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The period between 1910 and 1921 was a time in which none of Kodály’s music was published in Hungary or abroad, but not for lack of material. In fact, it was during this period that Kodály wrote some of his most enduring and groundbreaking works for strings: in addition to the Sonata, he also wrote the Duo for Violin and Cello, op. 7, the Second String Quartet, op. 10, and the Serenade for Two Violins and Viola, op. 12.15 Additionally, the fact that Kodály’s music was confined to Hungary resulted in some interesting relationships between Kodály and the performers resulting in a uniquely Hungarian lineage associated with the piece. The composition of the Sonata was to have lasting effects on the repertoire for the cello and would have a strong influence on the performing career of cellist Janos Starker (b. 1924), arguably one of the greatest modern cellists.
Kodály’s Sonata was composed in 1915 and was one of the first pieces written for unaccompanied cello since J.S. Bach’s six suites were completed in approximately 1723. The 15 Janos Breuer, A Guide to Kodály, trans. Maria Steiner (Budapest: Corvina Books, 1990).
131c by German composer Max Reger, also written in 1915. Reger’s Suites were written in a more explicitly Baroque vein, as the movements are in the style of Baroque dances but infused with late romantic harmony. According to Breuer, it is unlikely that Kodály ever saw Reger’s scores of the suites, but Kodály was aware of Reger. In a 1907 letter to Bartok, Kodály made it quite clear that he was not interested in Reger’s music writing, “I did not really feel tempted to read him.”16 Furthermore, in a 1921 article titled The New Music of Hungary, Bartok pointed out the lack of similarity between Reger’s piece and Kodály’s Sonata saying, “no other composer has written music that is at all similar to this type of work---least of all Reger, with his pale imitations of Bach.”17 So while Reger and Kodály were using the same basic platform to compose, Kodály’s finished product was arguably the more innovative of the two. Kodály also wrote another piece for unaccompanied cello in 1915 titled Capriccio. This work also uses a scordatura tuning with the C string tuned down to a B, and uses as its basis a Hungarian folk song titled “Hej, a mohi hegy borának” (Hey, the Wine of Mohi Hill).18 Kodály arranged the same song for voice and piano in his Hungarian Folk Music cycle. Capriccio did not appear in print until 1969.19 Despite the fact that the Sonata is built on unique harmonies and unusual folk idiosyncrasies, Kodály incorporates more traditional compositional techniques than one might
Bach’s Fifth Suite for Unaccompanied Cello, cellists have the option of tuning the A string down a whole step to G, allowing for chords and effects not possible in standard tuning. Kodály also used traditional musical forms as the foundation for each movement. The first movement is in sonata form albeit with an unorthodox tonal organization that will be discussed in more detail in Chapter 5. The second movement is in an arch form (ABA), and the third movement is an expansive sonata form. Kodály’s use of traditional forms in conjunction with Hungarian music is a hallmark of his compositional style. His knowledge and understanding of the foundations of composition such as harmony and counterpoint were thorough. As a first year composition student at the Liszt Academy Kodály passed his entrance exams and was allowed to enter the second year class, but instead requested to take the first year composition and theory classes.
Since Kodály was largely self-taught before entering the Academy, he wanted to ensure that he had a complete understanding of the fundamentals before advancing.20 As a result, the vast majority of his music combines classical and Hungarian elements.
The uniqueness in the piece is found in the writing for the cello. The use of scordatura not only affects the timbre and the color of the cello, but creates new possibilities for chords and expands the range of the cello. Kodály evokes the human voice, seeking to imitate specific styles of folk song, various instruments, sounds and techniques associated with those instruments, styles of Hungarian music popular music originating from an 18th century revolution, and 19th century military music influenced by gypsy bands. The piece is also highly virtuosic, technically
techniques, and writing treble melodies on the B and F♯ strings.
The Sonata would eventually become standard in the repertoire for the cello, but the piece had to overcome obscurity in Hungary before reaching larger, more receptive audiences in Europe and the United States. In fact, Kodály was certain that his Sonata would become a requirement for any cellist that wished to be taken seriously, explaining to cello professor Adolph Schiffer that “in twenty-five years no cellist will be accepted into the world of cellists who does not play my piece.”21 The other pieces that Kodály composed in the same period between 1910 and 1921 also had an equally arduous path out of Hungary. Kodály’s Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7 was written in 1914, shares many musical attributes with the Sonata and came into the public eye under similar circumstances. The two pieces were premiered along with Kodály’s Second String Quartet, Op. 10 in 1918 at a concert organized by Kodály to showcase his new compositions. The Duo and the Sonata were performed by members of the Waldbauer Quartet: violinist Imre Waldbauer and cellist Jenő Kerpely, to whom the Sonata is dedicated.
According to Breuer, “the recollections of the rapidly dwindling number of eye and earwitnesses, Kerpely, an extremely sensitive and refined musician, lacked the technique necessary for an accurate performance.”22 The concert as a whole was disparaged by critics as well, although the motivations of the critics may have had as much to do with a collective desire to hinder Kodály’s career as it did with the performance. Whether it was the performance, the 21 Joyce Geeting, Janos Starker “King of Cellists:” The Making of an Artist, (Los Angeles: Chamber Music Plus Publishing, 2008), 4.
22 Breuer, 48-49. Although it is impossible to know how well Kerpely actually played the piece, he premiered other works by Kodály and was a member of the Waldbauer Quartet for many years. It seems unlikely that Kodály would have continually asked Kerpely to play his music if his playing was not adequate.
performed again until 1920, and the Duo was not performed again until 1922.
Coincidentally, both of the second performances of the Sonata and the Duo occurred at Arnold Schoenberg’s Society for Private Performance of Music gatherings in Vienna and Prague, respectively. A Liszt Academy student named Paul Hermann, a student of cello professor Adolf Schiffer, and a composition student of Kodály’s, performed the Sonata at this gathering. From all accounts, Hermann’s performance was of a higher standard than Kerpely’s, but it is entirely possible that the audience at this gathering was more open to new music than the audience at the first performance in Hungary. After all, it was at Schoenberg’s gatherings that some of the most avant-garde music of the time was first heard (not to mention in the absence of critics). Kodály’s unique musical language was in all likelihood less difficult to digest for a more musically adventurous audience. The Sonata and many other works of Kodály was published one year later in 1921 by Universal.
Following the performance of the Sonata in Vienna a few other cellists began to perform the piece. Dutch cellist Mauritz Frank performed it in 1922 in Rotterdam and was the first nonHungarian performer of the work. Hermann performed the piece again in 1923 at the International Society of Contemporary Music Festival (ISCM) in Salzburg. The aforementioned Duo was also performed at the ISCM Festival in 1924, and like the Sonata is now standard in the chamber music repertoire. The British premiere of the Sonata was performed by Beatrice Harrison in 1924, the dedicatee of Elgar’s cello concerto, who also performed Kodály’s Sonata in the United States.23 These early performances of the work helped bring it to a wider audience,
notoriety it has today. Although Starker played an important role in the discovery of the Sonata, the piece had an equally significant impact in launching his career as a performer. Starker openly acknowledged the importance of the Sonata in his life when he placed a sign over the pool in his house that reads, “The Pool That Kodály Built.”24 Starker’s association with Kodály’s Sonata extends the long line of Hungarians also associated with the piece and its performers dating back to cellist David Popper (1843-1913).
David Popper was the cello professor at the Franz Liszt Academy beginning in 1886 and is considered by many to be the father of modern cello playing. Although he died before the piece was written his students were the first cellists to play Kodály’s Sonata.25 One of Popper’s students was Jenő Kerpely, the dedicatee and premiere performer of Kodály’s Sonata. Popper also taught Adolph Schiffer, who served as his assistant at the Academy until Popper’s death in 1913, and was then promoted to professor thereafter. Schiffer taught Paul Hermann who played the Sonata for the second time, as well as a young Starker beginning in 1930. Starker began his lessons with Schiffer at the age of six and by 1939 had performed Kodály’s Sonata in private for Kodály himself, and then shortly thereafter in a recital.26 The recital performance was his introduction to the musical world. Starker recorded the Sonata for the first time in 1947 and was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque which furthered his performing career.27 Although Kodály
25 Marc Moskovitz. "Popper, David." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/22113 (February 19, 2013).
Starker’s personal association with Kodály, or simply the fact that Starker is Hungarian, that gave his performances of the piece a certain level of authenticity. Starker explained the special relationship he has with Kodály and the Sonata in an interview saying, “I like to think that I'm relatively ‘authentic’ when I play Kodály's cello works because I knew the composer, he listened to my performances, and we talked about them and so on.”28 Thus a direct Hungarian line can be traced from Starker back to Kodály and Popper, two of the most important names in composition and cello playing.
Kodály’s Sonata reintroduced the cello as a solo instrument; an instrument that could be full and expressive if the music written for it took advantage of the possibilities available. The technical brilliance and difficulty of the piece most certainly raised the bar, forcing cellists to expand their technical horizons. Cellist Janos Starker may have been the first cellist capable of performing the Sonata at a level of technical and musical brilliance high enough to make audiences and critics fully appreciate the piece in addition to his own playing. Realizing the previously unexplored expressive possibilities of the cello and the growing technical prowess of modern cellists, many new and challenging works for unaccompanied cello were written throughout the twentieth century.
28 Janos Starker, interview by Tim Janof, Conversation with Janos Starker, June 10, 1996, http://www.cello.org/newsletter/articles/starker.html (accessed February 22, 2013).
Since the bulk of this paper is a study of how I apply technical principles of cello playing to Kodály’s Sonata, it is necessary to explain some of these technical principles. These principles are applicable not only to this piece but to all cello playing. In this chapter I will cover shifting and its implications for the left hand, as well as other left hand issues, the use of the bow, and physical aspects of cello playing that will be important in discussing the Sonata.
3.1 Anticipated and Delayed Shifts In the grand scheme of cello playing there are dozens ways for a cellist to move the left hand along the fingerboard, but the delayed shift and the anticipated shift are the two basic types of shifts from which many other kinds of shifts derive. The difference between these two shifts is based on the coordination between the right arm and left hand. A delayed shift is one in which the left hand arrives on the desired note after the bow has changed direction. In an anticipated shift the left hand arrives before the change in bow direction.29 Since I find the anticipated shift to be more conducive to good intonation and the implementation of a plan for the left hand, I use it more often than the delayed shift, and thus I will focus on it in this discussion.
The mechanics of the anticipated shift involve several important steps. First is establishing a target note which will serve as the point of arrival for both the left hand and a point of reference for the ear. My anticipated shifts use the finger already “in use” (also referred to as the “old finger”) as the mode of transport by finding a target note within the new position that will allow the desired finger to drop onto the correct place on the fingerboard. It is in the 29 Tim Janof, Master class Report: Janos Starker, Seattle, Washington, Febraruy 29, 2001, http://www.cello.org/Newsletter/Articles/starkermc1.htm (accessed February 20, 2013). Starker uses the word “slide” when describing the action of the left hand, but the principle of motion before or after the bow change is the same.