Ilona Szeverényi, Ildikó Vékony, Tünde Czimer, Éva Sóvágó, Tamás Farsang, Zoltán Molnár, Brass in the Five József Sári: Convergences
József Sári is one of Hungary's most significant composers. It was in quiet seclusion and by going his own way that he developed his style, which has close links to the great musical traditions of Europe and yet remains encaptivatingly original. I feel great respect for him as the sort of musician-phenomenon who might have been characteristic of the Middle Ages.
About the album
Music published by Editio Musica Budapest
Recorded at the Phoenix Studio, Hungary
Recording producer: Ibolya Tóth
Balance engineer: János Bohus
Digital editing: Veronika Vincze
Produced by László Gőz
The recording was sponsored by the National Cultural Fund of Hungary.
Porrectus - Muzsika (hu)
József Sári: Five Movements from the Eight Dulcimer Duos
József Sári: The Metamorphoses of Don Genaro
József Sári: Six Fanfares
The album is available in digital form at our retail partners
About József Sári
The works of József Sári are characterised by intellectual freshness and a measure of autonomy of expression. He is obviously in possession of a comprehensive knowledge of contemporary composing skills which he turns to the advantage by choosing the currently most necessary and most suitable elements. This means that he remains faithful to his self-imposed conditions and is able to consistently enrich the ways these conditions provide for representation and exploitation. A striking feature is the originality of his rhythmical world and his propensity for asymmetry, which is the primary source of tension in his music. His sharp intellect also manifests itself in the special application of other musical parameters, such as the way he handles the system of motifs and that of dynamics, or his ability to alternate the density of occurrences in the musical process. On the whole, what we can observe in the case of József Sári is an alloy of the deliberate composer and the instinctive creative energy. All these permeate his music with a distinctive character.
I have known the composer József Sári personally for a long time. I am well familiar with several of his works such as The Four Inventions written for piano, the Scenes for two flutes, the Praeludium, Interludium, Postludium for piano and also other pieces of his for the dulcimer.
Mr. Sári is one of Budapest's most prominent composers. He has been a professor at the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music for years. He is an extremely versatile and outstanding man.
Hungarian composer József Sári, born in 1935, is raised to the ranks of the most exciting figures of modern musical life by his exquisite musical language and intellectual competence... His aesthetic approach links the construction and structure to the free mode of speech of the individuality, and the magic of the numbers to the sounding reality of musical thoughts. His works demonstrate with ascetic consistency the humanistic ideal of the synthesis of the spirit and the emotional experience.
As a teacher, endeavouring to convey not only general information about a composer's piece, but also a sense of its organic effect, it is essential to slip into the skin as it were of the composer in question to unlock the secret of his work of art from within, or at least make an attempt to do so.
It works just the opposite way when one has to express one's opinion on one's own piece. I find I must “step out of myself” and look back from a certain distance so I can give an idea of the essence of myself and or the effect of my work. Of course in this case there is always the danger that while I am able to strike a note of sincere enthusiasm and admiration when speaking, for instance, of Bach (these emotions naturally enriching my message), my creative powers or my own work of art on the other hand are liable to elicit from me all too objective statements such as why in a particular case F-sharp is followed by B. This type of detailed analysis, while it may prove useful or interesting to the listener, is hardly likely to give him a cathartic experience. What is to be done, then? I must follow the course I have described, but must slip back into my own skin so as to be able to speak of the values I have created with as much passion and enthusiasm as of those created by others. And to do this without conceit or complacency, simply by right of the values that have come into existence. (Conceit is all the more unjustified as, owing to the nature of art, we can never determine exactly how much credit we deserve for the creation and quality of a work of art, and how much is due to that special state of grace, which is a gift.)
For want of a better expression, I shall call this attitude “artistic objectivity”, which differs from the universally accepted and applied meaning of the word only in that it is essentially more tolerant, in other words it admits the existence of imaginary, inexplicable beauty while daring to reject a work of art buttressed by logics and based on principles if it does not meet certain aesthetic standards. This rejection however does not entail the contestation or depreciation of values, which further complicates the question. In art, there is no basis for comparison applicable to all artistic achievement. As is well known, the points of reference so far considered valid upon which science has built its theses have proved precariously unstable.)
I shall try to continue along this path, though I am well aware that common intellect will find contradictions in almost every one of my sentences, or will at least question several of my “statements”. What is one to do, for instance, with the following sentence: Artistic truth is not identical with factual truth, but the two may coincide. For me it is obvious that the contradiction here is apparent only, for, though the precise description of a real event may be “true”, it cannot be regarded as a work of art, in a high percentage of such type of writing at least. It is the “mode”, the “way” it has been created that raises a narrative or a musical notion to the level of artistic truth. In everyday language, then, if you describe a real event in a newspaper without sticking to the facts, you are falsifying the truth, in other words telling a lie. By contrast, a work of art is entitled to falsify the truth without further ado for the sake of artistic quality, moreover, it can even supplement the true story. A good example of this is the scene from Bulgakov's The Master and Marguerite which depicts the meeting of Jesus and Pilate. Pilate complains of an unbearable headache, which Jesus alleviates. it is highly unlikely that this incident happened in just this way. Yet it is through this, perhaps fictitious incident that the intensity and high artistic quality of the narrative makes the characters of Jesus and Pilate absolutely authentic. On one side there is Jesus, willing to help his undoer without deliberating for a moment, and on the other there is Pilate, capable of ignoring even such a human (or divine) quality. The character of an indifferent, egotistical and cowardly person can hardly be better portrayed. (Thomas Bernhard says: “Es gibt Menschen und Geschöpfe”, which translates as “There are humans and creatures.” What a beautiful addition to the concept of “artistic truth”.)
If we accept as true that it is the manner, the mode of shaping, of forming a work of art that is the most important factor of its creation, then it logically follows that in authentic art there is room for imitation, since the new mode of realization, of construction provides ample justification for the bringing into existence of a new work of art, which at the same time means that it will thus differ from all other previously created works of art, in other words will be original. Therefore the author capable of such achievement must also be an original one, a personality that in one respect or another is different from people of the common cast. This is why I believe that when the post-modern school relies for its achievements on what already is in “existence”; it follows the wrong track. Even at the best of times what has been created in this spirit is nothing more than an excellent stylistic exercise and there could only be any point in creating it if better works could be composed in the style of Bartók, Mozart or Frescobaldi than their own works are.
Fortunately, there is another interpretation of the concept of the post-modern which I find much closer to me and which makes it unmistakably clear at last that by “originality” I do not mean the pursuit of a never heard-of and never seen novelty, but that prohibitions no longer prevail today, any means, any sound patterns that the history of music has caused to turn up are allowed to be applied, there are no longer taboos and the only question that remains is which elements of this huge arsenal I am going to use and especially in what way. I have thus reverted to the possibly most important expression of this writing of mine, i.e. the question of “how.”
It was not by chance that I chose as the motto for one of my compositions, Paul Valéry's words, which mean a lot to me: “The secret of choice is of no less significance than that of invention.” The composition in question is entitled Alienated Citations; here every sound is derived from Bach, yet I consider it one of my most original pieces.
Although what I have said so far reveals a lot about my way of thinking and my views concerning art, it is nothing more than a heap of words without the audible experience of my pieces. The question is whether what has been said justifies the work itself or not...
A lot of people think I am an intellectual composer and this for some means emotional impoverishment. On my part I do my utmost to make my heart and brains collaborate with each other on friendly terms, but at the same time I have to admit that structure plays an important role in my works. I think the explanation for this mainly lies in the fact that the golden age marked by the nature-oriented major-minor system is finished for good, and thus a composer must be more concerned with the creation of a cohesive force binding sounds together than, for instance, before Wagner and Liszt. There is nothing special about this: each age makes its own demands on the artist and these demands change as the relationship between the individual and the world around him change too. Our age has adopted a strongly rationalistic approach, and therefore logic and numbers enjoy a greater significance than earlier and there is an equally strong need even for the rational explainability of “secrets.” This may truly entail a certain measure of emotional impoverishment, which does not at all promote art, or the prosperity of culture. Humanity has difficulty in acknowledging its limits and it is not impossible that this will finally lead on to its destruction. The stupefying attainments (it is on purpose that I avoid using the word “development”) of science has not helped find an answer to the basic questions, i.e. the unravelling of secrets is delayed.
The real work of art at the same time has the same aura of secrets today as ever. The secret of Bach's Saint Matthew Passion or Mozart's Jupiter Symphony cannot be understood or grasped, at best the energy generated by beauty can be felt, or it is the sense of order emanating from these works that rearranges our muddled cells, thus enabling us to get closer to a spiritual world which all of us consciously or instinctively strive to reach. This may account for the euphoria that we feel when listening to a masterpiece of musical achievement... It is no accident that such a masterpiece is normally described as of “exquisite order”. I think I hardly need to stress that what I mean here is the organic order constantly inherent in nature, which can only be approximated but never attained by humans. It is the order in which the leaves and petals of the flower sprouting from the seed are arrayed, the harmony of the colours and so on...
Once nature has been mentioned it is worth noting that its creative imagination has ever been and still remains a pattern for art to follow. To avoid any misunderstandings let me remark that I do not mean the imitation of the nightingale's song or the babbling of the brook but the previously mentioned, nearly self-realised musical concept that I have just compared to a seed. This is one of the reasons why I have composed more than fifty rounds. I believe that it is this form, which is content at the same time, that mostly approximates the wonder and secret of the way nature works. The other reason lies in the response to the fact that since about the time of the Vienna school the music of our age has generally preferred linearity, i.e. the melodic order to verticality, i.e. the harmonic event.
Now, in the case of the round it is of utmost importance what chord is sounded at a given moment. This cannot be left to pure chance and thus each chord that comes into being is the result of accurately planned and supervised work. I do not mean to say, however, that chance fails to play a role in my composing technique. I have quite often resorted to aleatory, but it has to be added that whenever I sound several musical themes without wanting to achieve synchronisation I generally take much care to get the projected purpose clearly audible. For instance, I use a model containing only a few sounds and in the model the sounds slowly arrange themselves into a recognisable chord. In a majority of cases therefore it is a sort of “calculated chance.”
Finally, I would once again like to revert to the concept of understanding a work of art. A real work of art strikes a chord in our brain, heart and soul, to put it concisely, in all our being. Ancient cultures in Asia used to refer to this experience with the expression of “enlightenment” rather than that of understanding.
It is not primarily to reason that I attempt to appeal with my works although each of my notes is taken down with great deliberation. I would like my musical thoughts to “give off a light.” I know it is quite an ambition.
Five Movements from the Eight Dulcimer Duos
This was the first composition that I wrote for this remarkable instrument. The special sound effect, (which you can alter in many ways by changing the hammers) and the exuberantly rich spectrum of overtones enthralled me. The experience gave rise to a whole series of works including solos, duos and also the application of varying instrumental partners. Finally, I wrote two pieces for four dulcimers. This time five of the Eight Dulcimer Duo can be heard: the first, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh and the eighth.
As is often the case with my work, rhythmical asymmetry plays a significant role here as well. As far as any one movement is concerned, they are sometimes made up of a single musical notion and its elaboration. As a result, I make use of the instruments not as separate items but rather as a “two-headed” dulcimer, which at the same time demands a perfect harmonisation of the instruments from the performers. A realisation of this intention can most clearly be heard in movement six, where the dominant feature throughout the whole piece is a scale moving fast up and down which the instruments are supposed to take over and then to carry on virtually unnoticed”. Only duo number five is exempt from this strict structure. This movement has elements based on meditation, dialogue and improvisation.
The Metamorphoses of Don Genaro
The composition has four movements. The instrumentation is for three trumpets, a French horn, two trombones and a tuba. It was written in 1995 and lasts about eight and a half minutes. The movements represent four stages, which do not develop gradually, but each movement places us in a new musical situation right at their beginning. This means that in each case it is the structure governing the situation that can be felt. It is like the transparent casing of a scientific instrument, which reveals the motion of the inner parts. Watches and other devices of such a construction can be seen ever more frequently.
The chords in the first movement, following shorter or longer intervals, are linked up by repetitional notes of varying length in one voice or another, or are separated at times by pauses. The second movement is based on an ever-expanding or waning model-scale of a quaver motion. The calm of the more or less symmetric occurrence is threatened time and time again by the asymmetrically produced, short, accented notes. The third movement is characterised by an interval-spaced, “disciplined” sequence of chords of an ostinato nature, which is counterpoised by the “undisciplined interruption” of certain voices. The fourth movement has three layers running parallel to each other. The top layer consists of a swift semiquaver motion, the middle layer has a stubborn motif of four notes confined in narrow space (this motif continuously changes its rhythm and the sequence of chords), while the bottom layer produces a stream of chords resulting from sustained notes sounded at almost incalculable moments. It offers the performers quite a challenge since the musical voices are being formed in a process where several instruments pass on and take over notes, as if by a baton. This principle primarily applies to movements two and four.
I derived the title of the piece from the excellent ethnologist and anthropologist writer Carlos Castaneda, whose books about Mexican yaki Indians were an unforgettably pleasing experience for me. Don Genaro is a kind sorcerer with a healthy sense of humour, who has the ability to appear in the most fantastic shapes or to vanish in a moment.
Setting out to write a composition has as its prerequisite an already existing musical notion. This notion can of course be of an intellectual or of a practical and technical nature. In the case of a duo, with a view to the playing, basically or in a rough-and ready phrasing there are five possible modes of performance:
1. The instruments take over from each other an identical or a similar subject.
2. They play out a dialogue.
3. They interrupt each other and “talk” or “debate” at the same time.
4. They produce something together and at the same time, for example, they sound chords.
5. Everybody is doing their “own business” independently of the others.
By listing the five viewpoints I have actually described the course which is followed by my composition Convergences. During playing only the order may change or a mode may occur several times.
Regarding the fact that music does not tell a concrete, verbally expressible occurrence or event, the title is limited to a distinguishing role which at most helps to understand better the character of a piece. This applies even to programme music since unless we know the subject that the composer relied on for his work and intended to give expression to, we might be led to think of scores of things when listening to the music... My composition called Novellette is an exception in this respect because the central part embraced within frames like a short story is as if it were going to “tell a tale” without being programme music. When the fist is put in the hornbell the pitch of the note will be flattened by a semitone. (In case of slow motion it is glissando-like and of course this is true vice-versa, namely when pulling the fist out of the bell it sharpens a semitone glissando-like.) This facility gave me the idea to use it over a longer process. The acoustic result: a certain “rhythmical glissando”, sometimes downwards sometimes upwards.
Furthermore, the different rhythmical patterns give the listener the impression that the performer is actually talking about something. This calls for no uncommon achievement from the performer since for the rhythmical glissando to be realised over a longer section the same sound has to be produced nearly unnoticed, now with an open and now with a closed bell during the short intervals, which result from the rhythmic pattern. (For example, G is to be produced with an open bell in the usual manner, whereas A-flat sounded with a closed bell also produces G.) In the “frame-sections” already mentioned above the asymmetry resulting from the accents, the occasionally occurring very swift motion and the need to keep the tension during the sometimes unusually long rests all put the performer's ability to test.
The recommendation is addressed to John McDonald, who presented this work of mine at Giessen in 1982 at a concert organised by Hessischer Rundfunk from my works.
Es ist vollendet...
I wrote this composition at the request of a band called Brass in the Five, who have already achieved major successes. Hardly had I started work on it when the news of Sándor Végh's death reached me. From that moment on, all my invaluable experiences connected with him thrust themselves to the fore in my mind and they virtually conducted” my hand in composing. Yet the result is not funeral music but rather a hymn of thanksgiving.
It is the notes of thanksgiving that Sándor Végh's decade-long and richly abounding gifts should elicit from those who enjoyed these gifts. His life was marked by the unceasing effort to improve the human quality, and thus can be said to have been a full one. This is what the hidden ambiguity of the title alludes to: Es ist vollendet..., i. e. it is finished. “Vollendet” at the same time means “perfect” too.
Why I have resorted to such an instrumental means in order to commemorate the excellent violinist, founder of a string quartet and conductor is still to be accounted for. The only answer I can give is that according to tradition, kings of all times would be welcomed with brass wind-instruments and it is the dignity of this splendid and elevated sound that is best suited to pay a last tribute to them.
The Awakening of Phoenix
Like all professions, the technical skills of composing can also be, or even must be learnt if there is a measure of talent provided. The difficulty, however, consists in the fact that all you learn is based on the experience derived from already existing works. To put it simply: the composer, after acquiring certain knowledge, will become able to compose works similar to those others have composed before him. Yet the personal and particular notion in most cases calls for special solutions never used before. The learning process, of course, still remains necessary because it builds passages and reflexes in our body which enable us to hit upon special solutions more easily. But owing to the fact that the new notion and its adjustment to a suitable form always get elaborated for the first time” by virtue of the nature of creation, there is the risk that the practical realisation and the previous internal concept will fail to fully overlap each other. But unless you want to imitate others, you must undertake the risk. This may explain why such grandiose personalities like Mahler or Bruckner rewrote their compositions several times.
Thus, composing a piece for four dulcimers is essentially equal to roaming in an unknown land where we may encounter exotic plants but are at every moment exposed to the danger of being bitten by a snake. As far as the title is concerned it is well known that Phoenix, the wondrous bird, arises from its ashes. The process of resurrection is not without struggle or pain. My piece in fact undergoes the same process without becoming programme music. A live, organic and functioning system must be brought about from the dead subject. But is this not the task every work of art is faced with? There is nothing special about it except that the effort either succeeds or fails... If the latter, you can try to bring Phoenix to new life again when writing your next piece.
When one's reputation has reached a certain level, one is often requested by institutions or at least by performers to write compositions. Though it may be a very pleasing situation on the one hand, it entails certain “dangers” on the other. Aware of the virtues or the possible limitations of a band or a soloist, the composer will, whether he likes it or not, be guided by this knowledge and his work will be affected by it, preventing him from using his creative powers absolutely freely. A good artistic instinct inspires the feeling that one should never give up the idea of setting to work from time to time without thinking of any particular performer, but fully under the direction of one's own motivation. This, however, does not mean that the composer should apply an unbridled exploitation of what the instrument “allows”; instead, and more importantly, it implies that the composer's readiness to take risks should remain. Otherwise, the danger exists that the composer becomes liable to self-repetition or to varying his own clichés (which are not to be confused with stylistic marks characteristic of him).
Bearing all this in mind, it needs no effort to guess that the composition called Six Fanfares, which I wrote for three trumpets, is the fruit of no particular stimulation from outside. I was simply carried away with a passion for composing and this accounts for the divertimento type of music.
Although essentially it consists of six character pieces I took care to have a unified composition owing to a basic conception in the dramaturgy. In striving to achieve this purpose, I applied a so-called “cross-stitching” principle which means that there is a close spiritual and therefore acoustic relationship between the first movement and the fifth, between the second and the fourth, and again between the third and the sixth. A general characteristic permeating each of the movements is the repetition of sounds and the rhythmical differentiation, both of which I quite frequently use.