Zoltán Kodály Composer
Háry János, suite from the operaPerformances: 23
Musicology:The premiere of Zoltán Kodály's five-scene opera—actually, Singspiel—Háry János, Op.15 at the Budapest Royal Opera on October 16, 1926 was an unqualified success (Kodály still felt it necessary to continue work on the opera, however: a final version didn't appear until 1927), and Kodály wasted little time before drawing up a concert suite of its most colorful music. This Háry János Suite, Op.35a has since proven even more popular than its opera brother (father?), and is easily the composer's best-known, and quite possibly also his best, creation.
Háry János, suite from the operaYear: 1926-27
Genre: Suite / Partita
Pr. Instrument: Orchestra
- 1.Prelude: The Fairy Tale Begins
- 2.Viennese Musical Clock
- 4.Battle and Defeat of Napoleon
- 6.Entrance of the Emperor and His Court
The suite has six musical numbers, lasting about twenty minutes altogether, and requires a fairly standard large orchestra. (Kodály also made an arrangement of it for brass band, and the famous Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti fashioned a version for violin and piano.) No.1, "Prelude: A Fairy Tale Begins", opens with a dramatic flourish—vehement pizzicati from the strings, some trills in the winds, and a chromatic whirl upwards—and then a broad, serious idea emerges from the low strings and is taken up in turn by each of the upper string sections. Mid-way through, a Daphnis and Chloe-like curtain of woodwind figures (remember the sunrise music in Ravel's famous 1911 ballet?) builds up to a mighty but suddenly cut-off climax. A quiet, five-note epilogue from the oboe, with brass support, offers an F major resolution to the uncertain C pedal at the start of the piece.
No.2, "Viennese Musical Clock", is probably the most famous of the pieces, and is also the shortest. Its happy, bouncing bells and percussion make it all but irresistible.
"Song" is the title of the third piece. An extended, plaintive viola solo—completely unaccompanied—is heard at the opening, and then the clarinet takes over as a cushion of soft, gorgeously sliding harmonies is built up. Kodaly's generally underappreciated lyric skills are entirely plain here. A quicker idea, with a throbbing accompaniment in the violins and colorful employment of a dulcimer, takes us the rest of the way.
No.4, "The Battle and Defeat of Napoleon" is first-rate action music that leads, without break, straight into the following number, "Intermezzo". The dulcimer returns in this fifth piece, helping the orchestra sweep grandly along through a series of episodes that take a shape quite similar to that of a Dvorak Slavonic Dance. Kodály deploys his troops with a smile here, often allowing one instrument to finish the thought of another instrument or group of instruments in a completely unexpected manner (as the flute does just before the reprise of the opening music two-thirds of the way through).
No.6, "Entrance of the Emperor and His Court" is all pomp and splendor, driven along by the snare drum to a noisy conclusion.
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