Leó Weiner was a composer and one of the most important music pedagogues in Hungarian music
history. He studied composition under Hans Koessler at the Music Academy in Budapest where Ernó Dohnányi and the great Béla Bartók had also been students. Weiner graduated the same year as Zoltan Kodály, in 1906, however unlike Bartók and Kodály, Weiner had no ambitions to renew the musical idiom of the time. Indeed, he followed the classical trends in terms of form, harmonic patterns and high tonality, and the atonal music being composed at the time was entirely alien to him. At the outset, his music drew on 19th century German Romanticism, at attested to his first successes, the "Serenade" Op. 3 of 1906 and "Carnival" Op. 6 from the following year. A conscious turn in his middle creative period starting in the 1930s is marked by the appearance of local folk musics. In the last decade of his career, Weiner created a synthesis of his early and middle periods (the best example being the symphonic poem "Toldi") as well as transcribing works from his juvenilia. From 1904 up until his death he composed 45 works, as well as a fair number of transcriptions of works by other composers.
"Katonásdi" or Toy Soldiers Op. 16a was originally composed for orchestra and later transcribed for piano by Weiner as Op. 16b. The music is along the same programatic path that began with "Carnaval" and this brief work is meant to evoke an imaginary battle of tin soldiers. Things start off with a drum roll and the sounding of trumpets, calling the soldiers to battle (Habt Acht!), which is followed by the procession of the armies (Aufmarsch). Sharp dissonances, agitated rhythms and forte-fortissimo dynamic marking indicate the attack, canon fire is launched by the drums and then the fanfare of victory sounds; the army triumphant marches away into the night..
"Preludio, Notturno e Scherzo diabolico" Op. 31 was initially composed for piano in 1911 and the autographed score of the orchestral version is dated some 38 years later on October 13th, 1949. The opening movement does not follow Baroque patterns as one might expect but instead welcomes the listener into a Debussian, dream-like atmosphere. The 'Notturno' too, sustains this mood, as if it's afternoon and a certain Faun is still at rest :) There are somewhat exotic, modal harmonies, and along with the sweeping passages from the harps, it just might be a warm Mediterranean night that we are "experiencing". Rhythm assumes a key structural role in the tripartite 'Scherzo', with an ostinato of even quavers preceding the coda. The atmosphere of the last movement is created by a six-note motif that is indeed 'diabolical' by name and nature, although there is a measure of 'playful deception' in the beginning, to my ears anyhow.
The "Passacaglia" Op. 44 which was composed over a span of half of the composer's career, follows the Baroque form. Weiner's former classmate Bernardo Goldmann, to whom the work is dedicated, had repeatedly called on Weiner to complete the Op. 2 fragmented/lost piano passacaglia, a request he eventually completed after three decades, and then after another two decades in 1955 Weiner created the orchestral version heard here.
Completed on August 30th 1955, Weiner transcribed for orchestra Liszt's Sonata in B minor (from 1852/53). This is a very fine and beautiful example of Weiner's brilliant orchestration skills.