Ildikó Vékony (feat. András Keller, Ferenc Varga) Splinters (Kurtág, Vidovszky, Kondor, Sáry, Serei, Jeney)

BMCCD046 2001

CD awarded a Coup de coeur in April 2002 by l'Académie Charles Cros, Chézy sur Marne, France


Ildikó Vékony - cimbalom
András Keller - violin (6-13)
Ferenc Varga - viola (14-21)

About the album

Recorded at the Phoenix Studio, Hungary
Recording producer: András Wilheim
Sound engineer: János Bohus
Digital editing: Veronika Vincze

Cover and portrait photos: István Huszti
Design: Yasar Meral

Produced by László Gőz

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


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György Kurtág: Splinters Op. 6/c - dedicated to Márta Fábián

01 Molto agitato 0:45
02 Sostenuto 1:28
03 Vivo 1:07
04 Mesto (In memoriam Stefan Romascanu) 3:51

László Vidovszky:

05 For one or two cimbaloms 5:01

György Kurtág: Eight duos for violin and cimbalom Op. 4 - dedicated to Judit Hevesi and József Szalay

12 Adagio 1:13
13 Vivo 0:48
06 Poco sostenuto 0:26
07 Agitato, non allegro 0:59
08 Risoluto 0:35
09 Lento 1:16
10 Allegretto 0:39
11 Vivo 0:29

Ádám Kondor: Hungarian folk song forms - Eight (other) duos for viola and cimbalom

14 Sehr langsam (Kinderszene) 1:11
15 Calando (Webern: Op.10, No. 4) 0:44
16 Lento 0:50
17 Giusto 0:42
18 Breit (Apassionata) 0:39
19 Vivo (A small tale) 0:48
20 Prestissimo (Chase) 0:29
21 Furiosamente veloce 0:26

György Kurtág:

22 Hommage á Ferenc Berényi 70 3:42

László Sáry:

23 Slow and Brisk - dedicated to Ildikó Vékony 6:08

Zsolt Serei:

24 the (version A) - dedicated to Gusztáv Fenyő 12:09

György Kurtág:

25 Un brin de bruyere a Witold - in memoriam Witold Lutosławski 2:57

Zoltán Jeney: Shavings

26 No. 1 0:07
27 No. 2 1:05
28 No. 3 0:46
29 No. 4 0:54
30 No. 5 1:48
31 No. 6 1:14
32 No. 7 - All'ongarese (dedicated to Ferenc Farkas) 0:25
33 No. 8 0:34
34 No. 9 1:16
35 No. 10 0:31
36 No. 11 0:46
37 No. 12 0:53
Total time 59:41

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Hungarian Music and the Cimbalom

The course of events - not without its own legends and myths - through which the cimbalom (the only form of dulcimer still in use) became the national musical instrument, one might even say the musical symbol of Hungarians, can only be reconstructed sketchily today. A musical instrument of Asian origin, the dulcimer was brought to Europe by Gypsy musicians, and by the 17th century it was already considered on a par with the violin, the pipe and the virginal in the courts of Hungarian nobles. It finished up in the Gypsy band, ousting the pipe and taking over its accompanying role, in the course of the 18th century. This popular instrument, however, was but the small and undomesticated predecessor of the so-called concert dulcimer, the result of a 19th century innovation. József V. Schunda of Budapest created the “Bösendorfer” or “Steinway” version of the instrument in 1874. He stood it on legs, gave it chromatic strings and created a damping mechanism to eliminate undesirable string interference.

Hungarian written music, however, had discovered the cimbalom prior to this significant innovation and used it to highlight the national character. Apparently Ferenc Erkel was the first to note down a cimbalom part in the musical scores of Bánk bán (1861) and Dózsa György (1867). Szép Ilonka composed by Mihály Mosonyi in 1861 is also proof of the fact that the instrument was considered an effective means to express the Hungarian couleur locale on the opera stage of the day. One of the striking features of the Hungarian rhapsodies of Liszt is the piano harmonisation reminiscent of cimbalom-playing, suggesting that the composer also considered the cimbalom one of the most typical representatives of Hungarian music.

It is highly characteristic of the psychology of myth-creation that the greatest 20th century representative of the cimbalom, the Hungarian Gypsy musician whose playing aroused the interest of the most significant contemporary composers, has also been associated with Ferenc Liszt. The person in question is Aladár Rácz, whose father and first teacher, Pál Rácz, was said to be Liszt's favourite musician, a statement not grounded in fact, and one that Aladár Rácz did not refute. At all events, this legendary virtuoso inscribed his name upon the pages of musical history not through Liszt, but through Stravinsky. Taken by Ernest Ansermet to the Maxim in Geneva in Spring 1915 to listen to the Gypsy musician who used his exotic instrument in such an enthralling manner. It was under the impact of this well-known encounter that Stravinsky bought himself a cimbalom, learned to play it a little, and wrote important parts for it in Renard and Ragtime. Aladár Rácz was also the most authentic performer of Háry János by Zoltán Kodály, whose score combines the special sound of the cimbalom with that of the traditional full orchestra. His acquaintance with the great composers of the age had a decisive influence on Aladár Rácz's career: the Gypsy musician, who at the start could not even read notes, set out to educate himself with unflagging diligence, and discovered the history of European music. As a result, he gradually exchanged his coffee-house repertoire consisting of folk pieces for the works of François Couperin, Johann Sebastian Bach, Domenico Scarlatti and others, showing that, in expert hands, the cimbalom was an instrument suitable and equal to performing the masterpieces of the history of music.

In order to do so, however, he had to reform the traditional technique of cimbalom-playing. He held the hammers he made himself not between his index and middle fingers as Gypsy musicians normally do, but partly in his palm and partly between his thumb and index. This innovation, the loose holding of the hammers, expanded the available range of sound intensity and tones, while the more direct contact with the instrument thanks to the hammers acting as the extension of the player's arm allowed an unbelievably nuanced performance. After his repatriation to Hungary, from 1938 to his death in 1958, Aladár Rácz handed over his fantastic knowledge to his students as teacher of the Budapest Academy of Music. Students who became worthy inheritors of his art did not appear till the end of the forties. Ferenc Gerencsér was the first of them, followed by József Szalai and Elek Tóth, and from that time on, several generations of cimbalom-players were raised, whose technical skills and openness to contemporary music had an inspiring effect on the Hungarian musical compositions of the post-1945 era.

Hungarian Music Written for the Cimbalom

In the generation of post-World War II Hungarian composers, György Kurtág (*1926) was the first to rediscover the cimbalom. His choice was obviously no longer motivated by the national character of the instrument, but by musical considerations such as its sound, rich in overtones, the wide range of techniques, and the direct contact between performer and musical instrument, as well as the traditional character of the cimbalom and a certain lack of restraint associated with it. In any case, the cimbalom is a most authentic interpreter of the moments of Kurtág's music that evoke Hungarian folk music.
The composition entitled Splinters Op. 6/c acquired its final form in 1973. The predecessor of the cycle in four movements is Cinque merrycate, originally written for the guitar more than a decade earlier (in 1962), which the composer supplemented by two newly composed themes and adapted to the cimbalom. The title refers to a volume of poems by János Pilinszky. Similarly to Pilinszky's poems, Kurtág's four movements are exceptionally compact and aphoristic; every gesture condenses musical thoughts that fill an entire formal section. The pronounced rhythm and forceful motifs of the first movement (Molto agitato) address the audience in the "imperative". The sixteenth-motifs "scattered" in the wide register of the cimbalom conceal the lines of force of internal chromatic parts, then with a sudden change in mood (piu calmo) this musical passage comes to an abrupt stop to give way to reverie. The snatch of a melody, consisting of a few notes only, seems to recall the past, and eventually the miniature ends with a sudden virtuoso passage. Interrupted gestures, clipped words and suppressed emotions, contrasted with a reassuring feeling generated by the round, finished form - the distinctive features of Kurtág's Opus No. 6 are clearly revealed already in the opening piece. The second movement searches for the gravitational centre of sounds through a process based on the opposition of minor and major seconds. The ethereal repetition of the closing d note seems to anticipate the end of the whole cycle. The dynamic third movement (Vivo) exploits to the utmost the many tone-shades of the instrument and the innumerable ways of playing it, from fast, leggiero passages and melody snatches sounding as if sung by a human voice to tremolos and drily tapped staccatos. Strong emphases in the form of pedal sounds emerging from a fast and silently sweeping, swirling motif in the centre of the movement are also excellently suited to the instrument. The impressionistic whirl of constantly changing characters and moods almost succeeds in concealing from the listener the exceptionally severe structure of the piece, although the closing gesture for example is nothing but the retrograde inversion of the beginning of the movement. The closing movement of Kurtág's cycle commemorates Stefan Romascanu, a good friend of his student days. The motif evolving from the rustle-like repetitions of notes separates the fragments of a highly stylised but still clearly recognisable folk-music-like melody. Kurtág here evokes the mood of instrumental folk lamentation, and imitates popular violin-playing, as he does later in the Hommage a Mihály Halmágyi movement of Games. The work ends on a highly poetic note, with the comments of the accompaniment constantly throwing new light on the deepest d note that is repeated for a long time before it finally dies away.

The composition entitled Eight duets for violin and cimbalom, Op. 4 (1960-61) is the earliest piece in which the composer used a cimbalom. Later on, he added voice parts to the duet of the violin and the cimbalom In memory of a winter nightfall, Op. 8, Scenes from a novel, Op. 19, and it is the cimbalom that provides the accompaniment in Seven songs, Op. 22. The form of the cycle in Op. 4 segments the eight small movements into 3+3+2, with each of the three internal parts traversing the same course, from immobility to rapid and even violent emotional outbursts. The first duet (Poco sostenuto) is little more than the meticulous (but not serial) adoption of the twelve-grade tonal system. The second (Agitato, non allegro) enriches the musical material with chromatic scales and glissandos, which, as "objets trouvés", objective qualities, counterpoint the subjective message of the other part. Angry outbursts and stubbornly recurring motifs are interwoven to create the closed form of the third movement (Risoluto). Duet No. 4 (Lento) returns to the silence of the beginning of the work, here refining the sound with the rustle of trills and tremolos. A fragment of the folk-musical / Bartókian melodic gesture (Parlando-rubato) also surfaces for an instant in the cimbalom part. The four-line structure of the fifth movement (Allegretto) recalls Hungarian folk songs (A Avariant B Avariant), and the variation of the lines also has a folk song quality. Duet No. 6 is an aggressive dialogue between the two musical instruments, with the violin repeating a five-note motif "borrowed" from the cimbalom and using it to create a striking, snappy ending. Part 7 (Adagio) is again a recommencement. The stillness of the initial situation is here represented by the ostinato technique: the cimbalom and the violin repeat two complementary motifs, but while that of the violin lengthens note by note, that of the cimbalom is realized by internal expansion. Similarly to Duet No. 6, the closing part of the cycle (Vivo) is based on the contrasting of two fully equivalent musical instruments, competing with each other almost in the spirit of Baroque concertos. Despite its shortness, this part is an effective finale.

The other two compositions by Kurtág recorded on the CD belong to the series of personal hommage and recollection pieces that form a considerable part of the composer's oeuvre in the nineties. Hommage á Ferenc Berényi 70 was written for the anniversary of Kurtág's painter friend. Text insertions in the score give clear instructions as to the character of the music: "Silently, in reverie" - "Kelemen Mikes Says". (Kelemen Mikes [1690-1761] was the page of Ferenc Rákóczi II, who, after the failure of the war of independence led by the Prince, loyally accompanied his master into exile to Poland, France and then Turkey, recording their everyday life in fictitious letters, and as the youngest among the emigrants, lived to see the death of all his peers. Hence reference to the name of Mikes evokes for the Hungarian listener the feeling of loneliness and contemplation of the lost and never-returning glory of the past.) The piece begins with a snatch of melody, distant and soft, which, like a recurring memory, runs a longer course on each return, though fragmented by incessant stops and echoes. Within the limits of the monophonic structure, and with an extremely reduced arsenal of devices, the piece manages to create an autonomous and complete musical world in which the lowest and highest notes of the musical instrument as well as the delicate tones of the softest dynamic ranges are of crucial significance.

The same ethereal acoustic world is represented by Un brin de bruyere a Witold, written in memory of Lutosławski in August 1994. The composition is one of the memorial pieces gathered in the late volumes of Games, in fact a piano piece which can also be played on the cimbalom. The tonal system is even more limited than in the case of Hommage á Berényi..., and the importance of individual notes increases proportionately. The entire piece is no more than the alternation of a scale-like gesture woven of shorter notes and another, longer one, sounded more fully. The organisation of the notes shows the refraction effect so typical of Kurtág's later works.

László Vidovszky (*1944), a founding member of Új Zenei Stúdió (New Musical Studio), after numerous stage, audiovisual and electro-acoustic pieces, collective compositions and musical games written for prepared or mechanical piano (MIDI piano), composed his first - and so far only - cimbalom piece. The title - For one or two cimbaloms - refers to the paradox of executing the piece: given the rhythmic complexity of the resultant of the two-layer musical material and the sustained notes, the work is just within the bounds of what can be performed by a single cimbalom player. A concert presentation is more feasible with two players. For the present recording, Ildikó Vékony played the two musical layers on two separate master tapes. Each layer is governed by strict internal diaphony that recalls a certain type of early polyphony, the discipline and highly regulated system of the "voice against voice" contrapuntal technique. The minuscule rhythmic values of the process, perceived by the listener as a single melody line, are often born of the accidental meeting of the two layers pulsing in different ways. The chromatically descending melodic lines of the upper layer call to mind such dissimilar compositions as Ligeti's 6th Étude for Piano (Automne a Varsovie) or László Sáry's Souvenir, inspired by a piano piece by Grieg. The rational counterpoint to this more emotional layer is represented by the parts of the "second cimbalom" consisting of repeated notes. Certain more extensive surfaces of the composition give an almost tonal impression, while avoiding harmony. This "almost tonal" world of harmonies only enhances the melancholy nature of the work, the pensive mood evoked by the contemplation of time lost, the irretrievable past - a typical feature of the music of László Vidovszky.

In his life-work so far, Ádám Kondor (*1964) has given priority to the cimbalom, including it in around two-fifths of his 50 original compositions and in dozens of adaptations, in solo, with vocal accompaniment or in the most diverse chamber formations. This special role may be due in part to the impact of the art of Ildikó Vékony, an authentic and excellent interpreter of Kondor's works. The subtitle of Hungarian folk song forms composed in 1998 - Eight (other) duets - clearly refers to Kurtág's Opus No. 4, with the difference that the cimbalom is coupled not with the violin, but with the viola, but Kondor emphasises that, stylistically, his work is kindred to the late compositions of Kurtág, not to the pieces written in the sixties. The incredibly concentrated mode of expression, the practically microscopic forms, the grave deliberation of every note, the emancipation of the "fragment" are all traits reminiscent of Kurtág. In reference to the title, Kondor remarks that the folk-song structure, i.e., the typical four-line structure of the Hungarian folk song, "revealed itself as a secret force in this piece". Beside the form, stylistic features of the Hungarian folk song also emerge, specially in the duet marked Vivo (A small tale). The viola part seems to outline the compact structure of a folk tune above the virtuoso and highly evocative accompaniment of the cimbalom. The piece also varies the "folk" material, evoking not only folklore itself, but also the genre of folk song adaptations that played such an important role in 20th century Hungarian musical composition with subtle irony that is nevertheless affectionate. This movement is perhaps the most powerful example of the game of hide-and-seek with musical tradition that makes Ádám Kondor's pieces so exciting and up-to-date.
Another duet is the adaptation of the 4th movement of Anton Webern's Op. 10, 5 pieces for orchestra. Kurtág, who integrated the closing movement of Webern's Op. 31, 2nd Cantata as well as a fragment of a string serenade by Endre Szervánszky in his composition entitled Officium breve, Op. 28, may have been the composer's model in the implementation of this idea as well. In Ádám Kondor's work, the eight movements form a uniform cycle, but their sequence is optional: the composer leaves the choice to the performing artist. The sequence on this recording is as follows:

1. Sehr langsam - (Kinderszene): fine interplay of juxtaposed fifth chains.
2. Calando - Webern, Op. 10, No. 4
3. Lento: story of a motif that expands funnel-like and ends in a typically Hungarian point, in a four-line form.
4. Giusto: the introduction of forceful gestures formed of thirds followed by the appearance of a dream-like quotation-fragment of a tonal melody.
5. Breit - (Apassionata): a surging viola melody full of pathos, with a restrained commentary of the cimbalom's glissando.
6. Vivo - (A small tale): a striking story of the Hungarian pseudo-folk song and its adaptation.
7. Prestissimo - (Chase): Melody notes filled with chromatics, a virtuoso piece in the manner of Rimsky-Korsakov's Bumblebee.
8. Furiosamente veloce - an evocation of the popular instrumental technique in virtuoso cimbalom parts and the legato groups of two of the viola.

Listening to Hungarian folk song forms, one has the feeling that the composer realised his goal: the fragmented nature of the duets acts as the cohesive force of the cycle with the "deficiencies of each part pointing to the other parts" (in which these deficiencies are supplemented).

László Sáry (*1940) composed his 13 dances, later collected into a series entitled Dance-music, between 1995 and 2000. The pieces include a wide variety of dances such as the tango and the waltz, Hungarian dances and blues, ragtime and boogie-woogie, and also character pieces such as the one already mentioned in connection with Vidovszky's work, i.e., Memory (for piano and whistle), and Grandma's dance (for bassoon and piano or tape). Dance-music owes its special atmosphere to the fact that the author makes no effort to bridge the enormous gap between the traditional conception of the dances in question and his own musical style. The appeal of the series lies in its high level of stylisation, its reserved but not hostile attitude to tradition, its affectionate and impish irony and its inexhaustible rhythmic ingenuity. Slow and brisk is the closing piece of Sáry's Dance-music volume, and also the only one composed for the cimbalom. The title refers to the usual slow/fast movement-pair of instrumental Hungarian folk music, especially recruiting (verbunkos) music (which determined the order of the movements of Bartók's rhapsodies for violin and piano, among others). Apart from the tempo, Sáry's music is not related to recruitment music stylistically. The Slow reminds one of a free fantasy, in which the harmonic progression flows along, seeking tonality and consonance through slow changes. The character of Brisk is rather frequent in Hungarian music (a favourite of his brother, József Sári as well): irregular accent notes standing out from the ostinato-like, even-paced and fast-pulsing musical material, which come together to form chromatic melody lines.

Zsolt Serei (1954) joined the Új Zenei Stúdió (New Musical Studio), founded on the initiative of Albert Simon by Zoltán Jeney, László Sáry and László Vidovszky in 1970, during his years of study at the Budapest College of Music, in 1972. Új Zenei Stúdió, whose composers regularly performed their own works and those of other composers, put new life into Hungarian music by orienting themselves towards trends previously unknown in Hungary. They were the first to introduce John Cage, Morton Feldman and Christian Wolff to the Hungarian public. Serei's work, the, composed when he was only twenty, is an authentic reflection of the intellectual atmosphere of the Stúdió and shocked even the most tolerant and open-minded representatives of the older generation of composers. It is a piece of minimal art, but definitely not in the style of Steve Reich, Terry Riley or Philip Glass. The composer only specifies a series of notes of a given pitch and tone (distributed in groups of five), leaving their realisation largely to the discretion of the performer. The set of notes is accompanied by a detailed User's Guide. The piece can be started on any of the notes in the series. A maximum of 5 notes are sounded simultaneously, but the number of sounds making up the accords is determined freely by the performer. It is highly typical of the date of composition that the composer demands the most asymmetrical temporal rhythmic and dynamic arrangement of the notes. The composition is to be realised on an instrument capable of ensuring the maximum reverberation of the notes (piano, vibraphone, cimbalom). The careful selection of the set of notes - in which half of the five-note groups follow different patterns of the same notes - gives the composition a uniform acoustic character and a recognisable identity despite the fact that, in principle, each performance creates a new version.

Similarly to Kurtág and Kondor, Zoltán Jeney (1943*) often composes for the cimbalom, using it as a solo instrument (Complements, 1976), in chamber orchestra formation (wei wu wei 1968, rev. 1996; Les Adieux - Two Mushrooms, 1977), with vocal accompaniment (Songs to the poems of László Márton, 1986-87; Maria's Lament, 1995) or in a full orchestra (Omaggio, 1966), and the instrument is indispensable to his magnum opus (Funeral Rite), currently in preparation. In his composition Shavings, completed in 1996, Jeney arranged sketches and unused ideas into a cycle composed for solo cimbalom.
The series Shavings provides a highly instructive and enjoyable example of the note-organising technique of the composer, consisting of the constant re-consideration the interrelationship of the notes, and creating the specific tonality of each small piece with a different method. The twelve pieces vary in length considerably, but all are obviously built according to the same concept. The cycle opens with a striking motto to be followed under any circumstances. The acoustic organisation manifests itself most ingeniously in No. 4, with a stubborn, self-generating and expanding ostinato motif taking off from a tritone interval and landing in a fifth that resolves the tritone. A similar organic development or permutation game with the set of notes is observable in Shavings Nos 5 and 6. No. 7, All'ongarese, dedicated to ninety-year-old Ferenc Farkas, Jeney's former composition teacher, evokes the Hungarian musical tradition with its four-line structure and heel-clicking rhythm. No. 11 is a good example of the contemplation of one motif, leading to the same closure each time, while the last Shaving applies a procedure tested in Jeney's vocal oeuvres. The background of this part is a poem by Sándor Weöres. The composer associates each letter with a specific note, and integrates the melody into a rocking 6/8 metre. Of course, all this remains hidden to the listener, who only feels the beneficial presence of an unknown rule asserting itself in the piece.

Zoltán Farkas 
translated by Fruzsina Balkay, Eszter Molnár

Ildikó Vékony was born in 1963 and started to play the cimbalom at the age of seven. She graduated from the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music where she was the student of Ferenc Gerencsér. The school of György Kurtág and Ferenc Rados as well as the composers of the New Musical Studio had a strong impact on her musical thinking. She gave concerts in several countries of Europe, was invited to numerous festivals and played the cimbalom with several renowned orchestras (the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic, the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne). She performed among others at Tonhalle in Zürich, in Berlin, at the Philharmonie in Munich. She was guest artist at the Orlando Festival, the Wiener Festwochen, the Musikfestspiele Saar and the Salzburg Osterfestspiele. She worked with Claudio Abbado, Zoltán Peskó, Péter Eötvös. Her repertory spreads from the music of the 12th century through Bach to contemporary music. She was the first performer of several contemporary pieces, and won the award of Artisjus (the Society of the Hungarian Bureau for the Protection of Authors’ Rights), for her interpretation of contemporary Hungarian compositions several times. She participated in several radio and CD recordings.

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