«A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in partial fulfillment of ...»
I have chosen the parts of each movement that gave me the most trouble and/or are thematically and musically salient. I discuss the nature of the technical difficulty and how I worked through the problem. In preparing my lecture recital and writing this paper I have changed my mind with regard to fingerings and bowings on more than one occasion. I am certain that in another six months or another decade I will change my approach to certain aspects this piece. But that is the nature of music, and the fun of live performance. It is subject to human interpretation, whims, moods, and a variety of external factors. It is always (or should always strive to be) dynamic. These solutions also represent what I am capable of at this moment in my development as a cellist. Perhaps in another year I will make changes that reflect improvement in my use of the bow or greater comfort in thumb position. In another decade, multiple performances of the piece will have undoubtedly changed my perspective on tempos, phrasing,
My intention in this chapter is not provide a comprehensive biography of Zoltán Kodály, but rather to provide some insight into his life leading up to and during the composition of the Sonata, including the years between the premiere of the work and its publication (1918-1922).
This is not to say that his life following this period is insignificant. However, the trajectory of his career and his musical interests changed to such a degree following the period in which the Sonata was written that it is not within the scope of this document to cover it. Once Kodály was able to break free of the oppressive political structure at the Liszt Academy (described in more detail below), he was able to focus on his passion for establishing a musical education system in Hungary. Kodály continued to use traditional Hungarian folk music as the foundation for his later compositions, but concentrated on works for larger ensembles and opera for the remainder of his career, whereas his earlier works were geared toward chamber music. So although the early years of his life had a strong influence on his later life, the two periods are not related enough to the topic of this document to warrant discussion. What is more relevant to this study is an examination of his life leading up to the composition of the Sonata and the circumstances surrounding its composition, performances, and publication. Kodály was at this time a young and talented composer with many interests and ambitions, but faced opposition from music critics and the large majority of the musical establishment in Hungary. This led (directly and indirectly) to the suppression of the publication and performance of music written in this period, much of which is considered some of his best work.
Kodály’s name is for many, synonymous with music education which became his focus from the mid 1920s onward. However, Kodály was truly an interdisciplinary artist in the sense
grammar school he played in the school orchestra and began to compose. The study of language was to be one of Kodály’s early interests and while a university student in Budapest he took courses in Hungarian and German. He later earned diplomas in composition and teaching in 1904 and 1905. It was this dual interest in music and language that inspired his first foray into ethnomusicology when in 1905 Kodály began collecting folk songs in order to write his doctoral thesis titled The Stanzaic Structure of Hungarian Folk Song in 1906.1 Following the end of his formal education Kodály spent 1906 and 1907 in Paris and was exposed to the music of Debussy for the first time, and would later cite the importance of Debussy’s music in his life. Debussy’s use of pentatonicism, non-Western musical idioms, innovative use of sound colors, and his challenge to the perceived superiority of German music was to have a deep impact on Kodály’s musical style and personal ethos.2 Furthermore, Kodály’s appreciation for French music would be reciprocated by the French, as Kodály’s music gained a following in France before it did in any other country. In 1910 Kodály’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 4 was premiered at the Festival Hongrois in Paris with Belá Bartók on piano and Janos Mihalkovics playing cello.3 This was not only the premier of this piece but the first performance of Kodály’s work outside Hungary. The Sonata for Cello and Piano was also the 1 Janka Szendrei, et al. "Hungary." Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, Oxford University Press, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/13562 (accessed February 26, 2013).
2 Zoltán Kodály, “Claude Debussy,” in The Selected Writings of Zoltán Kodály, ed. Ferenc Bónis, trans.
Lili Halápy and Fred Macnicol (London: Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Limited, 1964), 67-68.
critics could not come to a consensus on his music, Kodály had a considerable amount of support for his music in France. This was also true for Kodály in other parts of Europe and the United States as his First String Quartet (1908-1909) was performed in the United States in 1915, which may have been the first performance of his music overseas.5 In 1910 Kodály arranged a concert featuring his newest compositions that included the Sonata for Cello and Piano and the First String Quartet. Although this concert was a success and he earned a contract with a publisher, Kodály’s music would not be published anywhere until 1921. Furthermore, between 1912 and 1917 none of Kodály’s works would be performed in Hungary, despite performances in other parts of Europe and the United States.6 This was to be the trend for the period of his life between 1910 and 1921: Disparaged by Hungarian critics and opposed by many in the musical establishment, yet lauded outside his native country.
Upon his return from Paris in 1907, Kodály embarked on another tour to collect Hungarian folk songs, and in 1908 was appointed professor of music theory at the Liszt Academy in Budapest. It was at the Academy that Kodály began his collaboration in several areas with fellow composer Belá Bartók. The two composers shared an affinity for the native music of Hungary but were also both interested in encouraging the performance of new music.
To that end they formed the New Hungarian Music Society in 1911. The aim of this group was not only to perform new music, but to thoroughly prepare for the premieres of new works with
performing colleagues at the Academy, including Bartók and members of the Waldbauer Quartet. Some of these same musicians were responsible for the premieres of many of Kodály’s and Bartók’s works even after the dissolution of the New Hungarian Music Society. Concerts were often programmed with a combination of Classical works mixed with Kodály’s and Bartók’s arrangements of folk songs. The Society organized only a few concerts in 1911, with audiences steadily losing interest, forcing Kodály and Bartók to disband the Society in early
1912.7 The National Musical Society of Hungary was formed concurrently with the express intent to derail the New Hungarian Music Society as well as the professional careers of Kodály and Bartók.8 Although undoubtedly dismayed by the lack of interest in their work, Kodály and Bartók continued their collaboration in the systematic collection and publication of Hungarian folk songs in 1913 writing a proposal titled “Project for a New Complete Collection of Folk Songs.” However, lack of financial backing and interest in the project put it on hold for several decades.9 In addition to the logistical, financial, and bureaucratic obstacles in Kodály’s life, World War I erupted in 1914, disrupting everyday life and putting an end to most travel outside Hungary. Although Kodály was not a member of the armed forces, he, like many other civilians, was required to help in the war effort in some way. This, in addition to his growing cadre of students at the Academy was more than enough to keep him occupied for the next several years.
7 Percy Young, Zoltán Kodály: A Hungarian Musician (London: Ernest Benn Limited, 1964), 59.
László Eősze, Zoltán Kodály: His Life and Work, trans. István Farkas and Gyula Gulyás (Boston:
Crescendo Publishing Company, 1962), 21.
be quite productive for Kodály as a composer, writing several of his most well-known works (which are discussed in the following chapter). Kodály also wrote music criticism and published analyses of Bartók’s music for two left-leaning periodicals during this period. His affiliation with these two periodicals and the political climate in Hungary would complicate matters in his professional life toward the end of World War I.
Following the conclusion of the First World War the fate of Hungary was uncertain as the Hapsburg Monarchy had collapsed and parts of the country were being divided among neighboring countries. In 1919 a new government was implemented in Hungary following an overthrow. The so-called Hungarian Republic of Councils meant that a new political structure was implemented at the Academy when many of the older faculty members representative of the status quo, were replaced with younger faculty. Ernő von Dohnányi was named as director of the Academy and Kodály was named the deputy director. Bartók was also given a position of power at the Academy. One of the ideas that Kodály and Bartók wanted to implement was a systematic way of teaching music to children and making music an integral part of the education system in Hungary. However, the new Hungarian government lasted only 133 days and after its collapse the old guard resumed its position of power. These individuals sought retribution against the young agitators that had ousted them from power and dared to challenge the establishment. Not only was Kodály’s compositional style counter to the firmly established German Romantic style, but his ideas about systematic music education were considered far too left-wing.10 10 László Eősze, et al. "Kodály, Zoltán," Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online, Oxford University Press, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/15246 (accessed February 26, 2013).
participated in any leadership role (real or imagined) were thoroughly investigated by members of the restored government, many of whom were still bitter for being dismissed. Dohnányi was cleared of wrongdoing rather quickly despite his role as Director of the Academy, while Kodály, was intensely scrutinized and punished for his role at the Academy as deputy director. He was suspended from his teaching position during the inquiry and was forced to withstand multiple trials, accused of being an agitator and described as an “ultra-modernist” and thus a negative influence on the young generation of composers under his tutelage.11 Both Dohnányi and Bartók wrote letters protesting the prosecution of Kodály, imploring the investigating committee to hold them accountable for their actions, and citing Kodály’s dedication to the discovery of Hungarian culture and music as anything but subversive.12 Ultimately Kodály was stripped of his position as deputy director, returned to his previous status as professor, and was put on administrative leave for the first term of the academic year 1920-1921 during which some in the administration attempted to contrive other means by which they could permanently dismiss Kodály from the Academy.13 Kodály continued to see his students covertly at his home, resumed his musicological activities, and continued composing. Outside of Hungary there was little attention paid to his political troubles and Kodály’s reputation as a composer continued to grow. Universal Edition secured the rights to publish his music in 1921, allowing his music to be published outside
to advance his professional position in Hungary and was subsequently reinstated at the Academy in the same year.14 It was in the next few years that both Kodály and Bartók became recognized in Hungary as not only composers of the highest caliber, but as composers whose work was considered quintessentially Hungarian. Commissions for occasional music for national holidays and festivities was the confirmation that Kodály was no longer considered an outlier in the Hungarian musical world, and set the trajectory for the remainder of his career.
Although many scholars focus on Kodály’s life and work after the early 1920s, I find this early period equally significant not only because he wrote the Sonata at this time, but because of the paradoxical nature of the attitudes with which his music was met both inside and outside of Hungary. The world outside of Hungary was largely accepting of and excited by his music, but inside Hungary Kodály was silenced for nearly a decade by those opposed to his unorthodox musical idiom. While fighting the opposition to his music and his philosophies regarding music education in his own country, his profile was becoming more visible and his musical style more embraced abroad. Even under conditions which in all likelihood did not foster a healthy environment in which to compose or work, Kodály remained productive and innovative in the compositions of this period. With the help of supporters of new music elsewhere in Europe, his music was delivered out of Hungary and rescued by willing composers and performers.
Although Kodály’s Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello, op. 8 is now considered one of the most important pieces in the repertoire for cello, it was not immediately popular with audiences or critics, especially those in Hungary, and was not performed outside the country until 1920.
Part of this belated recognition was likely due to the difficulty of the piece, there being perhaps only a handful of cellists willing or able to undertake such a challenging piece at the time of its composition. More importantly though was the fact that Kodály’s career as a composer had been stifled in the years around the composition of the piece as described in the previous chapter. The Sonata was in many ways the key to his reemergence as a composer on an international scale.