Adrienne Krausz Zoltán Kodály: Piano works

BMCCD143 2008

Those who approach Zoltán Kodály’s art through the vocal compositions of the 1920s and 30s may be surprised that at the beginning of his career instrumental music, primarily the piano (belying the later rejection) played a key role.

“Excellent artistry that deserves to find a place in every Kodály collection” -- Richard Whitehouse, Gramophone


Adrienne Krausz - piano

About the album

Recorded at Studio 6 of the Hungarian Radio, 17-21 January 2008
Recording producer: Katalin Pusztási
Balance engineer: Sándor Vesszős
Mixed and edited by Szabolcs Keresteš
Mastered by Péter Erdélyi

Cover Art-Smart by GABMER / Bachman

Produced by László Gőz, Co-produced by the Hungarian Radio
Executive producer: Tamás Bognár

In association with the Hungarian Radio and Summa Artium
The recording was sponsored by the National Cultural Fund of Hungary


Richard Whitehouse - Gramophone (en)

William Kreindler - MusicWeb (en)

Bertrand Bolognesi - (fr)

Bruno Peeters - Crescendo Belgium (fr)

Pizzicato **** (de)

Muzyka21 *** (pl)

Porrectus - Muzsika ****1/2 (hu)

Veres Bálint - Gramofon **** (hu)

Fáy Miklós - Pesti műsor **** (hu)

Bali Cecília - Café Momus (hu)

Csont András - Revizor (hu)

Galamb Zoltán - (hu)

Sipos Balázs - 168 óra (hu)

Czékus Mihály - (hu)

3500 HUF 11 EUR

Zoltán Kodály: Nine piano pieces op. 3

01 Lento 2:22
02 Andante poco rubato 3:21
03 Lento 3:00
04 Allegretto scherzoso 1:41
05 (quos ego...) – Furioso 0:56
06 Moderato triste 2:38
07 Allegro giocoso 1:40
08 Allegretto grazioso 2:15
09 Allegro commodo, burlesco 3:13

Zoltán Kodály:

10 Méditation sur un motif de Claude Debussy (1907) 5:41
11 Valsette 1:27

Zoltán Kodály: Seven piano pieces op. 11

12 Lento 1:30
13 Transylvanian lament 2:12
14 « il pleure dans mon coeur comme il pleut sur la ville » (Verlaine) – Allegro malinconico 1:24
15 Epitaph – Rubato 6:20
16 Tranquillo 1:39
17 Transylvanian song 2:47
18 Rubato 5:36

Zoltán Kodály:

19 Dances of Marosszék 11:50
Total time 61:32

notes musicales en français - cliquez ici

It is well known how fiercely Zoltán Kodály resisted the early learning of an instrument. In 1944 in his declaration “My parents were poor...” he wrote: “The important thing is not to learn from expensive teachers to manage expensive instruments. Music is often completely left out of this. The important thing is to learn a few melodies, without an instrument, in our own voice, strong or weak, good or bad; to feel the emotional content, which regardless of its material will fill us and through us, others.” Behind his refusal to learn to play an instrument, above all the piano, lay primarily Kodály’s concepts of music education and (closely related) national education, which were built on singing. In this respect piano playing was a typical form of entertainment for the old-fashioned bourgeois public – but the composer Kodály, the composer of countless pieces and exercises for children’s, women’s and mixed choirs, was calling out to a broader public: a public that could and should be conquered by the instrument in the human body, the voice.

Those who approach Zoltán Kodály’s art through the vocal compositions of the 1920s and 30s may be surprised that at the beginning of his career instrumental music, primarily the piano (belying the later rejection) played a key role. This is shown by the large number of works. Between 1905 and 1920, as well as the chamber works for various combinations and ‘cello works, several piano pieces were produced: for instance the cycle of ten compositions originally published as Piano Music op. 3 in 1910, whose opening piece, the Valsette composed in 1905, Kodály later took from the series and published as an independent piece, while the other movements, dated 1909 were republished as Nine Piano Pieces. The Méditation sur un motif de Claude Debussy was written in 1907 after Kodály’s important trip to Paris, while the movements of the op. 11 Seven Piano Pieces were written between 1910 and 1918 – most of them in 1917–1918.

These early piano works present us Kodály as a modernist composer, who in them reacts through harmony, form and rhythm to the radical trends in twentieth-century new music, primarily Debussy and Ravel, encountered around 1906–7. In many respects the Nine Piano Pieces show some kinship with the contemporaneous 14 Bagatelles by Bartók, famous for their radicalism. Kodály sets clearly definable compositional problems at the kernel of the movements: a reduction of compositional means (first movement), use of a harmonic world including dissonances and other, modern chords (chords sounding the main and pivot notes simultaneously, mixtures, chordal pedal points, chromaticism, sections of the whole-tone or acoustic scale, chords built on thirds or fourths) (pieces 2, 3, 4, 5, 8). Kodály also posits the renewal of the character types inherited from the 19th century (as hinted at by some traditional performance indications: in the fourth movement: scherzo; in the fifth: furioso; in the seventh: giocoso; in the ninth: burlesco). Other procedures employed are the incorporation of folkmusic into art music (the second, fifth and seventh movements), and the use of personal autobiographical motives (the manuscript of the sixth movement for instance contains the hidden programme of the work: from Kodály’s notes we can deduce that the composition records the memory of a game of hide-and-seek).

In the Méditation too, it is modern harmonic phenomena that Kodály is interested in. The Debussy motive on which this musical reflection is based is a theme that recurs several times in the French composer’s String Quartet. The Debussy String Quartet had such a great influence on Kodály that on returning from Paris he copied out the slow movement from memory for his future wife. This also provides the key as to why Kodály calls the piano piece a meditation: partly because the theme, which he changes considerably, seems merely to have arisen from his memory (or as if he wrote it from memory), and partly because the piece itself developed the compositional opportunities inherent in the theme. In addition, during the composition we hear several times the chord made of six notes of the whole-tone scale, so important for Debussy: in the piano work Kodály often only uses five of the notes, but in the very last part of the piece all six notes are heard. Kodály wrote these words at this point in the manuscript: “Ah! c’est toi, mon ami!” In other words at this point the modernist Kodály shows with a flourish the whole-tone scale, derived from Debussy, and the symbol of new music.

Actually it is precisely through Kodály’s relationship to new music that we can understand why he later decided to omit the Valsette from the cycle of Piano Music. The waltz, after all (not just for Kodály but for other fin-de-sičcle composers like Ravel, Mahler, Richard Strauss) is a symbol of the old, waning world, which (just like the marvellous old wonderful world) disintegrates. Kodály writes his waltz too in the spirit of this tradition. The original concept of Piano Music may have been to convey how the composer moved from the beginning of his career, symbolized by the waltz, to his own voice, through the confrontation with modern music and the meeting with Emma, his future wife. But Kodály may have felt that in the light of the modernism of the other nine piano pieces the old-fashioned Valsette was not suitable as an opening piece, and in addition the teleological structure would seem didactic.

The Seven Piano Pieces follow the path of the Nine Piano Pieces. Here too Kodály is occupied with similar compositional issues: in the series we find folksong arrangements with modern harmonies (No. 2, the Székely Lament, No. 6, the Székely Song), compositions developing the characteristics of the modern harmonic world (nos. 1 and 7), and a few pieces giving an example of Kodály’s respect for Debussy, like the Méditation. The third for instance gives (incorrectly) a couple of lines from Verlaine as a title (il pleut dans mon coeur / comme il pleut sur la ville), lines of a poem Debussy had set in the Ariettes oubliées, while the Epitaph (fourth movement) was, some believe, written for Debussy’s death. The model for this composition may also have been Debussy’s Six épigraphes antiques. But compared to the Nine Piano Pieces, where the experimental and improvisatory vigorously prevails, the later series is essentially a succession of larger-scale compositions, better worked out. The pieces occupy a broader formal frame (No. 4, 6 and 7), they require greater technical skill, and much more passion is harnessed within them (for example in the emotional outbreaks of the Székely Lament or the Székely Song). The peak of Zoltán Kodály’s piano oeuvre is the Epitaph, which in its formal complexity, its harmonic frame, and the heat of its passion is a companion to the most important of Kodály’s works.

Regarding its importance, he was similarly exacting in the series of Dances of Marosszék written between 1923 and 1927, and yet that composition differs from the Epitaph in almost every respect. For one thing, as the title hints, it is based on folkmusic sources. Recent research has shown that in spite of the title Kodály did not use melodies from Marosszék, but old dance music which in Transylvania was generally called “from Marosszék”, and which in folk memory preserves the style hongroise, the verbunkos (recruiting dance) popular around the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. Additionally, it is conceivable that even when he started work on the piece, Kodály wanted to write an orchestral work (the orchestration was completed only in October 1929). Thirdly, the Dances of Marosszék as a series is fundamentally different from the earlier piano pieces, both harmonically and formally. In form it follows a traditional rondo structure, with three interludes, the rondo sounding four times, and with a surprisingly bombastic finale at the end. The dance series is more traditional harmonically too. After 1923 Kodály distanced himself considerably from the world of modern harmony encountered in Paris, as clearly illustrated by the insistence of the tonal system in the Dances of Marosszék. Zoltán Kodály’s second creative period is characterized by a conservative tendency. The Dances of Marosszék found true fame not in the piano version, but the orchestral one. This is no surprise, for Kodály wanted to compete with Brahms’ popular Hungarian Dances.

Anna Dalos
Translated by Richard Robinson

Adrienne Krausz

Born in Hungary, Adrienne Krausz graduated from the Liszt Academy in Budapest, where her teachers were György Nádor, György Kurtág and Ferenc Rados. She has also studied with Yvonne Lefébure and Lívia Rév.

She has won numerous First Prizes in competitions (Békéstarhos, Senigallia, Chimay-Bruxelles) and further prizes in Frankfurt, Sydney and Monte-Carlo. After her victory at the World Piano Competition in Cincinatti she made her New York debut-recital at the Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center (1989).

A protégée of Sir Georg Solti, she has been invited as a soloist by leading orchestras, such as the Budapest Festival Orchestra (Iván Fischer), the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Berliner Symphoniker (Michael Gielen), the Tokyo Philharmonic and the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra. She has performed throughout Europe, Asia, the United States and is frequently invited by major festivals (Monte-Carlo, Menton, Montpellier, Prague, Cracow, Stresa, Palma, Schwetzingen, Istanbul, Beijing, Yokohama, etc.) and in the major concert halls of the world.

Passionate to play chamber music, some of her prestigious partners have been Boris Pergamenchikov, Miklós Perényi, Youri Bashmet, Sergej Krylov, Shlomo Mintz, the Keller and Bartók quartets...
In 2003, the Hungarian Gramophone Magazine awarded her recording with Péter Szabó the prize for the best recording of the year. Her Shostakovich recording was chosen as ”Indispensable” in the French music-guide published by Fayard.

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