KODALY: Three Chorale Preludes / Cello Sonatas Opp. 8 and 4 (Gunter Appenheimer/ Jeno Jando/ Maria Kliegel) (Naxos: 8.553160)
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Zoltan Kodaly (1882 - 1967)
Music for Cello
Three Chorale Preludes
Sonata for Solo Cello, Op. 8
Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 4
Kodaly's unhappy lot in life and history was to play second fiddle to BelaBartok. For years he was accused of plagiarism, he was critically hounded("organised persecution", Bartok called it), and his inherentgentleness and selfless personal demeanour (remembered so well by the presentauthor) was mistaken for weakness or lack of fibre. Given his lyric temperament,his nationalism, the premium he placed on expressive nuance and harmony, hismisfortune perhaps (like the nordic Vaughan Williams/Sibelius/Roy Harrisgeneration) was to have been born into an age progressively more interested incancelling than renewing old values. He may have spanned the generations fromold Liszt to young Ligeti, he may have lived through two world wars, Hitler, theSoviets and 1956, but comparatively little of such transition or trauma foundreflection in his work. "For some time past," Bartok felt impelled towrite in February 1921, "certain musical circles have made it their specialconcern to play me off against Zoltan Kodaly. They would like to make itappear that the friendship between us is being used by Kodaly for his ownprofit. This is a most stupid lie. Kodaly is one of the most outstandingcomposers of our day. His art, like mine, has twin roots: it has sprung fromHungarian peasant soil and modern French music [Debussy]. But though our art hasgrown from this common soil, our works from the very beginning have beencompletely different ...It is possible that Kodaly's music is not so'aggressive' [as mine]; it is possible that in form it is closer to certaintraditions; it is also possible that it expresses calm meditation rather than'unbridled orgies'. But it is precisely this essential difference, reachingexpression in his music as a completely new and original way of thinking, thatmakes his musical message so valuable ...This man, to whom Hungarian cultureowes so much, is attacked at every turn, sometimes by official circles,sometimes by 'critics'. They are determined to prevent him from being able towork in peace for the good of our culture, and they do so while they, theincompetent, the idle and the nobodies, are proclaiming at the top of theirvoices the importance of maintaining the superiority of Hungarian culture".
Eventually Kodaly was to be feted and honoured by the world - but it neededBartok's defence, a contract from Universal in Vienna (the publishers ofMahler, Strauss and Schoenberg), the international success of PsalmusHungaricus (1926 Zurich ISCM Festival) and Hary Janos, and theweighty independent support of men like Toscanini, Furtwangler and Ansermet tostem the once oceanic flood of ill feeling against him.
Kodaly shared Beethoven's birthday - 16th December. As an old man (in 1966)he remembered himself as a village lowlander: "the Galanta district, whereI began to find myself, is just as open as the Great Plain itself... [But] therewas always a longing for mountains in me. From Galanta I cou1d see theCarpathians looming blue in the distance, from Nagyszombat they were a littlenearer, but it was years later before I could actually set foot on them".
"The shaping of my life," he wrote in 1950, "was as natural asbreathing itself. I sang before I could speak, and I sang more than I spoke... Imade my first instrument myself. I was hardly four years old when I tookmother's draining-ladle, threaded strings into its holes and fastened them tothe end of the ladle. On these strings I played the guitar and sang improvisedsongs to this accompaniment". In 1900 he went to Budapest, to read Germanand Hungarian at the University and to study at the Academy of Music withReger's cousin, Hans Koessler, the teacher of Bartok and Dohnanyi. Hispassions, composition apart, were collecting folk music (from 1905) and teaching(from 1907). With Bartok he was one of the great early ethnomusicologists ofthe century, notating, recording, documenting and publishing the living folkliterature of his people fresh from the field. "Like their language, themusic of the Hungarians is ... terse and lapidary, forming ...masterpieces thatare small but weighty. Some tunes of a few notes have withstood the tempests ofcenturies", "there is no fertile soil without traditions [but]traditions in themselves do not create higher forms of art" (1939), weretwo among his many aphoristic perceptions. He was elected president of theInternational Folk Music Council in 1961.
Originally in three movements, the Op. 4 Sonata (December 1909 -February 1910) was premi?¿red by Jeno Kerpely and Bartok in Budapest, 17thMarch 1910. Growing out of the same elemental "old Hungarian"intervals that a few years later were to lend wing to Sibelius's Fifthsymphony, the opening F sharp minor Fantasia - an artful blend ofrubato recitative, folk innuendo (the piano references, alla Liszt, to undampedcimbalon sound) and Debussyian harmonies - epitomises Bartok's view of Kodalyas a composer of "rich melodic invention, [and] a perfect sense of form,[with] a certain predilection for melancholy and uncertainty ... [striving] forinner contemplation" July 1921). Kodaly claimed Beethoven to have inspiredthe stamping main theme of the second movement, but in its short-winded modalphrases, drone inflections and Hary Janos - like allusions it's nearerperhaps to peasant dance. The return of the Fantasia at the end (thefinal cello F sharp cutting through the piano's distinctive G major triadicspacing) establishes a neat cyclic unity.
Dedicated to Kerpely and first played by him in Budapest on 7th May 1918, theOp. 8 Sonata (1915), admired by Bartok for its "unusual andoriginal style ...[and] suprising vocal effects", is an extraordinary tourde force, not so much a reply to unaccompanied Bach as a visionary credo inpursuit of the ultimate, regardless of medium or technical limitation. Inseeking his (B minor/major) goal, Kodaly even has the lower two strings tuneddown a semitone from normal (giving the configuration B-F sharp-D-A), notatingthem further as a transposing part. Inwardly, the three movements are tightlylinked by recurring motifs and intervals. Outwardly, however, the impression ismore random, a pageant of rhapsody and change, of sudden contrasts and pensivereflections, all exquisitely detailed in rhythm, phrasing, inflection anddynamics. Epic counterpoint and arresting gesture, recitatives, songs anddances, drones, shepherd pipes, zithers and cimbalons, veritably a whole gypsyorchestra, make up Kodaly's vibrant dreamland. As monumental for cellists asthe Liszt Sonata is for pianists, no more challenging a work exists. Kodaly wasnever again to tackle the form.
The Three Chorale Preludes (1924) are arrangements of organ settingsformerly attributed to Bach (BWV 743,762,747) but in fact spurious.
?® 1996 Ateş Orga
Maria Kliegel achieved significant success in 1981, when she was awarded theGrand Prix in the Rostropovich Competition. Born in Dillenburg, Germany, shebegan learning the cello at the age of ten and first came to public attentionfive years later, when, as a student at the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, shetwice won first prize in the Jugend Musiziert competition. She later studied inAmerica with Janos Starker, serving as his assistant, and subsequently appearedin a phenomenal series of concerts in America, Switzerland and France, withRostropovich as conductor. She has since then