℗ © 2013 Countdown Media GmbH
Raymond Nilsson, tenor, with the London Philharmonic Choir and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Janos Ferencsik.
Both compositions on this record were written for the same occasion: the music festival held in Budapest on November 19, 1923, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the merging of the twin Hungarian cities of Buda and Pesth. Both are the products of composers who worked hand-in-hand to ferret out, study and disseminate the true folk music of Hungary, distinguishing it from the Gypsy music that was so long believed to be genuinely Hungarian. And both works reflect – though in vastly different ways – the influence of this research, without presenting any direct quotations from actual folk songs or dances.
In composing the Psalmus Hungaricus – long acclaimed as one of the truly great choral works of this century – Zoltan Kodaly drew his text from the works of the sixteenth century Hungarian poet, Michael Veg. This text is an old Hungarian version of the Fifty-fifth Psalm with interpolations and extensions that were – and still are – full of historic associations for the often-oppressed Hungarian people.
In a lengthy preface to the published score, A. v. Tóth has written, “Michael Vég, the poet-teacher of Kecskemét, had followed the custom of his time in interspersing the translation of the Psalm with touching lamentations and lyric episodes to utter the grief over the sorrow of his nation. His version of the Psalm is therefore replete with personal and national associations. His free translation thus assumes the significance of a new and independent piece of poetry – a truly ‘Hungarian’ Psalm.
“These qualities of the text must have appealed strongly to Kodaly, the lofty national poet. His musical setting exhausts both the national and subjective elements of the poem, and moulds them into one perfect and homogeneous unit of great visionary beauty, and of tremendous lyric and dramatic strength.”
The Psalmus Hungaricus, scored for solo tenor, chorus and orchestra, is in one continuous movement, with an orchestral introduction and, later in the work, an orchestral interlude.
The Dance Suite by Bela Bartok is characterized by a certain grotesque, diabolical quality, and seems to have stemmed directly from the folk dance rhythms which he found during his many years of research. According to the composer’s own word, however, all of the material is original, having been only inspired by the traditional folk music.
The suite is divided into six sections – five dances and a Finale. These are played without pause, and are connected by a ritornello – or refrain – which makes its appearance as a brief interlude between the movements. The names and styles of the folk-like dances were not indicated by Bartok on the score, the movements bearing only the custom ary tempo markings: I. Moderato; II. Allegro molto; III. Allegro vivace; IV. Molto tranquilla; V. Commodo, and VI. Finale (Allegro).
In Bela Bartok: His Life and Works, Emil Haraszti says that the first movement is “suggestive of a dance of elves and gnomes.” The second movement he describes as “a wild revel, as though legions of gnomes had been left loose at the hour of midnight.” In the third movement “the fiery spirit of full-blooded peasant nature bursts into flame.” He calls the fourth movement “pastoral,” and in the fifth speaks of “floating shades... (whose) progress is leaden, incorporeal and bodiless.” The Finale, writes Haraszti, “a kind of summary of the preceding movements, starts with a scarcely audible tap-tapping, and rises, through an orgy of rhythm, to the force of a hurricane.”
Bartok, it should be pointed out, carried his folk music research far beyond the borders of his native land. It encompassed all of Central Europe and even dipped down into North Africa to trace folk origins in the music of the Arabs. In an article written in 1944, a year before his untimely death, he indicated that the first and fourth dances in the suite contain some Arabic characteristics; the second, third and ritornello are Magyar; the fifth is Roumanian, and the Finale is a synthesis of all three styles.