The year 1955 has a special importance for the compositional thinking in Hungary, because it was the year in which Ernő Lendvai's studies of Béla Bartók appeared (Bartók's Style and An Introduction to the Analysis of Bartók's Works). These writings were intended to prove the modernity of his music, a modernity that was comparable to Western-European dodecaphony and serialism. Hungarian composers, attempting to liberate themselves from the dictatorical aesthetic theory of the fifties, saw in Lendvai's publications a kind of instruction book, a Kompositionslehre which could help them to renew Hungarian composition. Model scales, Bartók's harmonic formulas and the Golden Section were understood in this context as devices of modernity in new music. Young Hungarian composers had begun to follow Bartók's path as early as in the mid-twenties. Until 1955, however, this had meant only a stylistic imitation of his works: Bartók's musical language represented for them the modern manner of self-expression. The consequence of Lendvai's publications was that composers could move away from style imitation and build on some Bartókian constructional principles in their compositions. I take Endre Szervánszky's Second String Quartet (1956-57) and its manuscript sources as a case study demonstrating how the composer worked with scale models, the golden section and other elements of Lendvai's theory. As I argue, Szervánszky's work is an emblematic but also a complex case, for he strove to combine the Bartókian method with a kind of serialism.
After the revolution in 1956, the cultural policy in Hungary shifted to allow a new openness toward Western-European movements: consequently 1956–1967 became one of the most important transitional periods of Hungarian music history. Composers turned away from the tradition of the foregoing thirty years, determined by the influence of Bartók and Kodály, imitating rather the works of Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Boulez, Nono, Lutosławski, Penderecki and Stockhausen. In this context the 78-year-old Zoltán Kodály’s Symphony, written in 1960–1961 for the Swiss Festival Orchestra and dedicated to the memory of Arturo Toscanini, was rejected by the young generation of composers and also Hungarian music critics, who turned themselves for the first time against the much-revered figure of authority. The Symphony’s emphasis on C major, its conventional forms, Brahms-allusions, pseudo self-citations and references to the 19th-century symphonic tradition were also received without comprehension in Western Europe. Kodály’s letters and interviews indicate that the composer suffered disappointment in this negative reception. Drawing on manuscript sources, Kodály’s statements and the Symphony itself, my study argues that the three movements can be read as caricature-like self-portraits of different phases of the composer’s life (the young, the mature and the old) and that Kodály identified himself with the symphonic genre and the C-major scale.
After the political and cultural seclusion of the 1950s young Hungarian composers turned to Western European new music. While learning contemporary compositional techniques they were searching for a new Hungarian identity in music. The musicological discourse about new Hungarian music concentrated on the ‘Hungarianness’ of their music too. Composers used Hungarian literary texts, and referred to Hungarian music culture with musical allusions. They inherited the idea of the combination of the up-to-date Western European compositional techniques with the old Hungarian tradition from Kodály and Bartók, i.e. they were aware of the primacy of tradition. György Kurtág’s (1926) concerto for soprano and piano, The Sayings of Péter Bornemisza (1963–1968) represented for Hungarian musicians the paradigmatic example of new Hungarian music, modern and traditional at the same time. It was based on an old Hungarian text from the 16th-century, like Kodály’s Psalmus Hungaricus (1923). The vocal part, however, refers to Webern’s melodic concept, the piano part follows Stockhausen’s piano writing, and Kurtág quotes neither Hungarian folk music nor old Hungarian art music. The paper investigates by means of musical analysis the question why contemporaries felt that Kurtág’s piece represents unambiguously a Hungarian identity. Kurtág — as well as his contemporaries — uses symbols, allusions connected to certain words and word-paintings while concentrating on the picturesque elements of music. The source of this compositional attitude is Kodály’s oeuvre, foremost the Psalmus Hungaricus. From this angle Kurtág’s The Sayings stands for the new-old Hungarian musical tradition.
This study focuses on the use of the parlando rubato style of Hungarian folk music in György Kurtág’s compositions. Kurtág applies the terms parlando, rubato,and molto rubato several times, and these designations always refer to a clearly defined meaning in his compositions, connected to “Hungarianness” and sexuality. This study aims to reveal these meanings, aided by Kurtág’s compositional sketches and notes preserved in the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel, as well as through analysis of vocal works such as the Four Songs (op. 11), S. K. –Remembrance Noise (op. 12), Attila József Fragments (op. 20), Seven Songs (op. 22), Eight Choruses (op. 23), Kafka Fragments (op. 24), and Three Old Inscriptions (op. 25).
Hungarian composers in the past very rarely reflected on György Ligeti’s oeuvre. Concentrating on their own struggles with musical modernism and avant-garde after 1956, they considered Ligeti one of the most important Hungarian composers of their time, but didn’t really understand his concepts and techniques. My study aims at interpreting this misunderstanding through the analysis of orchestral works by Ligeti’s best Hungarian friend, András Szőllősy (1921–2007). For contemporary Hungarian musicians and critics, Szőllősy’s compositions represented the counterpart of the great émigré’s life work.