Zoltán Kodály

Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967)

Nationality: Hungarian
Born: December 16, 1882, Kecskemét Died: March 6, 1967, Budapest (age 84)

Sonatina (for cello and piano)

(for cello and piano)
Duration: 9 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1910 (age 27-28)
Revised: 1922 (age 39-40)
5 recordings, 5 videos
Miklós Perényi, Dénes Várjon
Loránt Szücs, László Mező
Jeno Jando, Maria Kliegel
Raphael Wallfisch, John York
Queyras, Tharaud
From Kai Christiansen

Bartók and KodályZoltán Kodály and Belá Bartók are considered the founding fathers of modern Hungarian art music. In the first decades of the 20th century, both men, separately and in combined forces, gathered hundreds of wax cylinder recordings of peasant folk music throughout territories surrounding their home land that today lie within the boundaries of contemporary Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. Bartók ranged farther into the Balkans and even North Africa. With their highly systematic methods of collection, notation, categorization and cross-comparison, Kodály and Bartók came to be regarded as true musical scientists, among the first of the great ethnomusicologists. They were driven to capture what was a quickly dying native musical culture, a well-spring of highly evolved regional art worthy not only of preserving, but possibly informing a new, modern school of distinctively Hungarian national music. As composers, both Kodály and Bartók sought to establish a fresh, personal musical language, distinct from the prevalent Western European lingua franca based on Germanic tradition as represented especially by Brahms. Kodály in particular pursued a vision of establishing a national music culture and an extensive pedagogy, particularly in the form of choral singing.

Kodály and Bartók were colleagues and friends sharing a mutual respect for one another. It is fascinating that while Kodály and Bartók shared a common time period (they were only two years apart), a common national and academic identity (they both studied at the Academy of Music in Budapest under the same teachers), and literally a shared exploration of folk music, each composer was to find his own distinctive musical voice with widely divergent characteristics and a significantly different fate. Kodály remained within Hungary enjoying a long life and achieving a revered status as Hungary's greatest national musical icon, at least during his lifetime. Initially regarded with ambivalence and suspicion by his countrymen, Bartók, deeply unhappy with Hungarian communism, immigrated to the United States, suffering a shorter life eventually plagued by significant poverty and a sudden, fatal illness. Yet, Bartók has since emerged as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century with a significant reputation and influence that is decidedly international.

Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967)

Sonatina for Cello and Piano, 1922
Zoltán KodályKodály wrote most of his chamber music during the relatively early period from 1905 to 1920 after which he concentrated on orchestral, stage and especially choral music. A self-taught cellist, Kodály's finest chamber music is for strings, the highlights of which are two string quartets, the duo for violin and cello, a sonata for solo cello and an unfinished two movement sonata for cello and piano written in 1910. Unsatisfied with the original first movement of the later cello sonata, Kodály left it unfinished, returning to it again twelve years later in 1922 with the intention of providing a replacement for the discarded first movement. Feeling that the resulting composition was significantly different in style than the original sonata, Kodály let it stand by itself as the beautiful, single movement Sonatina for Cello and Piano. While some have characterized it as thoroughly Hungarian in its melodic contours, it is also suggestive of the modern French music that made such an impression on Kodály and Bartók at the turn of the century and that often shares the spacious pentatonic tendencies with the Hungarian folk music they discovered in Transylvania around the same time.

Belá Bartók, 1881-1945

Rhapsody for Violin and Piano, No. 2, "Folk Dances", 1928
Belá BartókIn 1928, Bartók wrote the two Rhapsodies for Violin and Piano, often called "Hungarian Rhapsodies" and sometimes bearing the subtitle "Folk Dances". Each was written for a prominent Hungarian violinist of the day: the first for Joseph Szigeti, the second for Zoltán Székely, the founder of the Hungarian String Quartet. The rhapsodies each employ a two-part form, the first part slow (lassú), the second fast (friss, meaning brisk or fresh), a tradition in Hungarian dance music that features sectional contrasts of tempo and mood, the typical examples being the csárdás and its ancestor, the 18th century army recruiting dance, the verbunkos. In Bartók's second rhapsody, the first part lassú is moderate in tempo, bright, impassioned with soaring cries from the violin and phrases that are exotically "eastern" with their augmented intervals. In the second part friss, Bartók features striking rhythmic patterns, further tempo variations, spiky pizzicato, tart double-stops, sharp harmonics and lively melodic fragments that sound by turns like folk music, playful children's songs or exhilarating, improvised marches. The rhapsodies have folk origins but show the manipulation and development of Bartók the sophisticated art music composer. It has been said of both Kodály and Bartók that they seldom used actual folk music in their own compositions but rather had thoroughly assimilated the folk idiom to the extent that their personal vocabulary became a spontaneously stylized expression of the same musical impulse. Bartók transcribed the rhapsodies for violin and orchestra during the same year, the year in which he also wrote his most well known chamber masterpiece, the Fourth String Quartet.

More Bartók:

String Quartet No. 3

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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