Sierra Chamber Society Program Notes

Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967)

Duo for Violin and Cello, Op.7 (1914)

[Bullet6] Serenade for Two Violins and Viola Op. 12 (1919-1920)

[Bullet6] Adagio for Viola and Piano (1905)

Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967)

Serenade for Two Violins and Viola Op. 12 (1919-1920)

kodaly"If I were to name the composer whose works are the most perfect embodiment of the Hungarian spirit, I would answer, Kodaly. His work proves his faith in the Hungarian spirit. The obvious explanation is that all Kodaly’s composing activity is rooted only in Hungarian soil, but the deep inner reason is that his unshakable faith and trust in the constructive power and future of his people." Bela Bartok (1928)

 

Kodaly’s contributions to the musical life of Hungary in the 20th century have been immense, and indeed, have gone far beyond mere nationalism. His orchestral compositions enjoy a place in the standard repertory. His researches into his country’s folk music have been models for ethno-musicologists. The program for folk music research drafted by him and Bartok in 1913 resulted in the collection, classification and editing of over 100,000 folk songs. He also made significant contributions in the fields of music history, music criticism, history of literature, linguistics and language education. His teaching methods also went far beyond the borders of his native land with the worldwide use of the "Kodaly Method" for teaching music in schools, the idea being general music literacy.

 

Despite their close personal and professional relationship, Kodaly’s compositional style contrast sharply with that of Bartok. Where Bartok used dissonances and propulsive rhythms and worked largely with instrumental music, Kodaly was a vocal oriented composer. Melody and lyricism were of prime importance to him. Indeed, the bulk of Kodaly;s works are for chorus. Despite the difference in their musical styles, the core of their work is folk music.

 

The Serenade was written for the unusual trio combination of two violins and viola. (The classical string trio is comprised of violin, viola and cello.) Bartok wrote a review of this work in 1921, in which he said: "Despite unusual chord combinations and surprising originality (The Serenade) is still firmly based on tonality, though not to be interpreted strictly on the major/minor system. The time will come when it will be realized that despite the atonal inclination of modern music, the possibilities of building new structures on key systems have not been exhausted.

 

The means used by the composer, the choice of instruments and the superb richness of instrumental effects achieved despite the economy of the work merit great attention in themselves. The content is suited to the form. It reveals a personality with something entirely new to say and one who is capable of communicating this contest in a masterful and concentrated fashion."

 

The work is in three movements. Bartok felt it to be a work "extraordinarily rich in melodies." Particularly impressed by the slow second movement, he described it as "a double thread of mysterious sustained seconds and ninths, tremolo passages in the second violin played pianissimo and consordino provide a harmonic frame. There is also a kind of dialogue between the first violin and viola. The strangely floating passionate melodies of the viola alternate with the spectral, flashing motifs on the first violin. We find ourselves in a fairy world never dreamt of before."

 1991-92 Season, Program I, Sunday October 6, 1991

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Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967)

Adagio for Viola and Piano (1905)

Kodaly’s contributions to the musical life of his native Hungary have been immense. He and his compatriot and friend, Bela Bartok, share the distinction of being Hungary’s greatest Twentieth Century composers, yet their contributions to this century's music place them far beyond being merely musical nationalists. Kodaly's orchestral works enjoy a place in the standard repertory all over the world. His researches into his country’s folk music have been models for ethno-musicologists. (The program for folk music research drafted by Kodaly and Bartok in 1913 resulted in the collection, classification and editing of over 100,000 folk songs.) He also made significant contributions in the fields of music history, music aesthetics, music criticism, history of literature, linguistics and language education. Kodaly was especially passionate about music education. The Kodaly method for teaching music in schools has gained worldwide acceptance and Kodaly Institutes are to be found in cities throughout the globe.

 

The Adagio for Viola and Piano is an early work. The year of its composition, 1905, was the same year that Kodaly commenced his field trips upon which he collected folk songs. However, the predominant influence in the Adagio is the music of Brahms. Lyricism was always to play an important part in Kodaly’s works. Bartok wrote in 1921: "Kodaly's compositions are characterized in the main by rich melodic invention, a perfect sense of form, a certain predilection for melancholy and uncertainty." The Adagio also exists in versions for violin or cello and piano.

1992-93 Season, Program IV, Sunday February 28, 1993

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Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967)

Duo for Violin and Cello, Op.7 (1914)

Kodaly’s contributions to the musical life of his native Hungary have been immense. He, and his compatriot and friend, Bela Bartok, share the distinction of being Hungary’s greatest Twentieth Century composers; yet their contributions to this rapidly ending century’s music place them far beyond being merely musical nationalists. Kodaly’s orchestral works enjoy a place in the standard repertory all over the world. His pioneering researches into his country’s folk music have been models for ethno-musicologists. (The program for folk music research drafted by Kodaly and Bartok in 1913 resulted in the collection, classification and editing of over 100,000 folk songs.) He also made significant contributions in the fields of music history, music aesthetics, music criticism, history of literature, linguistics and language education. Kodaly was especially passionate about music education. The Kodaly method for teaching music in schools has gained worldwide acceptance, and Kodaly Institutes are to be found in cities throughout the globe.

Again, I quote Bartok: "Kodaly’s compositions are characterized in the main by rich melodic invention, a perfect sense of form, a certain predilection for melancholy and uncertainty. He does not seek Dionysian intoxication- he strives for inner contemplation...His music is not of the kind described nowadays as modern. It has nothing to do with the new atonal, bitonal and polytonal music- everything in it is based on the principle of tonal balance. His idiom is nevertheless new; he says things that have never been uttered before and demonstrates thereby that the tonal principle has not lost its raison d’etre as yet."

The majority of Kodaly’s chamber music compositions were written during the First World War; which had temporarily put a halt to his folk music collecting field trips through Central Europe. The cello, an instrument on which he himself played, features prominently in his comparatively small output of chamber music. His chamber music works of this period also share stylistic traits; namely, melodic construction featuring the phrasing and inflections of Magyar folk music, slow sections featuring rubato melody types (these are melodies that are phrased and inflected more like speech than song), as well as fast "ostinato" rhythmic figures derived from folk dances.

The Duo for Violin and Cello, Op.7, was premiered on May 7, 1918 in an all Kodaly concert including Seven Songs, Op.6, and the Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello, Op. 8.

1997-98 Season, Program I, Sunday October 5, 1997

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All original text on this page Copyright 1997 by Joseph Way