I attempt to demonstrate that a substantial aspect of the performing style of the two most important pianists of the Hungarian Liszt school, Bartók and Dohnányi, together with other performers of the era to a certain extent, is the mainly unintentional slowing down at structurally relatively important or surprising moments in terms of musical meaning and, respectively, the speeding up of relatively unimportant or highly predictable moments. Relatively important or surprising moments include the appearance of a new theme, structural boundaries, atypical modulations, and the like; relatively unimportant or highly predictable moments include sequences, transitional passages, and, to a certain extent, cadential formulae. Computer-assisted analysis of microtiming patterns of representative recording samples as well as their comparison with preliminary results of a listening experiment suggests a tight connection of Bartók’s and Dohnányi’s rubato patterns with structural importance and predictability.
Dohnányi's Second Piano Quintet in E-flat minor was written in 1914 and is less well-known than his first one dating from 1895. The composer has been called a traditionalist, so it is worth examining how tradition appears in this work. The outer movements of the three-movement-form are both elegiac and weighty. The beginning bears the key signature of E-flat major instead of minor, but the keys are changing rapidly as the piece progresses. This is reminiscent of Franz Schubert or of Antonín Dvořák, for instance in his Piano Quartet (op. 87) inspired by Brahms. The third movement's opening is a homage to Beethoven's late String Quartet in A Minor (op. 132). While the latter works on a sub-thematic level, Dohnányi presents an elaborated theme in fugal technique, which in 1914 was a more conservative approach than Beethoven's in 1825. For Dohnányi, the symmetric structures are not a way out of traditional tonality (unlike for Bartók, who also frequently used symmetries), but rather are a way of extending it. The formal concept is no less interesting. The recapitulation of the first movement's material within the third is evocative of the double-function form used by Franz Liszt. While Liszt conflated the traditional multi-movement form into a new one-movement form, Dohnányi – so to speak – concealed the characteristics of the new one-movement form inside a traditional three-movement form. Thus, one could ask if the accusations against Dohnányi for being a traditionalist are justified. Perhaps instead we should reconsider how traditionalism and modernity are situated in our own set of aesthetic values.
Born to a Croatian father in Constantinople and educated in Vienna, August Adelburg (1830–1873) was a true cosmopolitan. His explicitly “national opera” about Miklós Zrínyi (c1508–1566), a Hungarian national hero of Croatian origins, was premiered in Hungarian translation on 23 June 1868 in the National Theater in Pest. The libretto (originally in German, and adapted by the composer from a drama by Theodor Körner) includes a preface that adumbrates a wholesale theory of cosmopolitanized national opera, as it were. Elaborating his views as expressed in his 1859 essay against Liszt’s On the Gypsies and their music in Hungary, Adelburg insists that the hegemony of the three traditional musical styles—German, French, and Italian—is obsolete, since “the tones have a single expressive language, which is divided into as many dialects as there are musical nations in the world.” At the same time, he also considers the overly use of less “worn-out” national styles misguided, since letting each character sing in the same manner is like “putting a Parisian lady’s hat, instead of an antique helmet, on Minerva’s head, and dressing the Roman emperors in black tailcoat, rather than sagum.” Therefore, a truly up-to-date national opera must in fact be “cosmopolitan” (Adelburg himself uses the term) in its sensitive portrayal of each individual character. Following a brief analysis of some of the most prominent “national” numbers of the work, I conclude by suggesting that Adelburg’s ideas about “cosmopolitanizing the national” render his Zrínyi a kind of mediator between two outstanding Hungarian operas of the period: Mihály Mosonyi’s “all-Hungarian” Szép Ilon (1861), and Ferenc Erkel’s “cosmopolitan” Brankovics György (1874).
significant cities in terms of artistic events (see Plate 1 ). 3 However, the idea of organizing public concerts as well as the personal encouragement of the Doppler brothers was probably Franz Liszt’s doing. During the above-mentioned summer tour, the
The musical sources and the contemporary press reports do not confirm the statement that
, the par excellence Hungarian national opera composed by Ferenc Erkel and first performed in 1861, was finished already in 1852 — a date that became current in the international musicological literature. The instrumentation workshop around Erkel which can be traced as a pendant of the Weimar workshop of Liszt, represents less the artistic weakness of the composer, rather a take-off point for the compositional invention. The method of the division between composition and instrumentation was disqualified from art music only at the time when the conception of the organic musical work and compositional process was widely established. From 1940 on, the original version of the work was substituted by a rewriting made in order to create a vernacular historicopolitical music drama modelled on the late Verdi, Mussorgsky or Borodin, a missing link in the Hungarian music history, retrospectively. The first edition of the authentic score of
being before publication and made by the author is based of a revised text from 1866 which is probably derived from Erkel and that was unknown till now.
Mária Comensoli, who studied under Bartók in the mid-1920s, reports that her teacher used “peculiar fingerings and peculiar wrist and arm technique.” Examining such comments and the recordings of the composer-pianist, it becomes clear that Bartók played the piano partly according to the 19th-century performance practice. He frequently played chords in arpeggio, even when there were no markings of arpeggio in the score, and he respected the tone color of each finger by relying on the technique of leaping. Contemporary documents suggest that one of Bartók’s technical advantages was the flexibility of his wrists. In Bartók’s case it may have been a fruit of a conscious training by István Thomán. The writings of the Liszt-pupil Thomán suggest that, like his master, he valued the “active” use of wrists, even though he basically supported the modern, “synthetic” piano technique propagated by Breithaupt, who consistently recommended the “passive” use of the wrists. It is likely that, through Thomán, Bartók learned many things from the 19th-century performance practice.
There is a gap separating Kodály's Seven Pieces for Piano, op. 11 from his Nine Pieces for Piano, op. 3. The differences of style, structure, and texture cannot be explained in terms of development, let alone progress in any sense. With op. 11, Kodály undertakes a shift of paradigms from instrumental principles to a kind of vocal orientation within instrumental music. Op. 3 stands in the tradition of autonomous instrumental music, of Liszt and French music in particular, and displays similarities to early piano works by Bartók. In op. 11, that instrumental paradigm and its core principle of indirect expression are called into question. Instead Kodály aims at direct expression, vocality on the piano. Since a piano cannot sing, the pieces op. 11 can be seen as failing in terms of Classical-Romantic composing standards. This paper argues that in dealing with the distinction between instrumental and vocal music, Kodály takes up a major topic of Musical Modernism (Carl Dahlhaus) and exposes himself deliberately to the risky question of “When is Art?” (Nelson Goodman).