BBC Symphony Orch., Péter Eötvös, Budapest Chamber Symphony, András Wilheim András Szőllősy: Works for orchestra and chamber orchestra
Great music, excellent music, outstanding music, glorious, unsurpassable, true music, hereinafter referred to as music, does not give us certitude. Music does not give and does not take away. Music does not assert anything, it is not about anything, because it is not born of the earth, of people, of volition or desire. What the composer who wrote the music felt while he was creating it plays no part in the music itself. According to the ultimate proof, what he does, what he creates is not his deed, not his creation. And this also means that man does not deserve music. Music does not belong to man; we do not know to whom it belongs. Finding the proper form of expressing our gratitude for the chance of hearing it is extraordinarily difficult. And now, in Szőllősy’s great piece, the burden of this gratitude weighs upon us.
I believe that individuality does not lie in inventing something radically new. And if we nevertheless believe that someone has succeeded in doing this, it is enough to immerse ourselves in the history of music to realize that the thoughts which we believed to be totally new have occured to others long – often centuries – before. [...] I believe it is rather a question of finding an individual point of view as regards the relationship between things, and their arrangement, according to which phenomena can be regrouped.
BBC Symphony Orchestra (1-2)
conducted by Péter Eötvös
About the album
In association with BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Radio 3
Music Publisher: Editio Musica Budapest
Recorded at Maida Vale Studio 1, BBC Maida Vale Studios, London – 26/10/98 (1-2); Phoenix Studio, Hungary – 18-19/11/02 (3-5)
Recording producer: Matias Tarnopolsky (1-2), János Bojti (3-5)
Recording engineer: Simon Hancock (1-2), János Bohus (3-5); digital editing: János Bojti (3-5)
Portrait photo: István Huszti
Cover art by Meral Yasar based on concept of Gábor Bachman – Design: Meral Yasar – Architect: Bachman
Produced by László Gőz
The recording was sponsored by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, the National Cultural Fund of Hungary and Editio Musica Budapest.
András Szőllősy: Musica concertante (1973)
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The question of a composer’s connection to living tradition is one that arises in almost every age. However, in the second half of the twentieth century, when several generations witnessed the coming into existence and subsequent loss of validity of the great styles of the century, witnessed also that all the great closed styles are basically uncontinuable as technique and style have become so individualistic that no one can become a follower without running the risk of being labelled an epigone, in other words derivative, composers were faced with yet another decision to make. For tradition is also a question of choice: when so many kinds of style, language and technique are present simultaneously, every one can choose that individual tissue of tradition to which he wishes to be connected.
András Szőllősy has had to take account of various traditions during several stages of his career; as a pupil of Kodály, later of Petrassi, he first had to weigh the great classical tradition, recognizing at the same time that Bartók’s individual path could serve at the most as an ethical example for a composer just starting his career; but the musical historical situation of the turn of the fifties and sixties, the creation and burial of styles and trends raised similar ethical and practical problems. What is the voice, the style, the components that make up the tradition which will serve as a starting point to speak in a valid way – or to be silent. That perpetual inner readiness where creation is not an absolute need, not always the primary form of manifestation, is an important layer of Szőllősy’s way of doing things. Silence does not of course exempt one from continuous work, from the perpetual operation of thought, evaluation, self-criticism. One need only speak, bring into being a new creation when that creation, that work of art conveys something truly new, worthy of interest, something surprising. The point in question here is not simply that of individual style. Obviously, it is possible to trace and point out general characteristics, technical solutions, an individual “sound” in the works of every composer. And yet at the time of rapidly changing trends, the composers who had “original” styles were those who took practically no notice of the world around them, who remained untouched by the winds of change.
The following words of András Szőllősy aptly describe this situation, and may serve as an ars poetica as well: “I don’t know if there is such a thing as individual style. Our task is to “create order among the notes”. Obviously there are a million ways of doing this, yet it is likely that all the sensible-seeming ways have already been tried. [...]I believe that individuality does not lie in inventing something radically new. And if we nevertheless believe that someone has succeeded in doing this, it is enough to immerse ourselves in the history of music to realize that the thoughts which we believed to be totally new have occured to others long – often centuries – before. [...]I believe it is rather a question of finding an individual point of view as regards the relationship between things, and their arrangement, according to which phenomena can be regrouped.”
These seemingly resigned and reconciled words displaying keen insight in fact and in essence advocate the radically new, as their real purport is that a composer is very rarely granted the possibility of saying something truly new – the resources he has recourse to are existing materials, discoveries, methods already invented by others, and the most important thing for him is to find an individual point of view whereby he can arrange this given material in an individual way. But the use of an individual point of view does not lead directly to true individuality; once again Szőllősy’s radical criticism prevails: “If a person writes the same music all his life, this will without a doubt give a semblance of individuality, of uniqueness. This usually happens when a composer discovers (or believes to have discovered) a method that sets him apart from his colleagues. But if this method serves only to emphasize his separateness, it will irretrievably lead to self-repetition. The most marvellous thing about a genuinely autonomous, individualistic composer is the way he changes, develops from piece to piece, the way he dares to stretch the limits of his imagination, the way he enrichens the world he has taken possession of.”
These words undoubtedly refer to Szőllősy’s own work as well, originating from his experience as a composer and musical historian; from these words his attitude as a composer, the standpoint he adhered to throughout his career is easily definable. First of all, a thousand ties bind him to tradition, not only to traditions inherited, but also to traditions chosen on the basis of composing experience. In this music, tradition is that readily accessible body of knowledge which brought into being European musical history in past ages, with all its technical methods, transcibable rules and, last but not least, its completed masterpieces. Secondly: this attitude takes the inner homogeneity of lifeworks, we could say the integral superposition and interdependence of the pieces very seriously. It believes in the continuous enrichment of lifeworks, in the importance of interconnections between the pieces. This attitude would be inconceivable without a belief in the linearity of development. For the connection to tradition is at the same time a part of that long-standing musical historical concept which presupposes the evolutionary notion of history: the formation and development of methods and devices can easily be followed in the succession of pieces, since the genesis and elaboration of an idea is easily traceable in the pieces succeeding each other.
András Szőllősy’s true debut as a composer did not happen until as late as 1968. The period that began with the Concerto III fixed an exceptional musical historical moment in time; it is the outcome of the realizaton that the actuality of a certain classicizing attitude had arrived: from a present-day perspective it is easy enough to see that it was around this time that the combattant period following the second world war came to an end, the autocratic trends petered out, and a much more pluralistic musical culture came into being, one which opened up the possibility of several kinds of orientation and simultaneous validity. This was the moment when Szőllősy made his debut with the concerto, which (borrowing an expression from his Kodály book) gives free scope to a process of “musical filtering out”, in other words to the compositional technique that permits a composer to draw upon tradition in proportion to his own needs.
It might take us closer to an understanding of his attitude if we advert briefly to what Szőllősy did not choose to adopt from those methods and devices which the recent past of contemporary music offered so abundantly. First and foremost, he did not adopt the declamatory melodics favoured by those trends of the 1950s which can be labelled as post-webernian – and at the same time he did not accept that mushy aleatory which inundated the less resistant species of the European-type of composition after the model of the so-called Polish school for decades.
After the Concerto III however, another four years had to pass before that world of sound and treasure trove of formulas which we can consider truly Szőllősy’s own emerged fully developed. An objective analysis will show that since Trasfigurazioni, the building stones of all of his pieces are identical – but the combinations are all different, precisely in accordance with the ideal of the composer who dares to stretch the limits of his imagination... enrichens the world he has taken possession of.
A certain kind of eclectic intention is not alien to this musical ideal – even if he does not endeavour to achieve it, he does not rule it out. If we accept that it is not in the invention of things, but in the relationship between them, in their arrangement, that we must look for the personal point of view, then this eclecticism is not at all inorganic, but originates in the conception behind the pieces themselves. It is Szőllősy’s specific, characteristic answer to the compositional trends of the fifties and sixties striving after conciseness of style and homogeneity.
This does not mean however that the lack or disregard of coherence of the musical material should be a characteristic of Szőllősy’s work. The inner system of coherence, the connection between the individual pieces is assured by the continuous recurrence of a number of technical elements, in the same way that the elements of rhythmical organization – or the emphasized use of certain intervals – recur consecutiverly in the individual compositions.
This musical world is so formalized that after Trasfigurazioni, almost all of his pieces are construed of the same elements. The combination of these elements is always different, their sequence changes, their proportions differ and they are thus present with varying emphasis, but the most important types are definable. There are blocs of glissandos meandering among precisely determined turning notes; angularly rhythmized structures, whose inner construction at times show surprising similarities, but where the variations of the mode of playing gives a discernably differing character to the same musical material; clusters of notes that span the entire range of instruments, whose inner rhythm gives a characteristic, peculiar beat to the sound that is motionless as regards its position. A special kind of weaving of notes is also to be found in several of the pieces, in which the various instruments play very similarly constructed motifs, moving in identical registers with a varying, even pace, culminating in a well-ordered, but complicated heterophony. An interesting feature of the rhythmics is that peculiar ostinato technique which involves a continuous change of the length of the recurring rhythm schemas and the range of tones, reminding us of certain Bartókian techniques or certain elements of repetitive music emerging around the same time, in the seventies. But the most characteristic feature of Szőllősy’s compositional practice is his original contrapunctal technique, unique among his contemporaries. It is the appearance of this counterpoint that seems the most decisive change between the Concerto III and Trasfigurazioni, and in later works it becomes more and more frequent, practically exclusive. This contrapunctal technique cannot be likened to the phenomenon so frequent in Ligeti’s works, which can appropriately be called micro-poliphony. Szőllősy’s counterpoint does not descend from the polyphony that gives structural frame and which in its purest form can be studied in Webern’s works.
Szőllősy’s counterpoint is a free counterpoint which has the instrumental counterpoint ascribable to Bach underlying it, as well as Stravinsky’s baroque-like stylizations and the counterpoint of a given period of Bartók’s, and perhaps certain Italian models as well, for example Dallapiccola’s period before serialism. But I feel that the strongest tie – one that will probably sound surprising, and most certainly can not be called a conscious, deliberate connection – is to Kodály’s late work. With this I do not at all mean to say that Szőllősy’s music is in some way a continuation of Kodály’s, it seems much more likely to me that the connection – or let us call it influence – is more through a series of linked transmissions. If Szőllősy really did adopt something from Kodály’s school, then it could have been none other than the art of this free counterpoint, and as soon as he found the musical material which he felt to be his own, he instinctively lit upon the compositional technique with which he could shape it.
The shaping of the pieces could best be described as a kind of montage-principle which at the same time is closely related to the motetta form. If we perceive a change in Szőllősy’s shaping, it is to be found in a tendency traceable from piece to piece: the exterior framework of the pieces become more simple, the types of material used decrease, one movement can represent a single independent character, without spectacular contrast.
In the last third of the twentieth century, Szőllősy is by no means a solitary figure – what is more, in certain respects, given his classicizing efforts, he has anticipated the prevailing tendencies of the age, of which that retrograde wave we are experiencing today is an offshoot. But Szőllősy’s music follows an original standpoint in that he never for one moment gave up his radicalism, within which there is place for contrapunctal construction and ostinato-like rhythms, wide-arcing melodies and interval constructions; never with the pretension of synthesis, of summary, but rather with the excitement of a truly adventurous spirit ever ready for experimentation and discovery.
translated by Eszter Molnár
NB. On these recordings, Musica concertante and Elegia can be heard in chamber orchestra version (in other words played by a string orchestra made up of a larger number of players). According to the composer’s intention the sound thus attained is more suited to the original conception than the string quintet formation which is an alternative performing possibility.
Born at Szászváros (Orastie) in Transylvania, on 27 February 1921. He studied composition at the Budapest Academy of Music with Zoltán Kodály and János Viski, subsequently with Goffredo Petrassi at the Accademia Santa Cecilia in Rome.
Simultaneously with his musical studies, he also took a PhD. at the Péter Pázmány University of Budapest. Szőllősy has been Professor of Music History and Theory at the Budapest Academy of Music since 1950. In 1970, his Concerto III for sixteen strings won the title “Distinguished Composition of the Year” at UNESCO’s International Rostrum of Composers in Paris.
In 1971 he was awarded the Erkel Prize, in 1985 the Kossuth Prize, the highest official recognition by the Hungarian State. He received the Bartók-Pásztory Award in 1986. In 1987, the French government created him Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts čs Lettres. In 1993 he became member of the Széchenyi Academy of Arts.
He published books on Kodály and Honegger, edited a collection of the writings of Kodály, prepared the first scholarly classification of the works of Bartók, and edited the volume of Bartók’s collected writings.
BBC Symphony Orchestra
The BBC Symphony Orchestra was founded by Sir Adrian Boult in 1930. Since then, its Chief Conductors have included Antal Doráti, Pierre Boulez, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Sir Colin Davis, Sir John Pritchard. The Orchestra has worked closely with a number of great composers, including Bartók, Henze, Lutoslawski, Pärt, Prokofiev, Strauss and Stravinsky. The Orchestra’s commitment to new music has resulted in its giving premieres of over 1,100 works, many of which were commissioned by the BBC and have since become established classics. In 2000 Leonard Slatkin became the Orchestra’s 11th Chief Conductor, succeeding Sir Andrew Davis who became its first Conductor Laureate. In another first, Mark-Anthony Turnage held the post of Associate Composer from 2000-2003. In January 2003 the highly-acclaimed Finnish conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste was appointed to the position of Principal Guest Conductor and in June 2003 John Adams became Artist in Association.
As the flagship orchestra of the BBC, the BBC Symphony Orchestra provides the backbone of the Proms, with more than a dozen appearances each summer, including the First and Last Nights. The Orchestra’s schedule includes an annual concert season at the Barbican and regional UK concerts alongside international touring. Every January the BBC SO celebrates the work of a 20th Century or contemporary composer with a weekend festival.
The BBC Symphony Orchestra records for many of the major recording labels and appears regularly on television. Its concert at Buckingham Palace as part of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations was seen by an audience of millions around the world. Every performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra is broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and on the BBC Radio 3 website.
Budapest Chamber Symphony
(The Weiner-Szász Orchestra)
The BCS is primordially a conductorless orchestra that was established in 1992 in order to cultivate the best Hungarian tradition in making chamber music. Its artistic principles are based on the legacy of Leó Weiner and József Szász, its standard repertoire on the oeuvre of Haydn, Mozart, Stravinsky and Britten. The BCS gave the Hungarian premiere of several works, from Baroque to contemporary. It represented Hungary on many occasions and toured in Europe, America and Asia. Its media sponsor is Hungarian Radio which regularly broadcasts the orchestra’s concerts and recordings. The BCS’s recordings were released under the BMC, Echiquier, Gramy, Hungaroton, Mega Records and Tibor Varga Collection labels. The BCS have worked with such outstanding musicians as Isabelle Faust, Kim Kashkashian, Cyprien Katsaris, Zoltán Kocsis, Alexander Lonquich, Miklós Perényi, Jean-Marc Phillips-Varjabedian, Victor Pikaizen, Andrea Rost, György Sebők, János Starker, Sándor Végh, the Vienna Boys Choir and the Wanderer Trio. The BCS is directed by an artistic board whose members are Imre Rohmann – president, Péter Somogyi – leader, Judit Réger-Szász – founding director, and Mihály Szilágyi – arts manager.