DUO FOR VIOLIN AND CELLO,
I. Allegro serioso, non troppo
III. Maestoso e largamente, ma non troppo lento; presto
In addition to music, the great Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodály also earned advanced degrees in modern languages and a Ph.D. in philosophy and linguistics. Kodaly’s pioneering work in the study and collection of ethnic music - no one had catalogued and collected them so methodically before - involved visiting remote villages, often with close friend Bela Bartok, and recording folk songs by convincing the locals, none too skeptical of these two intense and nerdy guys, to sing into huge funnels designed for collecting sound on immense wax cylinders. This could not have been easy.
Of course Kodaly also received excellent formal training in Paris where he was, in particular, influenced by the music of Debussy who, in turn, was influenced by Indonesian music and American jazz. The manner in which Kodaly synthesized these disparate influences – the driving and asymmetrical ethic music of Hungary and Bohemia and the Classical and Romantic traditions of Western masters - combined with his virtuosic skill in the craft of composition and his thinking-outside-the-box understanding of the technical limits of instruments makes Kodaly a unique voice in the history of music.
He wrote the Duo in 1914 at the start of World War I and it is a case study in the fusion of classical forms with folk melodies and rhythm. Listen to how the players seem to be speaking to each other; whereas Italian and French music is concerned with the concept of lyricism - singing melodies – Kodaly seems to be more interested in a dialogue. I don’t think it is a great stretch to imagine this may have had something to do with his background in language and linguistics. Either way, you’ll hear an ongoing conversation - and sometimes not necessarily the most friendly one, either. This is apparent right from the start - the cello enters and the violin dances around it, trying to get a word in edgewise. Then the violin gets a chance with the same melody but in a completely different tone: back and forth the themes go punctuated by a rare unison of agreement. The second movement begins with a prayer which, traveling through a period of intense agitation, ends as a shadow of itself (played with distant harmonics in the cello). The violin gets another chance in the last movement, starting with an extended soliloquy. The cello joins eventually and, after circling one another the two explode in a riot of sound becoming faster and faster until the music cannot sustain itself any longer.
Program notes by David Yang