Saturday, 16 February 2019

Brahms: Hungarian Dances

The Kingdom of Early Music is like a city.

… the city where as many as 60 silver domes are towering, the statues of gods are cast in bronze, the streets are paved with tin, the theatre is built out of crystal, and a golden rooster crows on a turret. You arrive late in the year, in a month when the days are getting shorter, you enter through the high gate made of white stones, a woman is dusting a rug in a window, you can hear somebody screaming “Ah” on a balcony, and you realise you were wrong to think that you lived through a night like this and you were happy …
‘Cause you’re happy in this moment of your life.

Here comes the city a camel-driver recalls like this:

… I arrived one morning at a young age, loads of folks were rushing down the streets toward the market, women with beautiful teeth looked into your eyes straight, three soldiers were playing the clarinet on a scaffold, cartwheels were rolling all around, and colour molinos were swaying in the air. I had known deserts and caravan routes before …

Myself is not a sort of traveller, I may enjoy the cool of the hanging gardens and I step through the white gate every now and then, I browse among my records, there’re dust-covered places I haven’t touched for donkey’s years, then I pick one of the records, I know not why, the CD player reads it obediently, I am fond of this player, however, it’s just a machine, it seems completely indifferent which of the discs I offer to it, yet, I await what’s going to happen with some odd excitement.

It’s an age-old recording made by Hungaroton (a then Hungarian music publishing company). It is so old that it was made in the era when Hungaroton made an excellent start with the novel media form little known the time, which our unique mother tongue preserved in a weird duplicate form: CD lemez (CD record).

Johannes Brahms. 
The ardent opponent of Romanticism lived in the age of Romanticism and openly turned against the Liszt-Wagner axis, yet, looked into it from our point of view he consummated Romanticism. He was the one who grew up amongst brothels and preserved his knowledge of these call-houses in his entire life. 
He was received by the much older superstar, Liszt with a warm heart as long as the young Brahms fell asleep listening to the dead boring H-moll sonata of the great Maestro … Yet, the main issue was something else. Liszt insisted on connecting him in the circle of the New Romanticists but Brahms remained with Bach & Beethoven; it was impossible to tip him out of his preference.

At a young age he met Ede Reményi Hungarian violinist who was the adjutant and violinist of Artúr Görgei (military leader of the Revolutionary Army during the War of Independence 1848-49), due to which he had to run away following the war of independence, and he could return to Hungary at an old age only with an amnesty in 1860, world-famous.

A legendary concert tour was borne out of this friendship, Brahms was the accompaniment on the piano; then this personal relationship broke up, yet, the Hungarian influence survived. Brahms was a celebrated artist of the contemporary Hungarian music life. Hungarian melodies turn up in several of his works, the volumes of “Magyar Táncok” (Hungarian Dances) were released between 1869 and 1880; his name became known in that period. Moreover, owing to the fact that his piano pieces were originally for four hands or settings they were played all over the civic homes.

Hungarian Dances
It’s pretty difficult to determine what kind of music it is. It soon turns out what it is not.

It’s far from folk music. Neither is folk music harmonised onto big orchestras. It’s not insertion of folk songs like many pieces of Kodály or Bartók later, which is far from my point of resonance. And it’s not a classical German Brahms piece flavoured with a pinch of Gypsy music.
It’s something Brahms ab ovo published as a setting, yet, it’s self-evident, so unique that it casts off all attempts of categorisation.

The performance is premium deluxe.

Is it the adaptation of a the re-arrangement?
It doesn’t count.
No aged feelings.
It’s stiff, fast-spaced, sparkling, and, where needed, it’s finely elated. It’s far from being neither tempered nor diffluent. It bears some kind of straightforwardness the same as in the best Early Music records in the 2000s. However, the music texture is different; it’s grandiloquent at places and at other places it resembles the marching of military bands and the drum major to the required extent.

Romantic-violin? It is, indeed. The members of the ensemble breathe together, the violin section is marvellous. And there’s the cimbalom and gypsy blood and czardas with absolute hearing and astonishing melodiousness. For we shouldn’t beat about the bush: Brahms was a lover of gypsy songs; his pieces were never genuine virgin Hungarian motifs stolen from the lips of the people. Hungarian woollen ornaments on a German outfit? I don’t mind.
This is honest and true music.

The sound quality is gorgeous. This standard, however, never again returned at Hungaroton.

I go back to the cool garden a couple of hours later. No, I’m not going to listen to Brahms’ symphonies or the German Requiem. Neither will I his piano pieces.

I keep on respecting the oeuvre of Budapest Festival Orchestra conducted by Iván Fischer from a distance, they make important things for sure. But not for me.

I am watching the fountains, the charming ladies and the golden rooster. And I think that I have never believed that I, as a fan of Early Music, will ever read a study written by István Lakatos from Kolozsvár , who was a good distant friend of the family, an actor of numerous old stories, who started his article “Hungarian elements in Brahms’ music” (1935) that “it was merely 37 years ago when the Maestro died”…  

Well, it was a pretty long time ago, my dad was not even born then.
Yet, I enjoyed each word of the article.

Highly recommended.

Texts came from 'Láthatatlan városok' by Italo Calvino

Thank you for the pictures: