The Kennedy Center


About the Work

Zoltan Kodaly Composer: Zoltan Kodaly
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Zoltán Kodály, eighteen years old, arrived in Budapest in 1900 to study composition and education at the city's university and at Eötvös College. In the Hungarian capital, he met Béla Bartók, a fellow musician and kindred spirit just one year his senior, and the two became inseparable friends. They were drawn together not just by their age and shared profession, but also by a true missionary zeal to research and preserve the disappearing indigenous music and customs of their land, and in 1905, they set out on the first of many expeditions into the countryside to collect folksongs and dances. Though both Kodály and Bartók were much drawn to the fashionable idioms of Strauss, Wagner and Debussy during their early years, they soon abandoned those influences in favor of establishing a distinctive musical style, one that would reflect the unique character of the Hungarian people through its basis in native folksong. In 1906, Kodály completed his doctoral degree (on the stanzaic structure of Hungarian folksong), and arranged a set of twenty Hungarian melodies for solo voice and piano, some of his earliest music to employ traditional Magyar material. Among his first instrumental works to transmute the characteristic idioms and ethos of native folksong and dance into the realm of concert music was the Duo for Violin and Cello (Op. 7) of 1914.

The Duo, spread across three spacious movements that seem to imply some unarticulated epic tale, brings the cello and violin into exact equality, sharing motives, commenting and contesting as the music unfolds. A broad heroic statement from the cello serves as the first movement's main theme. A lyrical complementary melody is presented quietly by the violin above the cello's drone-like pizzicato accompaniment. These two motives are worked out at some length and with considerable ingenuity in the center of the movement before the recapitulation begins with the violin's passionate return of the main theme supported by the cello's sweeping, cross-string arpeggios. The Adagio ranges through episodes of introspective soliloquy, tragic outburst and hard-won reconciliation to create one of Kodály's most expressive slow movements. The finale opens with a leisurely introduction that recalls some of the Duo's earlier thematic material before launching into an increasingly fiery peasant dance to bring the work to a brilliant close.