Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

Kodály's Works for Piano: Comments on Technical Features and Historical Contexts

Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

Kodály's Works for Piano: Comments on Technical Features and Historical Contexts

Article excerpt

1.Kodály and Musical Modernism

Anna Dalos points in an excellent booklet text to a recording of Kodály's piano works to the difference between Kodály's view on music before and after 1923.1 She quotes Kodály's 1944 declaration "My parents were poor..in which Kodály espouses a kind of music education intimately linked to national education, resting on singing, and opposing bourgeois music culture, e.g. piano music. This rejection of piano and criticism of the bourgeois culture of instrumental music as idle entertainment shorn of deeper aim or meaning applies equally to Kodály's own past as a composer: it is self-criticism of a self-destructive kind. When in 1944 Kodály looked back on his early years, on the difference in his way of composing before and after 1923 and between vocal music and instrumental music, he saw an unbridgeable gap between two worlds of music, one for real people, one for mere amusement of abstract audiences.

Dalos's concise text restores the early piano pieces to their rights, defending them against Kodály's self-criticism. She points out how the piano pieces op. 3 and the op. 11 work and what fascination both of them exert on audiences, without being frivolous or shallow in any sense. She puts Kodály's piano music in a manifold context, to which contributions are made likewise by Bartók (his Fourteen Bagatelles, op. 6) and by French music, Debussy in particular, and by folk music and Western art music in general.

Taking Dalos's commentary as a point of departure, this paper argues there was a change in Kodály's view of music, his musical poetics, long before 1923, materialized in the difference between the op. 3 and op. 11 collections. Yes, both are piano music, but not instrumental in the same sense. In op. 11 Kodály wants the piano to sing, to address and move listeners directly, without mediation. To an extent he renounces the principle of indirect expression at the core of self-contained instrumental composition since the days of Hans Georg Nägeli and Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann.2 While the gap described by Kodály in 1944 concerns the difference between real singing and real instrumental performance, that between op. 11 and op. 3 is one of concepts, though one with real compositional consequences.

Such questioning of the fundamentals of autonomous instrumental music is typical of composers in the period between 1890 and 1914, dubbed "Musical Modernism" (Musikalische Moderne) by the late Carl Dahlhaus.3 Composers and writers on music of that time deal with isolated elements and aspects of the classical paradigm, straining them to the utmost at the expense of balance and integration into a whole. In doing so they expose themselves and their work to serious difficulties, raising the question "When is music?".4

Kodály in op. 11 jeopardizes principles of instrumental composition that he had successfully incorporated into his op. 3. With the apparent vocal tendency in op. 11, he expresses doubts as to whether it is possible to find a balance or a mediation between "inflection" (Tonfall) and "logic"5 in self-contained instrumental music. This places him, in terms of his analytical and reflective way of composing, among all those seen by their contemporaries as exponents of Musical Modernism - from Strauss and Sibelius to Fauré, Reger, Schoenberg, and Scriabin.

A second topic addressed by Anna Dalos is treated here in more detail: Kodály's leaning toward French music, which culminated around 1907, but does not always work along the same lines. There are works that take up the challenge inherent in Debussy's poetics, and others that merely tend to an impressionistic style. Which reception prevails is connected and varies with Kodály's stand toward Liszt. Some pieces follow a Lisztian model while concurrently intimating French music. This dual strategy links with the tradition of non-discursive music. The second type, alluding merely to impressionistic style, does not connect with Liszt. …

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