stock of nine notes in two clusters to which can be added a tenth, creating a number of internal possibilities, often very lyrical. Instrument combinations and recurring motifs are allocated to characters, though unobtrusively, as well as to a haunting ethereal chorus. This operatic debut, perhaps too Hungarian to travel, is musically worth hunting out. Bozay taught at the Liszt Academy from 1979.


works include:

- 2 Pezzo sinfonico (No.2 for two pianos and 2 orchestras; 2 Pezzo Concertato (No.1 for viola and orch., No.2 for zither and orch.)

- Malom (The Mill) for chamber ensemble

- Episodu for bassoon and piano; 2 string quartets; Improvisations No.2 for recorders and string trio; other chamber music

- Piano Variations and other piano works

- song cycle Papírszeletek (Paper Slips); cantata Trapeze and Parallel Bars for soprano, tenor, chorus and orch.

- opera Csongor and Tünde


recommended works:

opera Csongor and Tünde (1979-1984)

Improvisations No.2 op.27 (1976) for recorders, violin, viola and cello

song cycle Papírszeletek op.5 (1962)

Pezzo Concertato No.1 op.11 for viola and orchestra (1965)


DOHNÁNYI Ernó (Ernst von)

born 27th July 1877 at Pozsony

died 9th February 1960 at New York


The works of Dohnányi might be better known were it not for the former lack of support from his native Hungary, based on accusations of collaboration with the Nazis in the Second World War (his music has now been rehabilitated). As a virtuoso pianist, his reputation was world-wide, and most of his compositions now heard include that instrument. He ceased touring as a pianist in the 1920s, but continued to conduct. As a composer, he was once regarded with Bartók and Kodály as the most important Hungarian figure of his generation. However, Dohnányi's music represents a last flowering of a Romantic Hungarian nationalism, rooted in the 19th century, while his two fellow composers represent the new awareness of genuine Hungarian folk music, firmly in the 20th century. His totally traditional idiom is influenced by Brahms, and shows respect for the classical masters, but is enlivened by a happy sense of lyricism and the regular appearance of his own brand of humour.

Indeed, his best-known work not only illustrates his favourite form - that of variations - but also his sense of humour: the Variations on a Nursery Song op.25 (1913) for orchestra and piano concertante. Once extremely popular, this entertaining work built around the tune `Baa, baa Black Sheep' (`Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star' or `Ah, vous dirai-je, maman') is still often heard, and has lost little of its sparkle, its portentous opening spiked by the triteness of the tune, and full of lyrical interest and moments of understated pianistic virtuosity. The best known purely orchestral work is perhaps the Suite in F sharp minor op.19 (1908-1909), using another set of variations in its opening movement, lyrical, attractive and effective and well worth the occasional airing. The early Piano Concerto No.1 op.5 (1898) is an unoriginal work of pianistic brilliance in the tradition of Liszt; the second has entirely disappeared from the repertoire. The solo piano music, surprisingly, is relatively uninteresting, with those works that stray most from pianistic convention (e.g. Ruralia Hungarica op.32a, 1923, also in orchestral version, op.32b, 1924) the most worth hearing. Of his chamber music, the influence of Brahms is overt in the Piano Quintet No.1 op.1 (1895), and latent in the darker Piano Quintet No.2 op.26 (1914) and in the Piano Sextet op.37. The String Quartet No.2 (1906) and the String Quartet No.3 (1926, again using variation form) once enjoyed a wider popularity. His major serious opera The Tower of the Voivod (1922), which enjoyed some success at its premiere, is based on an Hungarian folk-ballad, but the music remains in the Romantic tradition.

Dohnányi's teaching and administrative activities were considerable. He was a professor of piano in Berlin (1908-1915), director of the Budapest Royal Academy during the year of the communist regime (1919), continued as conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic, and returned to the Academy (1928) becoming its director again (1934). He was Director of the Hungarian Broadcasting Service (1931). He fled Hungary in 1944 (his two sons were killed during the war) and was eventually invited onto the faculty of Florida State University, Tallahassee (1949). Thus settled in the U.S.A., he also taught at Ohio University, and was active until his death at the age of 82, eventually returning to the recording studio.


works include:

- 3 symphonies

- 2 piano concertos; violin concerto; Concertstück for cello and orch.; Variations on a Nursery Song for orch. and piano obbligato

- suite Ruralia Hungarica for orch.; Suite in F sharp minor for string orch.

- cello sonata; violin sonata; Serenade for violin, viola and cello; 3 string quartets; 2 piano quintets; piano sextet

- Six Concert Études, Five Humoresques, Ruralia Hungarica, Four Rhapsodies, Variations on a Hungarian Folksong and other works for piano

- Mass

- pantomime The Veil of Pierrette; operas Tante Simona, The Tenor and The Tower of the Voivod


recommended works:

Suite in F sharp minor op.19 (1908-1909)

Variations on a Nursery Song op.25 (1913) for orchestra and piano obbligato



born 23rd March 1943 at Budapest


An interesting composer who studied with Stockhausen (1972-1974), Dubrovay has applied some of the techniques and acoustical effects first explored and developed in electronic music to conventional instruments and to orchestral scores. He has also been interested in natural acoustics, and both areas find expression in a series of Concertos begun in 1979. The very effective Concerto No.1 (1979) for eleven strings explores sonorities and string effects akin to the singing sounds of whales but with an echo of Hungarian folk-music, evolving them in slow-moving underlying patterns with a strong structural feel and a sense of tonal centre (in spite of the use of 11 tones and the appearance of the twelfth) amplified by the use of drone notes. A similar preoccupation with ethereal and natural sounds, with the addition of a sense of the dramatic in the extremes of the trumpet part (sometimes borrowing the effects of avant-garde jazz), is evident in the more aggressive Concerto No.2 (1981) for trumpet and fifteen strings. The more extensive and extraordinary Concerto No.4 (1982) for piano, synthesizer and orchestra pits this exploration of sonorities against a full-blown traditional Romantic orchestral sound which eventually gets heavily distorted, including a cimbalom effect. His recent electronic music has included computer-aided composition, and reverts to utilising structures and sound of conventional sound production - thus Felhangok II (Harmonics II, 1983) is an electronic version of a piano piece (Harmonics I in which played notes were overlaid on other, mute, pressed keys setting up harmonic effects). The electronic Szonáta számítógépre (Sonata for Computer, 1984) utilizes a genuine sonata structure, while Parte con Moto (1984) aims at orchestral effects through electronic means. Other works have explored acoustical techniques: S.O.S. vocal overtone techniques, Five Matuziáda extended flute techniques, and microtones on the cimbaloms in Interferences. Dubrovay has been a professor at the Budapest Academy since 1976.


works include:

- Concerto No.1 for 11 strings; Concerto No.2 for trumpet and strings; Concerto No.3; Concerto No.4 for piano, synthesizer and strings

- Four Matuziádas for flute; Streams No.2 for flute and tape; Geometrum 2 for string quartet or four string instruments; Oscillations Nos. 1, 2 & 3 for various forces; 2 brass quintets; A2 for piano, synthesizer, violin, cello and percussion

- For Two Cimbaloms

- electronic works including Felhangok II, Parte con moto and Szonáta számítógépre


recommended works:

Concerto No.1 (1979) for 11 strings

Concerto No.2 (1981) for trumpet and strings



born 15th December 1905 at Nagykanizsa

died 10th October 2000 at Budapest


A senior figure in Hungarian music, Farkas' conservative but effective works have been heard quite widely outside Hungary (particularly his chamber scores). Although his early music reflected his interest in folk-music (he collected folk songs in the 1930s), his output includes everything from symphonies, concertos or concertinos for most major instruments, to opera. His idiom ranges from the neo-classicism of such works as the cheerful but totally unmemorable Piccola Musica di Concerto (1961) or the rather more biting Trittico Concertato (1964) for cello and orchestra, through Russian intensity and the shadows of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, the orchestral drive of Bartók, and the symphonic painting of his teacher Respighi (all these influences are clear in, for example, Planctus et Consolationes for orchestra, 1965, while being quite successfully integrated).

His major compositional arena is the large series of cantatas that were started with the Cantata Lirica (also known as The Well of St.John, 1945). Some are on relatively modern texts, such as the Tavaszvárás (Waiting for the Spring, 1965) for baritone, chorus, children's choir and orchestra, relatively uninteresting except for a dark section of Bartókian line and colour. However, Farkas is more inspired when setting older writings. Thus Aspirationes Principis (Aspirations of the Prince, 1974-1975) is a powerful cantata mixing Latin and Magyar, and combining 12-note effects with a tonal base, effective structural organization, and convincing orchestration that includes harp, celesta, and prominent percussion. Its portrayal of the contrast between the inner desire for peace and the necessities of kingship is both human and moving. The Vivit Dominus (1981-1982) for choir and orchestra, is similarly assured if less effective, with conventional harmonies but beautiful and sometimes triumphant writing for choir, occasionally martial in character.

The historical interest also surfaces in some of the instrumental music , and in the neo-Baroque structures of such works as the attractive Concertino No.4 (1984) for oboe and strings, alternately playful and lyrically beautiful, and with telling touches in the orchestration - an attractive work, strangely reminiscent of an oboe concerto (1982) by another composer of the same generation, the Welshman Daniel Jones.

Farkas lived for a time in Copenhagen and Vienna (1933-1935), writing film scores, and then taught in Hungary before being appointed professor at the Liszt Academy of Music in 1949, a post he retained until his retirement.


works include:

- Concertino rustico for alphorn and string orch. and other concertinos

- Ancient Hungarian Dances for wind quintet and other chamber music

- Canephorae for organ

- cantatas including Aspirationes Principis, Cantata Lirica (The Well of St.John), Tavaszvárás (Waiting for the Spring), Vita poetae (from stage work) and Vivit Dominus

- ballet Three Vagabonds

- opera Csinom Palk

- incidental music for plays; film scores


recommended works:

cantata Aspirationes Principis (1974-1975) for tenor, baritone and orchestra

Concertino No.4 (1983) for oboe and strings



born 16th December 1882 at Kecskemét

died 6th March 1967 at Budapest


The music of Zoltán Kodály has been completely overshadowed by that of his contemporary Bartók, and for many music-lovers his name will be far more familiar than his music, apart from the immensely popular suite from the quasi-opera Háry János. Like Bartók, the starting point of his music was the influence of Hungarian folk-music, which they collected together from 1905 in a huge and important (and in their lifetimes incomplete) undertaking. But whereas Bartók used Hungarian folk music as a major element in a process of individual development, Kodály's idiom is far more concerned with a marriage of folk-music and more traditional classical music (especially the harmonisation of melodic lines, rather than contrapuntal or polyphonic writing). In addition, his style - straightforward, incorporating elements of a Romantic and Impressionist heritage, with an energetic rhythmic element and colourful orchestrations, and always tonal - remained largely the same, apart from a gradual move to leaner textures. He is the major representative of Hungarian nationalism in music, and is treated as such in Hungary.

Until 1918 his output consisted mainly of chamber pieces, now largely unheard. However, the following decade saw the appearance of the vocal and choral works that established his name, for in the setting of words - his literary knowledge was considerable, and his understanding of Hungarian folk lyrics expert - he found the medium that most suited his idiom and his interest in folk music. The major orchestral works date from the 1930s. After the Second World War, when the communist authorities in Hungary treated him as a musical elder statesman, his compositions became less frequent, and included little that is regularly encountered.

The first work to bring Kodály widespread recognition was the Psalmus Hungaricus (1923). A direct and dramatic work, with choral outbursts, moods ranging from a lament to exuberance, and brilliant orchestration, it is based on a 16th-century version of Psalm 55. This achievement was confirmed by two other outstanding works for vocal forces and orchestra. The powerful Budavari Te Deum (The Te Deum of Buda Castle, 1936) for soloists, choir, organ and orchestra has the atmosphere of both ancient church music, and of more martial and triumphant occasions, with a strong flavour of Hungarian folk-music (with `towers of fourths'). The more solemn Missa Brevis (1944, orchestrated 1951, and so named for the shortness of its sections) has similarly colourful orchestration, and while the influence of old liturgical music remains strong (with long sonorous vocal lines), the nationalist element is less overt. These three pieces are perhaps the works in which Kodály most successfully integrates a powerful idiomatic style with an emotional feel for material of Hungarian origin. Much of the huge body of other vocal and choral music, ranging from simple folk arrangements to sonorous a cappella pieces, will give lasting pleasure.

Of his orchestral music, the two scores of dances - the boisterous Dances of Marosszek (begun 1923, completed 1927 in a piano version, orchestrated 1930), and the Dances of Galánta (1933), based on music remembered from his childhood time in the town of the same name, and with strong Impressionist echoes - are brilliantly colourful expressions of folk-music transformed into the orchestra. More intense are the Peacock Variations (1938-1939) for orchestra, with some hauntingly beautiful music as well as dance-like sections, and a variation structure suited to Kodály's idiom. The score was banned by the authorities in Hungary (where Kodály had remained) in 1940. The Concerto for Orchestra (1939-1940), still using Hungarian dance material while loosely recalling Baroque concerti grossi and designed to show off the orchestra, is less obviously successful than these works, while the later Symphony (1961), in memory of the conductor Toscanini, continues a similar style.

Kodály's chamber music (all with material derived from folk music) dates from the first two decades of the century. The masterpiece is the rhapsodic Sonata for solo cello op.8 (1915) - Kodály was himself a cellist. His string quartets, the first (1909) yearning and dramatic, the second (1918) lighter in feel, perhaps deserve to be better known.

Of his three operas, the comic Háry János (1925-1927) is in the idiom of folk theatre, a play with music (and therefore long stretches of dialogue), while The Spinning Room (1924-1932) is designated `lyric scenes'. The former is totally delightful, using virtually unchanged folk music as well as original material. Some of its music was extracted with great success for the Háry János Suite, in which all Kodály's facility for long melodic lines and happy and memorable tunes, and for sometimes exotic and always colourful orchestration (including the celebrated part for cimbalom), as well as a sense of piquant and pictorial fun, are shown at their best. Steeped in a Hungarian identity that becomes universal in its delight, it is one of the most accomplished and satisfying showpiece orchestral suites of the 20th century.

Perhaps even more important than his achievement as a composer was his work first as a collector of Hungarian folk songs and second as an educator. His music teaching method for children (the 'Kodaly Method'), based on singing, has been widely influential and is used throughout Hungary as well as in many other countries. He taught from 1907 to 1941 at the Academy of Music in Budapest (apart from being suspended, 1919-1922, by the short-lived communist regime), and later became its director.

An encounter with Kodály's music is almost always inclined to be a vivid experience, if rarely intellectually stimulating. Above all, it is music designed to share the pleasure inherent in its material, besides being steeped in an idiom - Hungarian folk music - that is itself tuneful and lively.


works include:

- symphony

- Concerto for Orchestra; viola concerto

- Dances of Galánta, Peacock Variations, Summer Evening, Theatre Overture and Variations on a Hungarian Folksong for orch.

- sonata for solo cello; Capriccio for solo cello; cello sonata; cello sonatina; Duo for violin and cello; Serenade for two violins and viola; 2 string quartets

- Dances of Marosszek (also orchestrated), Meditation on a Theme of Debussy, Seven Piano Pieces and Variations for piano

- large number of folk song arrangements for various vocal forces; solo songs

- Missa Brevis; Psalmus Hungaricus for tenor, chorus and orch.; Jesus and the Merchants and Te Deum for chorus and orch.; Laudes Organi and Pange lingua for choir and organ

- ballet Sparticus

- operas Czinka Panna, Háry János, The Transylvanian Spinning Room


recommended works:

Budavari Te Deum (1936) for soloists, chorus, organ and orchestra

Dances of Galánta (1933) for orchestra

Háry János Suite op.15 (1926) for orchestra

Peacock Variations (1938-1939) for orchestra

Missa Brevis (1948 orchestrated 1951)

Sonata for solo cello op. 8 (1915)



L. Choksy The Kodaly Method, 1974

L. Esze Zoltán Kodály: his Life in Pictures, 1971, reprinted 1982

P. Young Zoltán Kodály, 1964



born February 19th 1926 at Lugoj (Rumania)


The music of György Kurtág suddenly came into international prominence (at least in Europe) in the middle of the 1980s, with critical acclaim tantamount to a major new discovery in European music. So far that prominence has not reached a wider public, but has been confined to more specialist festivals and concert platforms. It seems likely to remain that way, for his highly condensed, deeply thoughtful idiom in which virtually nothing is wasted is intellectually rigorous and uncompromising. In addition, after earlier works that included a Viola Concerto (1954) and a Korei Kantáta (1953), his acknowledged music from the String Quartet op.1 (1959) has been confined to a very small number of works for chamber forces on an essentially miniature scale, either purely instrumental, or with voice.

That string quartet, written after studies in Paris (1957), is indeed a suitable introduction to his music, for the taut and powerful work in six very short sections illustrates Kurtág's especial achievement to date: the combination of the serial techniques of the Second Viennese School and Webern in particular, and an emotional expressiveness that derives from the heritage of Bartók, notably an intensity of rhythmic logic, structural continuity, and surety of sonority and texture. The colouristic instrumental effects, used in short snatches of phrases as structural elements, are developed in his later works, and this technique may derive from his studies with Messiaen. Kurtág then developed different elements of this string quartet in his next three works: the use of instrumental colour in the Wind Quintet op.2 (1959), the expressiveness in the Eight Piano Pieces op.3 (1959), and the sense of the miniature, created by very short internal units, in the five-minute Eight Duets for Violin and Cimbalom op.4 (1960-1961).

Kurtág's development of his expressive powers has allowed some unusual approaches. His harmonic language is largely 12-tone, but an occasional touch of a tonal base often provides a deliberate contrast. There is often a strong identification of individual works or movements with a dedicatee, sometimes performers (Márta Kurtág or the conductor András Mihály), but more often with other composers, at times Hungarian (for example Sárközy), at others composers of the past (Scarlatti, Paganini). This allows him to utilise elements of those composers' styles and fuse them into his own idiom, with a remarkable lack of either straight derivation or obvious pastiche. At the same time he has extended the miniature into extended sets. Thus the remarkably consistent and numerous series Játékok (Plays and Games, 1973 onwards) for piano or two pianos, now running to over 200 works in five volumes, includes the serial deconstruction of Scarlatti's stylistic ideas set against Scarlatti passages in Hommage à Domenico Scarlatti, the shades of Messiaen (particulary bird song), and such instrumental effects as emulating the cimbalom, in a series of sparkling miniatures that display new colours and directions of expression with each unfolding facet. Similarly the Twelve Microludes for string quartet (1977-1978, titled Homage à Mihály András) each contain elements of music of other composers, with Bartók especially prominent.

However, Kurtág's especial genius is the combination of this miniaturized idiom with the expressive power of words. His output since the middle 1970s has almost exclusively included voice, apart from two concertante works, ...quasi una fantasia... (1988) for piano and orchestra and the Double Concerto for Piano and Cello `Requiem for a Friend' (1990). He has an uncanny knack for selecting poetry of a high literary value that also interacts well with music; often the poetry selected has strong visual imagery but a restrained emotional expression (if not content), which can then be amplified in the setting. It is almost invariably dramatic, with a powerful persona in the poetry, creating an almost operatic impact, amplified by the usually separate individuality of vocal line and instrumentation. His first song-cycle, The Sayings of Péter Bornemisza (Bornemisza Péter Mondásai, 1963-1968) for soprano and piano, based on the sermons of a 16th-century Lutheran poet-preacher, is a large-scale work divided into four parts. It ranges from the contemplation of death to the hope of spring and nature, with the central sections divided by `sinfonias'. However, the individual songs have the feel of the miniature, welded into a larger conception by an overall scheme that distantly corresponds to sonata form, by sometimes complex internal structures in individual passages, and by the sheer force of the expression. The piano range is considerable, from musical description to spartan, Webern-like delicacy, and using such techniques as the held middle pedal for cimbalom-like resonance, and vocal lines with wide leaps and markings designed to increase the emotional intensity (such as `barking or gasping'). A less monumental introduction to Kurtág's vocal music are the Four Songs to Poems by János Pilinzsky op.11 (Négy dal Pilinzsky János verserie, 1973-1975) for baritone and piano or chamber ensemble, whose opening chant exemplifies the elemental love of vocal sound, and whose poems typify the poetic features that attract Kurtág. It was the song cycle Messages of the Late R.V.Troussova op.17 (1976-1980) for soprano and small orchestra that gave Kurtág an international prominence. The verses are by the Russian poetess Rimma Dalos, with the theme of a woman reflecting on her life and loves, with sometimes graphic erotic imagery, and the number of songs (21 - the order and selection is by the composer), the use of Sprechgesang and the changes of instrumentation suggest a tribute to Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire. The vocal writing is again very wide-ranging, and the sense of the miniature (many of the poems are of only three lines) combined with the larger conception. The gigantic and austere cycle Fragments (1987) for soprano and orchestra uses passages of Kafka's letters and diaries. Homaggio a Luigi Nono op.16 (1979) for unaccompanied chorus sets Russian texts by Akhmatova and Dalos, is in six movements, the chorus using up to twelve parts and dividing into a double chorus. Kurtág's sensitivity to the nuances and the actual sounds of the words, his ability to create often startling instrumental sounds and patterns that amplify and match the psychological emotions, and the combination of the miniature in individual songs, and the large-scale in the overall conception, suggest he will emerge, with Mahler and Britten, as the finest song-cycle composer of the century.

Kurtág has taught at the Budapest Academy since 1968. His son György (born 1954) is also a composer.


works include (English titles):

- Double Concerto `Requiem for a Friend' for piano and cello; ....quasi una fantasia for piano and orch.

- Signs for viola; Eight Duos for violin and cimbalom; string quartet; Twelve microludes `Homage to András Mihály' for string quartet; wind quintet;

- Plays and Games for piano

- song cycles Fifteen Songs for soprano, violin and cimbalom; Four Capriccios for soprano and 14 instruments; Four Songs to Poems by János Pilinszky for baritone and piano or chamber ensemble; Fragments for soprano and orch.; In Memory of a Winter Sunset for soprano, violin and cimbalom; Messages of the Late Miss R.V.Troussova for soprano and small orch.; The Sayings of Péter Bornemisza for soprano and piano; Scenes from a Novel for soprano and orch.; S.K. remembrance noise for soprano and violin

- Eight Tandoori Choruses and Homage to Luigi Nono for chorus


recommended works:

Kurtág's small output is of a consistently high quality, and all his mature works are recommended.


LÁNG István

born March 1st 1933 at Budapest


István Láng is emerging as one of the most interesting Hungarian composers of his generation, who fused the heritage of Bartók, particularly in the intensity of expression, with some of the techniques and instrumental effects drawn from 12-tone and serial music. His music in the 1960s included micro-elements (short motivic ideas), the use of mathematical series, and aleatory techniques, often in cyclic forms. From this he has developed a sound-world concerned with the shape of musical sounds and their emotional effect, generally built on a duality between short events and long time-spans. This has showed how some of the techniques of the avant-garde can be moulded into a more direct and immediate idiom with a wider appeal. The short events, carefully related, occupy the foreground and dominate the attention through often highly charged emotions, and are emphasized by a feeling of space around them, created by silences or by the orchestration. The longer structures are not immediately apparent, but it is one of the achievements of Láng's music that during or towards the end of a piece one realizes an overall pattern has taken place in a coherent and satisfying manner. An analogy might be with a busy but not consciously structured week full of varied events: one is aware of those events as the week passes, but only at the end of the week does the satisfaction of the overall time-period, and its sense of actual structure, become apparent. Those structures are often based on a single movement with two contrasting sections, the one tense the other more relaxed, and unifying devices of reworking earlier material at the close and the inclusion of a note from the opening of a work in its final moment are often utilized.

Both Láng's musical antecedents and some of his later characteristics are found in the Variations and Allegro (1965) for orchestra, rearranged from an earlier symphony. The variations use two themes, the first Bartókian with a longer melodic line and a nocturnal hue, the second a more fragmented idea drawn from 12-tone techniques. The variations are dramatic, with short events, contrasts of light and density and of incisive and smooth sounds, with that covert sense of underlying cohesion. The allegro employs driving percussive rhythms clearly derived from Bartók.

The dramatic has always been a feature of his music (for example Monodia for clarinet exists for both the stage and the concert platform). A sense of theatre is present in such works as the Three Sentences from Romeo and Juliet (1969-1970) for string orchestra, where each movement expresses the possibilities of a Shakespeare quotation, and in the Concerto bucolico (1969-1970) for horn and orchestra, where the horn part is less that of a virtuoso conflict with the orchestra than a character with sometimes wild moods wandering among them. In the dark Violin Concerto (1976-1977) the lyrical melody of the opening movement is submerged and stripped down, the second has three distinct characteristics (scherzo, dialogue and burlesque) separated by Láng's typical contrast of the more relaxed and quiet, while the finale resolves an harmonic tension set up in the first movement by its opening and closing note. The Double Concerto for Clarinet and Harp (1979-1980) is perhaps the best introduction to his idiom, a wondrous work that manages to appear both static and in motion. It is as much a concerto for the whole orchestra, since various instruments emerge with a phrase and step back again, each as a sharply drawn character, as if at a large party with the most diverse personalities. The harp is generally sober, the clarinet much more wild (at one point teasingly swooping into the opening of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue), and the five movements, played without a break, are more changes of density of texture than sharp divisions of mood.

Láng's idiom is less immediate in works of more monochromatic instrumentation. Villanások (Flashes, 1973) for solo violin seems a more ordinary work, in spite of the first of nine aphorisms that is played solely using the note A in various registers, though the short single-movement String Quartet No.3 (1978), with sharp contrasts and emotive tension, bears repeated hearing. Typical of his expressive style is the intriguing TV opera Álom a Színházról (A Dream About the Theatre, 1977-1981), in which the instrumental forces (often fluttering high wind) are opposed by a battery of 28 sometimes brutish percussion instruments. The lyrical line is developed from micro-units in a modified serial technique whose series of intervals use less than twelve tones. Dramatically the style is surrealist, and the libretto, by Láng after three works by Iván Mándy, concerns a dream by a writer of a premiere of one of his plays. The illogicality of dream events, images, and actions is brilliantly caught, and the surrealist potentialities of video effects cleverly realized, from an umbrella chasing the writer down the street to his apartment turning into a whirlpool. The zaniness of images forms one of the work's main threads, and Láng's musical style, with its bursts of idea and wide-ranging, often humorous instrumental effects, is entirely suited to this unusual work.

Láng was the musical director of the Budapest Puppet Theatre (1966-1984), and since 1973 he has been a lecturer at the Budapest Academy.


works include:

- 4 symphonies

- Concerto bucolico for horn and orch.; Double Concerto for clarinet, harp and orch.; xylophone concerto; violin concerto

- Music 2-3-4 for chamber ensemble

- Funeral Music and Variazioni ed allegro for orch.; Sentences from Romeo and Juliet for strings

- Impulsioni for oboe and ensemble; Monodia for solo clarinet; 3 string quartets; Two Preludes for a Postlude for bassoon and string trio; Constellations for oboe quartet; 3 wind quintets

- Chamber Cantata and cantatas In Memoriam N.N.I. and Laudate Hominum; ballet-cantata Starfighters

- ballet Hiperbola; operas A gyva (The Coward); Mario and the Magician


recommended works:

Double Concerto for Clarinet and Harp (1979-1980)

opera A Dream about the Theatre (1977-1981)

Violin Concerto (1976-1977)


LIGETI György Sándor

born 28th May 1923 at Dicsöszentmáron

died 12th June 2006 at Vienna


One of the major figures of the avant garde, Ligeti (whose birthplace is now in Rumania) left Hungary after the abortive uprising of 1956 to live in Vienna, and became an Austrian citizen. His early music showed the influence of Kodály, although privately (as they could not be performed in the Hungary of the time) such works as the String Quartet No.1 (1953-1954) showed an awareness of more modern ideas, including the Second Viennese School. Since his departure from Hungary, his major achievement has been the establishment of a kind of aural structure in which the normal parameters - rhythm, vertical harmony, horizontal progression - are so blurred that they become almost static, creating a dense swathe of slowly evolving sound. He himself termed this style `mikropolyphonie'. On the one hand the effect is almost that of the folding and refolding of pure sonority; on the other, the multifarious vertical strands and the sense of the ethereal they create, as well as the slow rate of change, makes this language a kind of 20th-century equivalent to the great polyphonic motets of the 16th and 17th centuries. The basic unit of this structure is the tone cluster, a swathe of adjacent notes that can have elements of a centre but also blurred outlines. With little sense of rhythmic drive or motivation, the contrast of cluster events creates tension, their various oppositions movement. The juxtaposition of many clusters, their evolution against each other, the simultaneous use of opposing dynamic changes and the detailed use of more conventional devices that are felt, rather than individually heard in the general sound (from simple inversion of phrases to a 56-part canon in Atmosphères, 1961, for orchestra), regularly give the unexpected sense of one underlying tonal area shifting into another.

The orchestral Apparitions (1959) introduced this style, while the aptly titled Atmosphères (1961) for orchestra, which includes a basic 12-tone language and a final section of 19 seconds of reverberation time and silence, established it. Volumnia for organ (1961-1962) brilliantly applied many of these ideas to the organ, creating dense sound possibilities through new techniques (for example, changing organ breathing and thus tonal colour by switching the organ off and on) and using clusters of pipes. A similar submergence of individual components into the overall atmosphere of sound was chorally applied in the other-worldly Lux Aeterna (1966) for 16-part a cappella mixed chorus. The summit of this style is the extraordinary Requiem (1965) for soprano, mezzo-soprano, chorus and orchestra, where Ligeti sets up huge deep resonances, and where the technique of changing overtones produced by shifting clusters from the chorus (requiring very accurate singing) creates haunting effects. To this are added violent changes of dynamics, and wide leaping solo vocal lines. These preoccupations were continued in the beautiful Lontano (1967) for orchestra, whose lyricism is blurred by the cluster gloss. The fusion of micro-tonal intervals adds a haunting, ghost-like quality to the atmospheric Ramifications (1968-1969) for twelve string players or string orchestra, where the players are divided into two, tuned a quarter-tone apart. In the opening of the Chamber Concerto (1969), the clusters are elongated into wisps of linear idea, but quickly coalesce into clusters, in a work that includes prominent harp and organ, and arresting instrumental colours. This language has had a very wide appeal, partly because the dense swathes of sound and the slow progressions have considerable allure to those who feel threatened by avant-garde ideas, but also because its popularity was enhanced by the use of Ligeti's music in the film 2001.

A different aspect of Ligeti emerged in Aventures (1962) for three singers and seven players. With its staccato phrases, extended vocal techniques, sense of humour and parody, it concentrates on foreground events, notably a metronomic sense of rhythmic regularity, although there is a magical transformation into the swathes of cluster colour sounds and back again. It was followed by a sequel, Nouvelles aventures (New Adventures, 1962-1965), but increasingly these two sides of Ligeti's musical character have been juxtaposed (as in the two movements of the Cello Concerto, 1966, sharing material but quite different in character), or used in combination, the one emerging from the other, summed up in the title of a work for twelve female voices and orchestra, Clocks and Clouds (1972-1973). Its style is a kind of neo-Impressionism, the orchestra scurrying clouds across the aural sky, joined by the bright sunlight of the voices, who move towards clock-like sounds and back to the clouds. The undulating linear flow makes this work one of the most effective introductions to Ligeti's music. A similar convergence of methods of expression is apparent in the marvellous String Quartet No.2 (1968-1969), with its very wide range of string techniques. Its overall sense of traditional structure is created more by the contrast and development of sound ideas and particular colour combinations than by conventional themes. Its third movement has elements of the then emerging Minimalists, an influence recognized (in the persons of Terry Riley and Steve Reich) in the two-piano triptych Selbstportrait mit Reich und Riley (und Chopin is auch dabei) (1976).

Melodien (1971) for orchestra signalled a new interest in melody, and gradually the more static elements of Ligeti's idiom were toned down in favour of harmonic and rhythmic exploration, tending in one direction to a delicate luminosity, and in another to a calculated precision of biting instrumental effect, most obvious in the harsh opening to the opera Le Grand Macabre (1974-1977). To a libretto by Michael Meschke based on Ghelderode, the macabre of the title is fully realised by the grotesque story - centred on the supposed end of the world, and combining erotic and surrealistic images - and the music, and the opera is a dark satirical quasi-comedy of singular theatrical effect. The more melodic and the more luminous appeared in the Double Concerto (1972) for flute, oboe and orchestra and in San Francisco Polyphony (1975) for orchestra. The Horn Trio (1982) paid clear homage to the trio of Brahms, while also parodying a motif from Beethoven's Les Adieux piano sonata. Its instrumental sound gained from the experience of Le Grand Macabre, and it is light years away from the cluster choral works of the 1960s, but, interesting though it is (with a beautiful melancholy slow final movement harking back to the atmosphere of Bartók's `night music'), one can't help feeling the extraordinary had been lost on the way in favour of the curious. The humour apparent in the Horn Trio has been a thread throughout Ligeti's output, erupting in the rather tedious Poème symphonique pour cent metronomes (1962) for 100 metronomes, and more effectively in such works as Hungarian Rock (1978), one of a number of Ligeti works for harpsichord.


works include:

- cello concerto; chamber concerto; Double Concerto for flute, oboe and orch.; piano concerto; violin concerto

- Apparitions, Atmosphères, Lontano, Melodien and San Francisco Polyphony for orch.

- trio for violin, horn and piano; 2 string quartets; 6 Bagatelles for wind quintet

- Six Études for piano; Continuum, Hungarian Rock and Passacaglia ungerese for harpsichord

- 2 Études (Harmonies and Coulée) and Volumnia for organ

- Requiem; Clocks and Clouds for female voices and orch.; Aventures and Nouvelles aventures for 3 solo voices and seven instruments; Hungarian Studies, Night, Morning, and 3 Phantasien for chorus

- operas Le Grand Macabre, The Tempest

- electronic Artikulation and Glissandi


recommended works:

Atmosphères (1961)

Aventures (1963)

Chamber Concerto (1970)

Clocks and Clouds (1972-1973) for female voices and orchestra

Double Concerto (1972) for flute, oboe and orchestra

opera Le Grand Macabre (1974-1977)

Lontano (1967) for orchestra

Nouvelles aventures (1965)

Requiem (1965)

String Quartet No.1 (1953-1954)

String Quartet No.2 (1968-1969)

San Francisco Polyphony (1975) for orchestra

Volumnia (1961-1962)



P.Griffiths György Ligeti, 1983



born 26th November 1920 at Pesterzsbet

died 2002


If never especially demanding, the consistently attractive and interesting oeuvre of István Sárközy well repays those interested in exploring some of the byways of European music. His earliest works were mostly choral, and he attracted attention with the long-running musical play Szelistyei asszonyok (The Women of Szelistye, 1952). Much of his subsequent work intentionally explored older musical forms and ideas, from the Concerto Grosso (subtitled Ricordanze I, 1943-1944, revised 1969) which is a neo-classical work, distorting Baroque ideas through a grotesquerie of harmonies as if through a distorting lens, to the Concerto Semplice (Ricordanze II, 1974) for violin and orchestra, whose solo part looks back to Romantic virtuoso writing.

At the same time his orchestration and his harmonic language, which moved away from tonality while retaining a tonal base, owe much to Bartók, whose influence is clear in such passages as the night-music writing of the slow movement of the Concerto Grosso, or of the Sinfonia concertante (1963) for clarinet and strings. The character of earlier periods is constantly subject to more modern reconstruction (as in the passage for violin and percussion alone in the Concerto Semplice). Characteristic of his style is a lyrical line that is rather haunting and waif-like. This is particularly expressed in his writing for voice, where the echoes of the past are similarly reconstructed. Thus the haunting and beautiful cantata Júlia nekek (Julia Songs, 1958) has a deliberately archaic tone reflecting the 16th-century verses, and an ecstatic sensual element reflected in the instrumentation of flute, harp and harpsichord. More recent works include a third Ricordanze (1977) for string quartet, and a rather brash piano concerto titled Confessioni (`Anno 1853') (1978), which, like the Sinfonia Concertante, are at moments reminiscent of Prokofiev.

Sárközy taught at the Budapest Academy from 1959.


works include:

- Sinfonia concertante for clarinet and 24 strings (alternative version with the addition of 12 wind)

- Concerto Grosso; Concerto Semplice (Ricordanze II) for violin and orch.; Confessioni (`Anno 1853') for piano and orch.

- Little Suite for orch.

- Four Études for solo clarinet; Chamber Sonata for clarinet and piano; Sonata da camera for flute and piano; Ricordanze III for string quartet; wind quintet Psaume et jeu and other chamber music

- cantatas Júlia nekek, The Earthquake Approaches, The poor one...; `comedy-oratorio' Ypszilon-hborrr; Three Songs on Poems by Andras Mezei and many other song cycles and songs

- 5 musical plays including The Women of Szelistye


recommended works:

Concerto Grosso (1943-1944 rev.1969)

cantata Julia Songs (1958)



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