DISCOVERIES FROM FLEISHER
Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967). Summer Evening (1906). Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
Kodaly. Marosszek Dances (1923/29). Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Adrian Leaper.
Kodaly. Hary Janos Suite (1926/27). Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Solti.
"The composer whose works are the most perfect embodiment of the Hungarian spirit"--according to no less an authority than Béla Barto--is Zoltan Kodaly, Bartok's colleague in research, education, composing, and his lifelong friend. Kodaly's music "is rooted only in Hungarian soil," he said, "but the deep inner reason is his unshakable faith and trust in the constructive power and future of his people."
Long before Venezuela's El Sistema took the world by storm, Kodaly tackled many of the same issues in children's musical education. He developed methods of rhythm and pitch memorization, but beyond that, believed that two factors were indispensible to teaching it: real folk music and excellent new music. So throughout his life he collected one and wrote the other.
The debut of his student work Summer Evening was in a 1906 concert by the Royal Hungarian Opera orchestra. He later revised it for a 1930 performance by Arturo Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic, for by then his reputation was established. His Marosszek Dances premiered that same year in Dresden, and his most famous work, the Hary Janos Suite taken from his singspiel (that is, an opera with lots of talking), had already premiered three years earlier, also with the the New York Philharmonic.
Each of these pieces exemplifies, to one degree or another, the combination of folk and original genius that permeates his music. They sound as fresh today as they ever did, in large part because of what Bartok, again, called Kodaly's "striking individuality; he works in a concentrated fashion and despises any sensation, false brilliance, any extraneous effect."
Kodaly helped people to escape the war, hid in that convent with his wife, and then after the war continued to compose. He became the international statesman for folk music research, and the series he and Bartok inaugurated eventually published more than 100,000 folk songs. Hungary instituted his music education method, it has been used around the world, and his music is as popular as ever, continuing to breathe with vital energy.
With Germans and Russians swirling around Budapest, Kodaly's Missa Brevis premiered in 1945, in the home of the same opera orchestra that had premiered his student piece almost 40 years earlier. If his "faith and trust" in Hungary were ever to be shaken, it would be now, but perhaps a smile crossed his face as he remembered the connection to Summer Evening, and as he gazed at these musicians. For they weren't in the concert hall—that was far too dangerous. The world premiere of the Zoltan Kodaly Missa Brevis was in the Opera House cloakroom.--Kile Smith