Béla Szakcsi, Lajos Kathy Horváth In One Breath

BMCCD061 2001

Two Hungarian jazz legends' improvisations dedicated to contemporary composers György Ligeti, György Kurtág, Péter Eötvös and Pierre Boulez.


Béla Szakcsi - piano
Lajos Kathy Horváth - violins, viola

About the album

Recorded at the Phoenix Studio, Hungary
Recording producer: Ibolya Tóth
Balance engineer: János Bohus
Digital editing: Veronika Vincze

Cover photos: Lenke Szilágyi
Portrait photos: István Huszti
Design: Meral Yasar
Architect: Bachman

Produced by László Gőz

The recording was sponsored by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and the National Cultural Fund of Hungary


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Szakcsi Béla, Kathy Horváth Lajos: In One Breath

01 Supplication for everyone - for György Kurtág 13:06
02 … from the jazz side - for Péter Eötvös 10:06
03 Steppin' high - for Pierre Boulez 9:00
04 Playing with piano and violins - for György Ligeti 14:06
Total time 46:18

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I listen to the fantastic recording of Szakcsi and Kathy Horváth, and see a double image - as if portraits photographed onto glass plate were placed one behind the other. I see the one through the other: see them - and also myself. We think the same way. I also compose by improvising, but at the moment of the appearance of my ideas the pencil slows me down tremendously. In their case, not only is the idea instantly audible, it also has a constant reaction on them as they have upon each other, something that is only feasible at such a high level of instrumental virtuosity and inventiveness.

Péter Eötvös

Improvising is the most wonderful feeling in the world - you exist in a different time sphere while you are doing it. Your perception of things changes: the duration of minutes, seconds is different than it is otherwise. Experiences stored in your brain well up and gush forth with great intensity, without our having to dig them out. This knowledge is there in everyone, but people don't use it, don't avail themselves of it, because in European culture the teaching of improvisational technique is not given sufficient emphasis, this inherent ability is suppressed, it degenerates with time. In the age of Mozart and Beethoven improvisation was obligatory for an interpreting artist. The pianist who could not improvise on a given musical theme was worthless. Thus what we do, the novelty, is in fact the re-establishment of an old tradition.

What you hear on this recording came out of us in the studio in one breath. We went in, played, came out again. If we had had another go at it, it would have turned out entirely different, so we did not even rehearse beforehand. We discussed the character of the pieces to the extent of a couple of sentences, but that was all. In fact the whole recording is unrepeatable improvisation from start to finish.

Béla Szakcsi

To learn and to reflect, like a mirror image, someone's thoughts and feelings - that is honest, square dealing. But the personality of the artist, his personal message and conception of the world will be missing. Thus I cannot totally accept the evocation of the past in this form. I consider it a fault of musical and artistic training that the academies are producing mechanical imitators rather than true creative artists. The stages of education cannot be skipped, but we shouldn't be proceeding backwards all the same. Bach and Mozart should be played in accordance with the present age since the original culture and milieu in which they composed has long since ceased to exist.

Contemporary music means more to me than musical freedom, some kind of modernism - for me, it is the undisguised, authentic expression of what I feel, see and hear now, at the present moment. On this recording for example, I mistuned the violin specially. You could say you've 'never heard anything like it', but I did not do it with this in mind. What should emerge is not how difficult it would be to imitate it, but how much more beautiful and interesting it makes the sound.

Lajos Kathy Horváth

When Béla Szakcsi started playing the piano at the age of nine, he dreamed of becoming a famous composer and interpreter of classical music, but after graduating from the Béla Bartók Conservatory, he became acquainted with jazz, and this experience diverted him from further classical musical studies.

In the fifties and sixties Hungarian jazz was centered mainly around cafes, bars, and clubs. Many outstanding artists, including Andor Kovács the guitarist, performed on this scene.

Szakcsi made his début in Andor Kovács’s group, but by the middle of the sixties he had formed his own, with which he performed on the Anthology ’67. album. His trio, LDL, shared the first prize with another group at a competition organized by Hungarian Radio, and in 1970, as a member of Aladár Pege’s quartet, he won second prize at the Montreux Jazz Festival, a feat which opened doors to the international jazz scene.

From Zurich to Warsaw, Nuremberg to Belgrade, and North America to Asia, he has performed at the highest-ranking festivals and has collaborated on albums with jazz musicians from all over the world. Prominent among these are the albums recorded with percussionist George Jinda. As the soloist for Special EFX formed by George Jinda and Chieli Minucci, Szakcsi composed for, and performed on eleven albums. On the strenght of these recordings he was offered a contract with GRP the American recording company in the mid eighties (Sachi, 1988; Mystic Dreams, 1989; Eve of Chance, 1992; Straight Ahead, 1994). Chick Corea has often expressed appreciation of Szakcsi’s excellence both as a composer and performer. Szakcsi has played with notabile artists, such as Carmen Jones, Frank Zappa, Art Farmer, Mark Ledford, Dave Weckl, Omar Hakim, Terri Lyne Carrington, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Jay Leonhart, Gerald Veasley, Victor Bailey, Randy Roos, Attila Zoller, Rodney Holmes, David Sanchez and Mike Richmond.

Historicaly, it is Szakcsi to whom we must give the credit for the spread of fusional jazz, firstly with Rákfogó and laterly with Saturnus. Comencing at the beginning of the seventies, he taught jazz piano for twelve years at the Béla Bartók Secondary School of Music, where, following the example of Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, he laid special emphasis on the fusion of classical music and jazz. With this object in mind, he resumed his studies of classical composers including Bach, Bartók, Stravinsky, Schönberg and Webern.
During this period he was also involved in both collecting and adapting Gypsy folklore for the stage.

His first Gypsy musical, Red Caravan that opened in 1975, was followed by Once upon a time a Gypsy girl, and Cartwheel. In 1989, commissioned by the Rock Theatre, he wrote The Beast, a rock opera based on the life of Erzsébet Báthory, and his hundred-minute ballet entitled Cristoforo opened at the Hungarian State Opera on the quincentinary of Columbus’s discovery of America.

Those who have followed the life-works of Liszt-Prize winner Béla Szakcsi will have noticed that he follows Leonard Bernstein’s example – feeling at home in every musical genre. He has recorded Hungarian folk song adaptations with opera singer Ádám Horváth and folk singer Gyöngyi Écsi (My flower, my flower, 1988), pieces for four hands with pianist György Vukán (Conversation for two pianos and orchestra, 1998, Das Duell I-II-III – Vukán-Szakcsi in Gottingen, 1998, Conversation Plus, 1999, Fourhand, 2000), and a succession of jazz recordings with eminent artists (Journey in Time, with Imre Kõszegi and Jackie Orszáczky, 1998, On the way back home, with Bob Mintzer and Peter Bernstein, 2001). For the past ten years he has immersed himself in the compositions of György Kurtág, and at present is making a close study of the works of György Ligeti, Péter Eötvös and Pierre Boulez.

To create a common language out of hitherto separate musical genres – this is obviously Szakcsi’s true vocation, and it is with this objective in mind that these improvisation sessions with Lajos Kathy Horváth, which have been taking place for decades, now come to be recorded for the first time.

Lajos Kathy Horváth was born into a family of famous musicians; his father Lajos Kathy Horváth Senior, and his uncle Sándor Horváth were among the most popular jazz guitarists of the forties and fifties. The young Kathy Horváth began to play the violin at the age of five, but he soon went on to experiment with the other instruments played at home: the piano, harp and cimbalom. He thought it inconceivable that he should play any one instrument better than another, and the “instrumental duels” fought with his father and cimbalom-player brother were an added inspiration, driving him to excel in all these instuments.

He continued his studies at the OSZK Musical Studio and drew inspiration from the violin pieces of Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Paganini as well as from jazz, gypsy, and the kind of entertainment music that could be characterized as a fusion of genres. Following this path brought him into contact with pianist György Cziffra, who had himself played for several years in the Arizona Night-Club – with Lajos Kathy Horváth Senior among others.

He became known as a performer of contemporary, fusion and free jazz at the beginning of the seventies, performing with pianists Béla Szakcsi, György Szabados, guitarist Gyula Babos, drummers Vilmos Jávori, Imre Kõszegi, saxophone-player Mihály Ráduly and with the groups Rákfogó, Ráduly, Szakcsi and Szabados.

The first album that recorded Lajos Kathy Horváth’s unique, individual style of playing was György Szabados’s The Wedding (Hungaroton, 1974), considered an outstanding album even on the international free jazz scene. This album has remained a significant and historic result of the fusion of contemporary music with avantgarde jazz. From that time on, the works of Bartók, Boulez, Schönberg, Ligeti, Kurtág, Lutosłavski, Penderecki, Stravinsky and Eötvös have remained Kathy Horváth’s main sources of inspiration.

In 1976, on a scholarship from the György Cziffra Foundation, he began to study at San Lise near Paris under Ivry Gitlis, whose style of playing has remained a decisive influence on him to this day. When György Cziffra introduced him to Yehudi Menuhin, the master took him on as his pupil, later making him his assistant in 1985. In 1983 Kathy Horváth won first prize at the Bartók Memorial Competition organized by Menuhin. During these years spent in Paris, he made several recordings with clarinet-saxophone player Yochk’o (József) Seffer who also lived in Paris. Of these recordings, Chromophonie 1. and Chromophonie 2. in particulare created quite a stir.

He returned to Hungary in 1990, at the end of the socialist regime. Since then he has performed in concerts as a soloist for the Philharmonic Orchestra, and in 1996 applied for and won the post of director of Sunhouse, the Gypsy Cultural Centre which also functions as the first Gypsy theatre. In recognition of his life works as composer and performer, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross Order of the Republic. That same year his album recorded jointly with bass-player Attila Lőrinszky entitled Sketches, was released.

Almost ten years have passed since Kathy Horváth became known for his unique, inimitable world of sound and his style of playing with mistuned violins and violas. This technique – the use of simple and double - stopping on mistuned instruments – demands remarkable improvisation abilities, concentration of the highest degree and exceptional familiarity with the instrument. For the recording In one breath, he used one tuned and four mistuned violins plus one mistuned viola from his collection of instruments by masters Guarneri, Landolphi, Panormo, Gagliano and Nemessányi.

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