A recital inspired by the novel Hungarian Dances by Jessica Duchen
“The bow gives the fiddle its voice, the fingers of the left hand shape the words of its song... It’s not only the notes, but the space, the motion between them, that tunnels into the subconscious and stabs through the heart.” (Hungarian Dances)
I have known Jessica’s passion for the violin for a long time and, reading Hungarian Dances, I could sense her affinity for the instrument and those who play it. This programme is directly inspired by Jessica’s novel. Some of the works are mentioned in it, like the Bartók Duos and Monti’s Csárdás; others refer to a character in the book, for instance, Kreisler has a cameo appearance. But my intention is not to present only the ‘music of the book’, but to suggest a voyage through its atmosphere of Hungarian-inspired violin music and the emotions it generates.
Marc Duplessis and his Suite Dans l’ombre des forêts are of course fictitious, but that title is a quote from a letter from Debussy to his friend the violinist Arthur Hartmann, describing the playing of Radisz, a Hungarian Gypsy fiddler who “loves music better then most of us”. Therefore Debussy and Hartmann deserve inclusion here as “honorary” Hungarians. And Ravel’s use of the luthéal as an accompaniment for Tzigane, with all its different resources and colours, inspired our version of Hubay’s Hejre Kati, employing contrasting sounds through various episodes.
Last but not least, I would like to thank Tom Eisner, Jessica’s husband, for playing the Bartók duos with me; Hebe Mensinga and Szymon Marciniak; and my friend Claire Désert who always plays even the simplest ‘oom-pa’ with as much care and love as her most challenging piano concertos. I owe this recording to her.
Philippe Graffin, September 2008
When I asked Philippe Graffin, a treasured friend and colleague, to check the manuscript of Hungarian Dances for violinish errors, I little dreamed he’d respond by making this recording: a CD inspired by the novel.
Yet the novel was partly inspired by a CD – Philippe and Claire’s beautiful recital In the Shade of Forests, evoking the spirit of the archetypal wandering Gypsy violinist. This new recital-of-the-book brings together the mesmerising intensity of Gypsy violin playing with classical composers’ response to it. The give-and-take between them, and between music and fiction, makes this project extremely close to my heart.
The novel concerns a young Anglo-Hungarian violinist, Karina, and her grandmother, Mimi, born into a dynasty of Gypsy musicians in 1915. Karina has grown up knowing nothing of her family’s concealed traumas. Uncovering these, she begins to grow into a new identity of her own. Many of these pieces appear in the novel; all reflect its world; and Debussy and Ravel’s fascination with Hungarian Gypsy music inspired the figure of Mimi’s composer lover, Marc Duplessis. Though this CD complements the book, we hope you will enjoy it equally as a celebration of much more: the violin, its ‘golden age’ and the creative exchange that unites us across our different mediums and across the centuries.
Last but not least, the ‘luthéal’, which Ravel invented to accompany Tzigane, provides the piano with stops allowing it to imitate the Hungarian cimbalom. Claire performs on a contemporary copy of Ravel’s luthéal.
ERNÖ DOHNANYI (1877-1960): Andante Rubato alla Zingaresca, from Ruralia Hungarica Op.32C
Dohnányi studied at the Budapest Academy of Music, earned the approbation of Brahms, and as conductor and pianist became one of Bartók’s chief advocates. József Joachim invited him to teach at the Berlin Hochschule; he subsequently became director of the Academy in Budapest, but resigned in protest at anti-Jewish legislation in 1941, later emigrating to America.
In 1923-24 he composed Ruralia Hungarica, pieces in romantic style based on Gypsy melodies: the ‘Andante Rubato alla Zingaresca’, with its cimbalom-like tremolando accompaniment, is the best loved. This is the model for Marc Duplessis’s lost concerto.
FRITZ KREISLER (1875-1962): Marche miniature viennoise
Fritz Kreisler’s early studies under Joseph Hellmesberger in his native Vienna imbued this legendary violinist and composer of perfectly-turned miniatures with an innate sense of the subtle lilt of the Viennese tradition. An olde-world magic permeates Kreisler’s music – which he often disguised by attributing his pieces to other composers – and it was ideally matched by his performing style. There’s a hint of Hungarian paprika about this charming march. But, like so many of his contemporaries, Jewish and otherwise, Kreisler was forced to flee Europe during the Second World War and settled in New York. (There, we might imagine, he would have met Mimi at a concert…)
VITTORIO MONTI (1868-1922): Csárdás
This perennial favourite by an Italian composer typifies the romanticisation of Gypsy music by classical musicians of all countries. Written around 1904, it follows the traditional csárdás pattern: a slow opening with quasi-improvisatory arabesques, followed by a fast section that whips up excitement to fever pitch. Almost everyone plays Monti’s Csárdás at some point in Hungarian Dances!
JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897) arr. J. Joachim: Hungarian Dances nos.2 in D minor, 7 in A major; 6 in B flat major; 9 in E minor
Two of Brahms’s early influences were Hungarian violinists: Eduard Reményi, whom he accompanied on tour aged 19, and József Joachim, who became a close friend. The 21 Hungarian Dances are based on melodies that Brahms heard played by Reményi and by Gypsy bands – his annexation of them led to an accusation of plagiarism! Joachim transformed the dances into violin showstoppers.
No.2 is a stirring piece based on Emma csárdás by Mor Windt; no. 7, a good-natured and whimsical Allegretto, with a melody Reményi played to Brahms; no.6, a soulful number with plentiful rubato; and the vigorous, charming no. 9 is apparently based on a csárdás by one János Travnik.
The Brahms dances form an ongoing motif in both CD and novel.
FRANZ VON VECSEY (1893-1935): Valse triste
Franz von Vecsey studied with Jenö Hubay and became a famous child prodigy, performing at Carnegie Hall aged 11; the New York Times spoke of ‘the power of his tone, its clearness and sweetness’. Later he toured with Bartók and was the dedicatee of Sibelius’s Violin Concerto. His link with Sibelius extends to the title of this touching miniature.
FRANZ LISZT (1811-1886) trs. N. MILSTEIN: Mephisto Waltz No.1, S514/R181, for violin solo;
LISZT: Romance oubliée S132/R467, for violin and piano
Liszt, the Hungarian arch-romantic and superstar pianist, wrote his Mephisto Waltz No.1 in 1859-62, inspired by a scene from Goethe’s Faust. “There is a wedding feast in progress in the village inn …Mephistopheles snatches the fiddle from the hands of a lethargic fiddler and draws from it indescribably seductive and intoxicating strains…”
The Russian violinist Nathan Milstein transcribed this demoniac piece for solo violin thanks to the influence of his duo partner Vladimir Horowitz. Milstein himself declared this the most technically challenging piece he had ever attempted.
The Romance Oubliée is one of Liszt’s few original works for violin and piano, published in 1881, though an early version dates from 1848. With its declamatory, plaintive qualities, it is as nostalgic as the title suggests.
JENÖ HUBAY (1858-1937): Hejre Kati, from Scènes de la csárda, Op.32 No.4
Born in Pest, Hubay studied with Joachim and was the director of the Budapest Academy of Music 1919-1934, founding a hugely influential violin school. He wrote his first set of Scènes de la Csárda in 1885, building on the romanticisation of Gypsy music. Hejre Kati (“Hello, Katie”) is a typical csárdás with contrasting slow and fast sections; its melody apparently dates back to János Bihari (1764-c1824), the first famous Hungarian Gypsy violinist and father of a dynasty whose present-day star is Roby Lakatos.
BELA BARTÓK (1881-1945): Romanian Dances Sz.56, BB68
Bartók collected some 3,400 folk melodies during his ethnomusicological explorations, inspired by a humanitarian ideal – “the brotherhood of peoples, brotherhood in spite of all wars and conflicts”. At odds with the Hungarian right wing, he moved to America in 1940. He wrote the Romanian Dances in 1913, drawing on melodies he heard from Gypsy musicians in Máramaros, Transylvania. After an earthy ‘stick dance’ comes a graceful round dance or ‘Braul’; the third features a drone-like accompaniment; the fourth in slow 3/4 time is deeply haunting. Next there’s a Romanian polka and a pair of energetic fast dances to close.
In Hungarian Dances, Bartók himself plays the Romanian Dances with Mimi in New York in 1940. Pure fantasy, but with a resonance...
IOAN SCARLATESCU (1872-1922): Bagatelle
The Trianon Treaty of 1920 redrew Hungary’s borders, reducing the country by almost two-thirds. Though the Hungarian and Romanian Gypsy styles have evolved differently, they would originally have had considerable common ground. Ioan Scarlatescu’s enchanting Bagatelle is a lilting dance from pre-Trianon times featuring a typically modal Romanian melody over an accompaniment glittering in evocation of the cimbalom.
CLAUDE DEBUSSY (1862-1918) trs Leon Rocques: La plus que lente
La plus que lente is Debussy’s only café waltz, its sensuous rubato creating a decadent atmosphere. The flamboyant Hungarian-American violinist Arthur Hartmann and Debussy used to take afternoon tea in Paris’s New Carlton Hotel where a Gypsy band performed; Debussy, enchanted by ‘these gentlemen in red jackets’, took an entire summer to write this popular-style piece in response; its opening notes much resemble those of Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No.7. He created a version of this piece featuring the cimbalom and apparently gave the manuscript to Léoni, the band’s leader.
JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897): Hymne zur Verherrlichung des grossen Joachim (Hymn for the Glorification of the Great Joachim)
Brahms, aged 20, felt indebted to the celebrated Joachim for much material and artistic help, including introductory letters to Liszt and Schumann; the Hymne was his gift to his friend and mentor on his 22nd birthday in 1853 and was played to welcome him at a railway station, with Brahms himself as second violin. This humorous waltz features a spoken skit on Joachim’s already professorial persona and a little Gypsy-style cadenza in tribute to his Hungarian origins.
BELA BARTÓK (1881-1945): Duos for two violins, from Sz.98, BB104
No 26: Teasing Song
No.32: Song from Máramaros
No.42: Arabian Song
Bartók’s 44 Duos for Two Violins date from 1931; designed for teaching, all are based on folk music. From this gloriously varied collection, Philippe and Tom have selected five of the most characterful pieces. In ‘Teasing Song’ the violins chase each other vigorously. ‘Sorrow’ aches over an hypnotic accompanying figure. ‘Song from Máramaros’ is compulsively rhythmical [NB Ruthenian Kolomeika has been removed] and ‘Arabian Song’ features typical Middle-Eastern augmented seconds; finally, a playful ‘Pizzicato’ is self-explanatory.
The Duos help to bring Karina together with her lover, fellow violinist Rohan…
ARTHUR HARTMANN (1881-1956): L’amour, valse bluette
Hartmann, the son of Hungarian émigrés to the US, in Paris became a close friend of Debussy, transcribing some of his songs and piano pieces for violin. This waltz for muted violin, full of nostalgia for bygone times and lost loves – here receiving its world premiere recording – is among his most beautiful compositions and encapsulates the cross-currents between the world of French music and that of the Hungarian Gypsy tradition.
Hungarian Dances is published in the UK and Commonwealth by Hodder & Stoughton; translations include Dutch (De Kern), Hungarian (Kossuth) and Romanian (Rao)