Skip to page content

FastNotes

  • The tensions of the time are quite apparent in the emotionally harrowing Duo, but so is Kodály’s gift for melody, honed by his vocal writing, and his technical experience with both instruments.

  • The opening movement is big-boned and serious, as the tempo marking indicates, but with an openness and optimistic energy, the modal tunes affecting and the rhythms direct.

  • This changes dramatically in the urgent and anguished central movement, colored by ominous raspings and icy harmonics. After a richly rhetorical introduction, the finale is all leaping Hungarian dance; not without its edges, but vigorous and determined.


Zoltán Kodály did much to bridge the gap between Hungarian folk music and the European art music tradition. Brought up in the country, he knew folk music from childhood and also learned to play the piano and string instruments and to compose, all without much training. (His parents were devoted amateur musicians.) In 1905 he began his collaboration with Béla Bartók collecting and transcribing folksongs. (His major works, notably the comic opera Háry János, the Psalmus hungaricus, the Peacock Variations for orchestra and the Dances of Marosszék and Galánta, draw on Magyar folk music.) His collecting activity also stimulated his work on musical education. He was the impetus for the music education system called the Kodály Method – a comprehensive approach to musicianship still often used around the world with all age groups. (His students at the Academy of Music in Budapest included Antál Dorati and Eugene Ormandy, later world famous as master conductors.)

In 1907 Kodály went to Berlin and then Paris on a six-month scholarship; hearing Debussy’s music became a lasting influence. In the early years of his career, particularly the decade after his return from Paris and the end of World War I, Kodály wrote mostly for voice (solo songs and choruses) and instrumental chamber music. This included a pair of string quartets, a sonatina for violin and piano, a sonata for cello and piano, a sonata and capriccio for solo cello, and this Duo for violin and cello, composed in 1914 as the war was looming.

The tensions of the time are quite apparent in the emotionally harrowing Duo, but so is Kodály’s gift for melody, honed by his vocal writing, and his technical experience with both instruments. The opening movement is big-boned and serious, as the tempo marking indicates, but with an openness and optimistic energy, the modal tunes affecting and the rhythms direct.

This changes dramatically in the urgent and anguished central movement, colored by ominous raspings and icy harmonics suggesting the fearful uncertainties of the year. After a richly rhetorical introduction, the finale is all leaping Hungarian dance; not without its edges, but vigorous and determined.

“Certain modern Hungarian works,” Kodály wrote in 1925, referring to his and Bartók’s music, “apparently have created the impression abroad of a musical revolution. They are more accurately to be described as conservative. Our intention has not been to break with the past, but to renew and strengthen the links by recreating the atmosphere of the ancient, forgotten melodies, by erecting new structures from their scattered stones. These old songs are our heirlooms; their creators, long since silent, are our true ancestors.”

— John Henken