Saint Ephraim Quartet, Katalin Károlyi, István Kerek, Béla Faragó, László Hortobágyi + Béla Faragó: Dustball Songs and Dances

BMCCD258 2018

This CD contains a selection of works including the human voice from the period 1986–2009, almost 25 years. Of these, Has it not become colder?  was composed jointly with László Hortobágyi. I had the basic idea for this CD two years ago when I was 55, and I noticed what an important role the voice had played in my life, right from the first pieces composed at the age of eight.


Saint Ephraim Quartet (1-12):
Tamás Bubnó, Márk Bubnó, György Philipp, György Silló

Balázs Kántor – violoncello (1, 9);
Katalin Károlyi – mezzo soprano (13-19);
István Kerek – violin (13-19);
Béla Faragó – piano (13-19)

Gayan Uttejak Mandal Ensemble (20):
Zsófia Szerb – soprano, bells; László Hortobágyi – sitar, drone;
Béla Faragó – tabla, piano; István Trajtler – cello; Tamás Tóth – bass guitar

About the album

Recorded at ArtField Studio, Piliscsaba on 9, 10 March, 2009 (1-12); at BMC Concert Hall, Budapest
on 6, 7 July, 2017 (13-19); and at Gayan Uttejak Studio, Budapest in April, 1986 (20)
Recorded by Péter Erdélyi (1-12), Zsolt Kiss (13-19) and László Hortobágyi (20)
Recording producer: Béla Faragó; Mixed and mastered by Péter Erdélyi
Music publisher: Luna-Sol Edition (13-19) 

Artwork: László Huszár / Greenroom 

Produced by László Gőz
Label manager: Tamás Bognár

The recording was supported by the National Cultural Fund of Hungary


Matti Komulainen - Hifimaailma (fin)

Z.K. Slabý - UNI (cz)

Kovács Ilona - Gramofon **** (hu)

Komlós József JR - Alföldi Régió Magazin (hu)

3500 HUF 11 EUR

Béla Faragó: Dustball Songs and Dances

01 Footsteps of the Night 4:52
02 Morning 4:05
03 Evening Song 2:40
04 Night – Dustball Dance 4:07
05 The Hospital 5:35
06 Dusk 2:53
07 Dream 3:29
08 Rough Battle Song 0:27
09 The Tenants 2:58
10 G’night! 3:14
11 God is the best Boss 2:38
12 Outside – Dustball Dance 2. 3:56

Béla Faragó: Songs for Attila József’s Poems

13 Proletarian Song 3:14
14 Attila József 1:50
15 Place Your Hand 2:15
16 Bear Dance 1:35
17 Lullaby 4:39
18 Two Hexameters 1:01
19 Don’t be Hasty 1:25

Béla Faragó – László Hortobágyi:

20 Has it not Become Colder? 19:16
Total time 76:09

The album is available in digital form at our retail partners


This CD contains a selection of works including the human voice from the period 1986–2009, almost 25 years. Of these, ‘Has it not become colder?” was composed jointly with László Hortobágyi.

I had the basic idea for this CD two years ago when I was 55, and I noticed what an important role the voice had played in my life, right from the first pieces composed at the age of eight. As well as the delicate connections between music and text I’d like to use this foreword to explain my thinking as a composer, my relationship to living music history, and how this is manifest in my works. That is not to say that each idea was ready in my mind from the first moment, that I had the means the very moment the first creative idea struck, or that everything was planned from scratch, etc... Some of the ‘solutions’ on this CD were not decided in advance, but were the intuitive products of a long, intensive process of searching. I knew what the aim was – to quote Monteverdi: ‘All good music aims to move the soul...’ but I had to find the path that led there, valid for me, in modern times. The exciting thing was whether these budding ideas, that I have had from the beginning of my musical career, would find their own place – not for their own sake, but in a more complex musical existence than in the composing of a song cycle or an opera.

From the premier of my first chamber opera The Secret, written in 1993–94, until 2016, I had written eight other musical stage-works, including five operas, which were performed in the Budapest Autumn Festival, the Bárka Theatre, the Sanyi és Aranka Theatre, the Csokonai Theatre in Debrecen and the National Theatre in Pécs. I made a suite of choral movements from my opera Metamorphosis, based on Franz Kafka’s story:

The authentic story of the Metamorphosis of travelling salesman Gregor Samsa told from the cracks in the floorboards

The smallest opera house in the world, the Sanyi és Aranka Theatre, showed my chamber opera Metamorphosis on 4 April 2009, directed by Andor Lukáts. Kristóf Kovács’s clever libretto, which was commissioned by the now defunct Bárka Theatre, was dubbed by the critic Tamás Tarján as ‘one of the best [libretti] of recent Hungarian opera.’ The trials of salesman-turned-insect Gregor Samsa, his protracted farewell and demise, are observed to the end by ‘invented’ beings: Dustballs. They are his only companions as he discovers his new abilities, and it is they who console the protagonist when he needs it. When necessary, they comment on the story, they portray our feelings, and are witnesses to the final moments of his passing. This dramaturgy was a particularly inspiring challenge and also provided a great deal of freedom to me as a composer.

The opera has 36 scenes, and more or less consistently every third scene there is an independent choral movement, making 12 altogether. These pillars, showing a variety of stylistic and formal thinking (a musical structure familiar from the Goldberg Variations), make it possible for Kafka’s story to develop credibly as they narrate it, from the insect’s point of view, we see (and are shown) everything from underneath, like Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern.

Alongside the Dustballs, the chorus gives voice to the Hospital patients, the Neighbours, the Tenants, who all feature in the story. I was reluctant to forsake the bizarre yet playful world of the insects and the inhabitants of the cracks in the floorboards, but bearing in mind the deep tragedy of the story I decided on a four-voice male choir as an opera chorus. Right from the beginning the sound-world of the Saint Ephraim Male Choir had been at the back of my mind, so it was an honour when Tamás Bubnó, the director of the choir, accepted the invitation without hesitation. In the version on the CD, in order to aid the continuity of musical context, the chorus is joined by a solo cello in two of the movements.

The twelve movements of the Dustball choral suite represent not only the events in the opera, but also they enable us to perceive the path, the process through which the human voice has travelled over the course of the evolution of human culture, in the various periods of music history. To accomplish this I have adopted various styles of singing and voice formation, from Gregorian to madrigals, from bel canto and folk-style singing to fricatives, plosives and bodily sounds. Naturally we follow this unusual story, in which a world falls apart into its constituent elements, not by linear means, but in the manner and the order dictated by the dramaturgy of the opera, through the sound of the choir.

1. Footsteps of the Night
The opening movement is built from sounds of sleep and breathing, then plays on the vowels of the numbers of the dawn hours. At the moment of ‘metamorphosis’ (around 3 or 4 in the morning, in my interpretation), at the moment the protagonist is ‘abducted’, we sound the phonemes of his name. In this version the phonemes of the name G-r-e-g-o-r S-a-m-s-a are given by the notes of the familiar pentatonic scale. Following this, using the consonants of the Hungarian numbers 6 (hat) and 7 (hét) as basic material, the sounds of the morning train which Gregor has missed can be heard. At the end of this small prelude, in the manner of a hoquetus (more of which later) we hear the sentence: ‘...this day will begin without you...’ , which marks the beginning of the protagonist’s tribulations.

2. Morning
This evokes the era of monodic music (Gregorian and its predecessors), with musical lines growing, then becoming briefer after the turning point of the bridge form. The ‘council of the elders’ choral movement passes sentence on the protagonist: after the unanimous unisono beginnings of the lines, the melodies in an indignant heterophonic disintegration.

3. Evening Song
A reference to Zoltán Kodály, whose Evening Song (one of his finest choral pieces) I sang many times (both as a boy soprano and as a tenor), conducted by my wonderful teacher and choirmaster Zsolt Zákányi. At the same time, apart from the arpeggiation of the G major chord, we hear no musical hommage. For me, the deeper meaning of Kodály’s sentence was important: ‘Oh, my Lord, give me a place to sleep, I am weary with wandering’ – which found its true meaning when it was sung at the funeral of another of my teachers, Attila Bozay. The protagonist Gregor yearns for the warmth of an eternal home, which in this existence he can never attain; after pregnant pauses reminiscent of Vivaldi, the noises of the external world strike into his closed, internal world with Baroque sequences.

4. Night – Dustball Dance
The title comes from this recurring movement, an instrumental version of which features in the opera, in the Packing and Picture Theft scene. Merry-making of imaginary beings. Gregor takes part in it too, as he becomes increasingly distant from the human world and his family circle, and he discovers his ‘new’ abilities. This movement has a role for various bodily sounds, made by the fingers, palms, hands, face, thighs, and legs, representing the possibilities inherent in humanity’s oldest ‘instrument’.

5. The Hospital
This choral movement opens Act II of the opera: the chorus of the patients dying in the hospital opposite the Samsa family’s apartment. The voices are accompanied by a tolling bell and Gregor’s ‘insect sounds’. The timeless monotony of the daily hospital routine is represented by the Lamaist Yang-style basso profundo voice (György Silló), above which another three parts for male voices make a nod towards the polyphonic singing of the end of the 12th century (Magnus Liber Organi).

6. Dusk
In Gregor’s life there is no longer any period of day but dusk, twilight, evening, and night. The composer speaks with the chorus’s consoling words. With the 13th-14th century hoquetus technique evoking the ‘foolish twinkling’ of the stars, then Monteverdi-style melismas at the third.

7. Dream
This movement contains Gregor Samsa’s premonitions of foreboding, and it has the most dissonant harmony of the movements in the suite. This vowel-free chordal introduction sung with closed mouth appeared in my piece Notes on a Dream, written for Group 180 (Hungaroton – HCD 31192). A similar chord progression can be heard in Morton Feldman’s choral work Christian Wolff in Cambridge.

8. Rough Battle Song
After the clash between Father and Gregor, the Neighbours’ mixturas: a series of block-like chords with similar structure moving together, with off-beat syncopated accents.

9. The Tenants
The Tenants arrive, little suspecting that they are neighbours of an Insect-man. These frustrated, inquisitive petty-minded people represent the outside world, with a chromatically descending accompaniment of fourth-chords – while Gregor’s internal world is typically represented by fifths. The Tenants sing with the hoquetus technique mentioned before: they sing the sentences alternating with each word, creating a sense of space (they stick their noses in everywhere). The hoquetus (Latin for hiccough) was a rhythmic-melodic technique favoured in the choral repertoire prior to the Late Middle Ages (Ars Nova). It was formed by a syncopated figure or series of syncopations spread between two or more voices, and at its peak it became an independent genre in itself. For us it has an important role, not only in the choral movements, but throughout the opera, where the sung duets (Gregor and the Photograph Woman, and then Gregor and the Boy, his ethereal reflection) often sing in this manner. Beyond the portrayal of a world that has fallen apart, it provides an opportunity for much exciting rhythmic playfulness.

10. G’night!
The chorus takes leave of Gregor. How true the phrase: ‘From dust to dust’. With traces of the 14th and 15th century fauxbourdon technique and a ‘parody’ of declamation conjuring up the chants of village funerals, it acts as a counterpoint to the pain of mortality.

11. God is the Best Boss
This movement consoles and bids farewell to Gregor in his last hour, who in his human life as a salesman was a captive of authoritarianism. The text and music evoke the world of Bach’s chorales. At the text ‘I must die’ there is a concrete reference to the chorale ‘Christus, der ist mein Leben’, to the passage ‘Sterben ist’ (’he is dead’).

12. Outside – Dust Ball Dance 2
After Gregor’s death the family takes a trip out into the countryside. Grete, the protagonist’s sister, has become a beautiful young girl. In the empty apartment the Dustballs dance around in the sunshine.


This cycle of eight songs for mezzosoprano, violin, and piano was composed in 1996 for a Poetry Day programme on Hungarian Television. (Since 1964 the Hungarian Poetry Day has been on the birthday of Attila József, 11 April). I was given complete freedom to choose the poems and the instrumentation. During composition the goal before me was to give the poems the simplest possible musical expression, but for them to be as concentrated, and as expressive as possible. The songs are dedicated to the singer Adrienne Csengery; she took part in the performance of the work’s recording for television, its premiere, and many performances of it. Due to thematic considerations, this CD features seven songs from the cycle.

1. Proletarian Song
Over the Baroque steady monotonous passages of the violin accompaniment is the voice’s slow (cantus- firmus-like) voice, constantly climbing melody, to accompany the timeless message of the poem.

2. Attila József
After the B flat major rounded sound that starts in the piano part ’He was cheerful and good...’ a descending accompaniment of interlaced diminished and augmented chords acts as a counterpoint to the grave message of the poet’s self-portrait in verse, and builds up to an espressivo climax at the end of each verse, only to drop back again.

3. Place Your Hand
Hommage à Meredith Monk. One of the most lyrical, personal movements I have written. With the resonant piano chords, the plucked pizzicato notes of the violin, the vowel-free closed-mouth humming of the voice at the beginning and end of the movement, my aim is to speak of something in the face of which all words and notes are redundant…

4. Bear Dance
The introduction to this song (which also acts as a recurrent interlude between the verses) was clearly written in the spirit of Bartók. The soloist sings the text at increasingly higher registers, in Katalin Károlyi’s performance with colour and talent reminiscent of Cathy Berberian.

5. Lullaby
A poem that was with me throughout my childhood. Even today I can think of no other setting than this version, in which the Moldavian folksong ‘When I set out home’ forms the framework for the vocal part. The lullaby is supposedly one of the oldest musical genres of humanity; it thus seems suitable to begin each verse with an infrapentatonic phrase. The violin accompanies with pizzicato throughout, except for the section ‘Distance, like a marble’, and the last note, the ‘falling asleep’, which is bowed.

6. Two Hexameters
As befits a mere two-line poem made of variations of six words, the violin accompaniment consists of minimal musical material. Beneath the repeated mantra-style chant of the voice part we hear only four sustained chords in each line. The movement is closed by harmonics played on open strings (’They’ll string me up anyway’). It is dedicated to György Kurtág, composer of S. K. – Remembrance Noise.

7. Don’t Be Hasty…
The song concluding the cycle begins with fast, asymmetric tetratonic scale passages on the piano. After the entry of the voice and violin (’Don’t be hasty...’) we hear a descending five-note scale. Then with the piano leading canonic scale passages everyone climbs upwards; stepping up the notes of the pentatonic scale (representing calm) we reach the ‘stars’ – ‘Sic itu ad astra’.

Béla Faragó – László Hortobágyi:
Hommage á Friedrich Nietzsche

The first version of this composition was made in 1985 to a request by my friend Jozef A. Tillmann, a philosopher, as part of a Friedrich Nietzsche performance shown in the Szkéné Theatre in Budapest. One year later in 1986 during my tabla studies with László Hortobágyi, I began to see the work (then still much shorter) differently, it gained new dimensions, and a more complex form, and new qualities. With my friend László Hortobágyi, a composer and sitarist, and while I was thinking and composing with him, the original musical material was expanded to include material written for these two typically Indian instruments (the sitar and tabla), necessitating a far more complex formal structure for the work. The final version developed into the formally ‘regular’ raga familiar from northern India (Hindustan), with all its formal sections: Alap – Vilambit – Madhya – Drut. The boundaries between the formal sections are demarcated by strokes on the tam-tam and bells.

In this case the Alap (intro) is a rubato material (in free time) for solo piano, inspired by a Nietzschean text. The slow Vilambit begins with an ostinato for piano and bass guitar. Unusually, we do not hear a traditional theme here; the main role is taken by the motifs of the voice and cello. The voice sings the syllables of Indian absolute solfege (sa-ri-ga-ma-pa-da-ni).

The Madhya, in moderate time, features the sitar with the raga theme. The sitar theme, based on the traditional melodic world of the Raga Darbari, is heard in the performance style known as Gayaki Ang, after which the tabla enters with the Tintala series of beats (theka). Over the ostinato in the bass of the piano, the sitar and tabla follow the customary Theme – Interlude – Theme – Interlude etc. form of the raga. When the improvisatory interlude passages close, we hear the concluding three-section Tihai formula.

The fast Drut section begins after a ‘conversation’ between the sitar, tabla, and bass guitar (sawab- jawal) , and then the entire ensemble enters (tutti). The cello and voice motifs return, and a new sitar theme appears (as so often in Drut), the tempo gradually quickens, and finally we come to the end of the work with a 3x3x3 enormous Chakradartihai.

Béla Faragó was born in 1961 in Kaposvár. He studied composition at the Bartók Conservatoire in Budapest under István Fekete Győr, at the Music Academy under Attila Bozay, and at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague under Clarence Barlow and Konrad Boehmer. Since 1990 he has taught classical composition, instrumentation, music theory, improvisation techniques, and international folk music in the jazz department of the Ferenc Liszt University of Music. From 1995 to 2007 he was a founding member and music director of the Bárka Theatre company.

From 1977 he continued composing and performing as a soloist, and in various ensembles (from 1977 the Small Music Studio, from 1981 to 1990 the Group 180). During this time his works were premiered in Europe and in many cities in the USA. He has worked and performed in concerts with contemporary music figures such as Louis Andriessen, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and Meredith Monk.

Five discs of his music have been released, in addition to which he has featured on nearly fifty CDs of contemporary music as a composer, conductor or pianist. Since 1978 he has composed incidental music for over one hundred films, radio plays, ballets, and stage works.

His scores are published by Universal Edition, Akkord Music Publishers, Kortárs Zeneműhely [Contemporary Music Studio], and Luna-Sol Edition.

Six of his operas have been performed in Hungary, including the two-act work based on the story Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. He has won several prizes for his work both in Hungary and abroad. The most important was the Music First Prize at the Seventh Video Ballet Festival in Naples (for Yvette Bozsik’s ballet The Villi), and the Ferenc Erkel Prize awarded in 1996 for his activity as a composer

Related albums