The music of the Hungarian composer Ferenc Farkas is a real delight to listen to, as this disc will illustrate for those of you who are new to the composer. Stylistically his music can be 'all over the map' in the very best of ways. Be it Mozartian charm or rustic Hungarian folksongs and dances (Kodaly comes to mind especially in the "Lavotta Suite"), Farkas's music as heard here is as cheerful as it is well-written. This is the first volume from an ongoing series exploring Farkas's varied oeuvre, and along with the orchestral volumes there is now also a series dedicated to his chamber music.
I have added the booklet notes within this post as everything that needs to be said is there. Toccata's program notes are I think some of the most informative. I believe I've included the pdf file as well but who needs it when it's clearly that much more exciting to read it all right here - yes the happiest place on earth =;0D
FERENC FARKAS: ORCHESTRAL MUSIC,
VOLUME ONE – WORKS FOR CHAMBER ORCHESTRA by László Gombos
Ferenc Farkas (1905–2000) was one of the most popular figures in twentieth-century Hungarian music. His popularity was due in equal measure to his relaxed manner and balanced personality, to his unique pedagogical abilities and to his music, which found its way to the hearts of a broad range of music-lovers. He was active throughout his exceptionally long life, and constantly in contact with people: teachers and students, amateur and professional musicians, writers, painters, sculptors and film-directors. He was not one to shut himself away in the ivory tower of the privileged, and only towards his ninetieth year did he retire from public life, though he continued composing to the last day of his life. He taught several generations, as a legendary professor of composition at the Budapest Music Academy, his students including almost all the important Hungarian composers of the second half of the twentieth century, including György Kurtág and György Ligeti, who formed part of the international avant-garde.
His music, though, reflects the same accord he realised in his own everyday life: ever the optimist, he always concentrated on beauty and harmony, and loved every second of his 95 years. This approach, at least, is indicated by his works and his relationship with the outside world: he concealed, resolved and transfigured suffering and tragedy through music, as Mozart and Mendelssohn had done before him. He was drawn not only towards art and the beauties of nature: he was famed also for his expert knowledge of food and drink. Among the countless constraints of his century, he attempted to resolve what was perhaps the biggest contradiction of the art of his era: to be new, individual and modern and yet not to abandon the public to whom he addressed his works. And Farkas’ public is extremely diverse, because his music is incredibly varied. He composed in almost every genre and style, from arrangements of folk-music and historical music evoking the distant past, to Neoclassical and dodecaphonic compositions; from simple pieces for amateur choirs, children studying music or youth orchestras, through light Singspiele, radio plays and operettas to demanding chamber works, modern cantatas and operas.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼The works on this disc paint a characteristic portrait of Ferenc Farkas, although it is necessarily only one side of this multifaceted master. He was barely 25 when at the beginning of 1930 he composed the Divertimento, during two academic years he spent in Rome, from autumn 1929, in Ottorino Respighi’s master-class at the Academy of Santa Cecilia. His lodgings were in Palazzo Falconieri, the property of the Hungarian state, which as part of the Collegium Hungaricum network provided accommodation for young Hungarian artists. Farkas wrote of his study years:
The Roman environment made a life-long impression on me. It was particularly the artist residents of the Hungarian Academy in Rome who drew my attention to the early arts [...]. I have them to thank for my discoveries in sculpture and architecture as well as painting. For several months I visited museums and sites in a frenzy, then I set firmly to work composing, following what was known as the ‘novecento’ style, which was close to me.
To the end of his life he made frequent mention of his Italian maestro; he was captured less by his music than by his character:
Respighi’s extraordinary personality captivated his students: he was a genuine man of the world, he spoke many languages, he loved telling anecdotes and funny stories. He was very well-informed and erudite, and had wide-ranging knowledge of a whole host of topics.
The lightness of mood and Mediterranean sunshine of the Divertimento show the influence of his time in Rome, but the work already bears the typical traits of Farkas’ music. The five movements are clearly and transparently formed. They are built on brief, logically structured sections, like most of Farkas’ compositions, and the instrumentation bears witness to an outstanding sensitivity to tone colour. The light first movement, Allegro leggiero 1, cast in something akin to traditional sonata form, has a main theme which is passed around all the parts several times; the gracefully bowing second subject conjures up a Rococo mood. The playful and cheery second movement, Allegro giocoso 2, is an outstanding compositional achievement, born of a moment when the composer uses the simplest and most ordinary means to state boldly something that is common knowledge to all. Yet the effect it has is that of novelty, as if nobody had said it before him. A lyrical middle section provides contrast, as happens in the Tempo di Minuetto, too 3. The fourth movement, Intermezzo 4, lasts hardly a minute, and fits into this alternating ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼pattern of fast and slow as if it were nothing but a bridge to the rondo-structured final Allegro 5. Farkas dedicated the piece to Respighi, who suggested holding the premiere in the vast hall of the Augusteo in Rome. For some unknown reason this performance never took place, and the young composer returned to Budapest, where he submitted the Divertimento to the Ferenc Liszt competition, in which it was ranked among the top three works. The prize-winning works were conducted by Ernő Dohnányi on 11 February 1933 in the Műcsarnok (‘Art Hall’), at the opening of an exhibition held in memory of the Minister of Culture, Kuno Klebelsberg. By strange coincidence, Klebelsberg, who had died in 1932, created the Collegium Hungaricum network and scholarship that had enabled Farkas to write the work, and the exhibition commemorating him gave occasion for the premiere.
Respighi influenced Farkas not only in the adoption of a Neoclassical style, but in the rediscovery of
earlier eras, as is evident in the Concertino all’antica, the title of which refers to Respighi’s series of Antiche danze ed arie; a similar composition on this disc is the Lavotta Suite. When a twentieth-century composer of the order of Farkas or even Respighi writes new works in the guise of an old master, it becomes far more than a simple game or stylistic exercise. The work never fits into the style of any particular earlier composer, or even into the style of any one period; only some of its traits and the artistic creed of the creators are reminiscent of the music of several centuries ago. Farkas was particularly fond of donning a mask adorned with archaic elements, but his own individuality always shines through whatever mask he happens to be wearing, and his ‘all’antica’ pieces can never be mistaken for the work of any Baroque, Classical or Romantic composer.
In the form heard here, the Concertino all’antica is a three-movement cello concerto for string orchestra, with the mood conjuring up earlier times. It was originally written for a special Baroque instrument now almost forgotten, the baryton gamba, with harpsichord accompaniment, and entitled All’antica. In 1962 the cellist János Liebner commissioned Ferenc Farkas to write a piece for the instrument, for which Joseph Haydn had written over a hundred works in the 1760s and ’70s. Haydn’s employer, Prince Nicolaus Esterházy, himself played this instrument, which is slightly smaller than a cello; in addition to seven bowed strings, it also had eleven resonating strings running behind the fingerboard, which could be plucked with the thumb. Farkas wrote archaic music suitable for the instrument, and tried to exploit the possibilities afforded by the baryton: for instance, instead of quadruple stops written for the four strings of the cello, he could write chords of up to seven notes. He said:
When János Liebner commissioned me to write a piece for the revived, or reborn, baryton, I began to study the instrument. [...] While composing I noticed that the new piece was becoming an old piece;
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼I had immersed myself in the character of the instrument so completely that in my composition I had conjured up the olden times.
But in order that more people might play and hear the piece, Farkas made three alterations in 1964. He tailored the baryton part, with minimal changes, to the cello, orchestrated the accompaniment and added some new orchestral sections. This concerto version was premiered on 19 January 1966 in Marseilles, again with János Liebner as soloist.
With its rocking rhythms and lyrical melody, the first movement, Pastorale 6, differs from the de rigueur opening movement of a concerto focussing on the soloist. The main protagonist has no virtuoso cadenza either here or in the third movement; indeed, a cadenza would be out of place in this light and intimate mood, and the composer gives no opportunity for one to be improvised. Formally speaking, it resembles a concerto only in the alternation of solo and tutti passages, which the composer effected by adding an orchestral introduction and interlude to the original chamber work. The slow second movement, an Aria con variazioni 7, is more lyrical in character. Its song-like melody is first sounded not by the soloist, but by the principal violist accompanied by pizzicati from the soloist, and the harmonic background is closer to Impressionist music than to the Baroque. If it were not for the reference to the form in the title, it might not be noticed that the movement is a theme and variations, so refined are the means by which the composer has loosened the rigid traditional formal framework. The soloist does not have the main melody of the movement until the third and final variation. The fast closing movement, Giga 8, is full of stylistic elements of the Baroque, with voices answering one another in imitation and various rhythmic games.
While he was crafting the cello-concerto version in 1964, Farkas also wrote another cello concerto, entitled Trittico concertato. The latter work is the opposite of the former in both character and sound: a brilliant virtuoso piece, in a true twentieth-century style. Although it, too, is shot through with Baroque motion and rhythmic figures, its melodies and entire motivic system are built on the supple elements so typical of Farkas, which in each small section uses the entire chromatic scale. The Trittico concertato was also written to commission. In October 1963 the Pablo Casals cello competition was held in Budapest, and Ferenc Farkas was asked to chair the jury. In the international jury, the composer later recalled, I met the excellent Spanish cellist Gaspar Cassadó. He invited me to lunch, and told me that he would like to commission a concerto from me, to be premiered with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra. At first I ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼protested that I didn’t know the wiles and stratagems of extended virtuoso cello technique. He answered that the composer’s job was to write, and the performer’s to figure out how to perform it.
The work was completed the following year, and premiered on 11 September 1965 in the Teatro La Fenice as part of the Venice Biennale. The soloist at the Hungarian premiere in 1967 was Vera Dénes, whom Farkas had already consulted for advice on the cello part while the work was being written.
The first movement, Allegro moderato, is broadly a sonata form, and the third, Allegro vivace, a rondo. The second, slow movement, Passacaglia con Dedica, is unusual. The first half is a Baroque variation, in which the bass theme of eleven notes, repeated throughout, derives from the name of Gaspar Cassadó. Under the notes the composer wrote: ‘G-As-p-A-R C-As-S-A-D-ó’ (‘As’ being A flat), indicating the ‘musical’ letters with a capital (R was interpreted as D as in absolute solmisation, p was replaced by C sharp, and ó by F sharp). The second half of the movement, the ‘dedication’, is linked to the dedicatee’s name only by the starting notes (G, A flat).
The Lavotta Suite is, as mentioned, another piece that draws on older music; it has its genesis in the incidental music Farkas wrote in 1950 for András Dékány’s radio play Kóbor hegedűs (‘The Stray Violinist’), which presented the life of János Lavotta (1764–1820), a famous figure in Hungarian verbunkos music, once used in recruiting soldiers. As he worked, Farkas studied Lavotta’s extant works, both in manuscript and contemporary publications, intending to use them as authentic sources. But because only short excerpts could be inserted in the radio play, in 1951 he made an independent orchestral suite from the compositions he had discovered and arranged. He said of his intentions:
Already in earlier works I tried to popularise the extant notated works of nameless Hungarian composers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with modern art-music arrangements, attempting to create a non-existent ‘Hungarian Baroque’. Continuing in this vein, I discovered the fiddler-composer János Lavotta, whose themes, motifs and fragmentary ideas I considered suitable to use to develop an image of the Hungarian ‘early Biedermeier’. I am not the only composer of our time to be fond of hiding behind masks of the past. In this ‘pasticcio’ there is no irony, no grimace; I have attempted to place the simple but inventive motifs in the type of formal frame Lavotta would have done, if he had mastered the most developed compositional techniques of his time.
The five movements of the Lavotta Suite bear programme-like titles. The first 9 and fourth are verbunkos dances, merely entitled ‘Magyar’ (‘Hungarian Dance’, labelled ‘Ungarisch’ in the orchestral score), the third is a ‘March to Pannonia’6 which may refer to Lavotta’s return from Vienna to Hungary. The second movement, a Menuet, is an ‘alien’ courtly dance, but altered to Hungarian tastes: in spite of its non-Hungarian 3/4 time, it abounds with Hungarian accents and motifs, and the anacrusis typical of the minuet is omitted. The final rondo, ‘Merrymaking in the Tavern’, is based on motifs from Lavotta’s most famous work, a programme suite written to commemorate the nobles’ uprising of 1797.
Allusions to earlier periods also characterise Maschere, though its style is utterly individual and twentieth-century. It was originally written for wind trio (oboe, clarinet and bassoon), because Farkas felt these instruments would best be able to conjure up the rather abstract, ‘masked’ world of the ‘actors’ of the movements. These three instruments also have an important role in the version for chamber orchestra on this disc. The genesis of the work was a meeting of past and present: while he was still a student in Rome, Farkas’ attention was caught by a book in which included illustrations of the Pierrot figures by Gino Severini (1883–1966), and in 1983 Severini’s centenary provided an opportunity for composing:
I wrote my piece Maschere (Masks) in memory of and for the centenary of the Italian Futurist and later Neoclassical painter. Severini was fond of painting the figures Pulcinella and Arlecchino with masks. The movements of Maschere conjure up the traditional figures of the Commedia dell’arte: the pugnacious captain, the disgruntled old Pantalone with his affectations, the flirtatious Colombina, Pulcinella and his poor family, and the crafty Harlequin.
The composition of the March Suite is also linked to a centenary. Written in December 1947 to celebrate the revolution and war that broke out in March 1848, it won a prize in a music competition advertised for the occasion. The political mood of the years after the Second World War did not look favourably on musical experimentation: the closure of the borders and the real and intellectual ‘iron curtain’ sealed Hungary off from new international trends. In the 1940s Farkas was one of the first in Hungary to experiment with a unique application of dodecaphonic music, but even without the changes around him, he would probably have returned to his own former path by the end of the decade. Under Soviet pressure, composition of ‘easily understandable’ music and a constantly optimistic mood was soon made compulsory, but Farkas had already moved, or rather returned, to this path. The liberated cheerfulness of this work is sincere and heartfelt, as apparent from the first hearing. According to the composer’s analysis, Pannonia was originally a province of the Roman empire, occupying part of present-day western Hungary, eastern Austria and the top of the former Yugoslavia.
The first movement (Allegro moderato, ma con slancio; small sonata form) is characterised by the sound of enthusiasm, the second (Elegy; quasi lento, ternary form) is a lament for fallen heroes, the third (Allegro vivace; rondo) is a bustling battle scene, with horn and trumpet calls.