Laszlo Lajtha(1892 -1963)
OrchestralWorks Vol. 5
Symphony No.4 \TheSpring", Op. 52 (1951)
Suite II, Op.
Symphony No.3,Op. 45 (1948)
If there existed atop-list of Lajtha works, the Fourth Symphony would certainly besomewhere in the vanguard, as it captivates the listener's heart at the firsthearing. Although the time of composition, the early 1950s was one of thedarkest periods in Hungarian history and Lajtha himself, deprived of anyleading position and his passport, was neglected, insecure and weighed downunder anxieties, this work is full of joi de vivre, bliss, wit, charm. Here,art and music offered an escape for the composer from unfortunate reality.
Like most Lajthasymphonies, Symphony No.4 also has three movements, two fast ones, Allegromolto and Vivace, flanking an Allegretto middle movementwhich, despite its brooding, pensive mood, has a subtle dance-like pulse. Thehighly inventive musical material contains many Hungarian or quasi- Hungariantunes, the orchestration is airy and transparent, another proof of Lajtha'sexceptional skills at instrumentation resting on the noblest Europeantraditions. Lajtha is most frequently epitomized as the combiner of Hungarianfolk-music and European, first of all Latinate, art music at the highest level.
This statement, of course, fails to characterize many of his works but holdstrue of the Fourth Symphony. The finest example to prove this is theclosing lyrical section of the first movement with the violin solo. Thesubtitle Spring obviously best fits the last movement. The last movementis an uninterrupted, sweeping round-dance brimming with the joy of life intypica16/8 metre. What is more, Lajtha built a sort of stretta or gradedacceleration into the movement, so towards the end a climactic dance scene withall the reeling and spinning is evoked. It is a peculiarity of constructionthat the opening and closing movements are also thematically related.
It is illuminatingto know that the Communist government, guided by Soviet ideas, received themasterfully written composition, scintillating with wit, most unfavourably.
Composer Ferenc Szabo declared at the end of the First Hungarian Music Week in1951 of Lajtha's works: "One of the chamber music programmes of the MusicWeek also included the fresh and lively seventh string Quartet witha Hungarian tone, which could be welcomed as a decisive turn in the oeuvre ofLajtha towards Hungarian folk-music and realism, as a serious step towards thedenunciation of West European cosmopolitanism and formalism. -His Fourthsymphony, however, seems to continue without scruples the undesirable formof composition in an extremely subjective spirit, which it was hoped had been completelybanished from Lajtha's valuable and significant creative art."
The antithesis tothe Spring symphony is declaration of life and happiness is the seventhsymphony, desperate in tone, originally subtitled Autumn, commemoratingthe 1956 revolution. It was composed in 1957.
Like so many otherLajtha compositions, the Fourth symphony was also first performed by thenoted pupil of the composer Janos Ferencsik on 15th October 1951 in Budapest, with the Hungarian PhilharmonicOrchestra. It was soon heard in Paris, Frankfurt and Hamburg. It is among the few Lajtha compositions which werealso recorded.
Oddly enough thereis no sign on the title-page of the score of the second Suite toindicate that we have a ballet suite in hand. The four movements, Vivace, Prestissimo,Molto quieto, Vivace were originally part of the one-act dance comedy, Lebosquet des quatre Dieux (The Grove of Four Gods). The score of theoriginal ballet was probably lost and no choreography was designed, so it wasnever performed. Of the composer's three ballets, only Lysistrata had afew performances at the Opera House of Budapest in 1937. The working pianoscore, for four hands, is extant, with only the movements combined into a suitebeing known in orchestrated form. The story, which choreography could be builtupon, is known in detail. The libretto was written by Jozsef Revay (1881-1970),literary historian and translator, who was deeply interested in antiquity, aswas Lajtha. The action takes place in the holy grove on Mount Lycabettos near Athens,in mythological times. It consists of nine scenes.
The plot is set inthe grove of four gods where the statues of Zeus and Hermes come to life toseduce two earthly maidens, Chrysilla and Philotis. The statues of the othergods, Aphrodite and Ares, also came to life and disappear in a hiding-place forlovers' trysts. The places of the absent gods are taken by power-thirsty mortalmen. The attributes of Zeus are taken on by Cleon, possibly a reference toHitler and the fascist dictators of the age. Hephaestos, Aphrodite's cuckoldedhusband, makes a snare in revenge and entraps the embracing Aphrodite and Aresin the net. Zeus restores divine order, frees the lovers from the trap andrecaptures his throne. The grove of the four gods bursts into bloom and arapturous feast begins.
The four-movement SuiteII made from the satirical dance comedy was performed in Paris, Budapest, Turin, Munich and Brussels in the composer's life-time.
In 1947-48, Laszl6Lajtha spent a year in London with his family. He had been invited bythe Austrian film director Georg Hoellering to compose music for the filmversion of T. S. Eliot's verse play Murder in the Cathedral, the storyof the martyrdom of Thomas a Becket. Symphony No.3 is part of this filmmusic. Other compositions belonging here include Temptations. ElevenVariations for orchestra, on a simple theme for the same instrumentalensemble as the Third Symphony, and the Harp Quintet No.2. It wasprobably in London that Lajtha, in all his life could workbest, as he did not have to take on various assignments to make a living.
Although he received promising offers, he did not stay in the British capitalwhen he had completed the work but, fired by patriotism, returned to his nativeland. In that political situation it was actually hardly a surprise that anartist was harassed, dismissed from his posts, his passport confiscated suchafter a lengthy sojourn in the West. After an excellent creative period, 1948thus marked the most tragic turn in Lajtha's life.
The film won twoprizes at the Venice Film Festival in 1951, including the Grand Prix. In spiteof that, it never won the appreciation of either the public or the critics. Itwas found dull and protracted and was rarely shown. Yet even the most severecritics acknowledged the value of Lajtha's music.
Not working togetherwith Hoel1ering for the first time, since in the 1930s he had composed themusic for the film Hortobtigy, also eliciting sincere praise fromcritics, Lajtha enjoyed the perfect confidence of both the film director and T.
S. Eliot, who to