Welcome to Hyperion Records, an independent British classical label devoted to presenting high-quality recordings of music of all styles and from all periods from the twelfth century to the twenty-first.
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For Liszt or Brahms, ‘Hungarian’ music wasn’t the songs and dances of the peasantry, but the cosmopolitan music that had been developed by gypsy violinists and entertainers: the pseudo-folk verbunkos style, which amalgamated features from various traditions (nineteenth-century courtship and recruiting dances, for instance), its characteristic measure being the fiery or sentimental csárdás. Bartók and Kodály, as professional ethnomusicologists, uncovered the older, more authentic Hungarian folk music by going into the countryside with a phonograph and recording the actual melodies people sang and danced to. It was a discovery of enormous significance—the recovery of a national heritage, a national identity, just when Hungary was seeking liberty from the dying Austrian Empire.
In 1906, the year they published their first joint collection of Hungarian folksongs, Kodály composed his graduation piece from the Budapest Academy of Music: the orchestral poem Summer Evening, already infused with the modal melodies, the florid arabesques and characteristic rhythms of Hungarian folk music. This lush, delicately evocative nature-impression is a symphonic poem comparable to early orchestral works of Dohnányi or the more contemplative movements of Bartók’s contemporary orchestral suites. But rather than pursuing orchestral music after Summer Evening Kodály—after a decisive encounter with the music of Debussy and appointment as professor of composition at the Budapest Royal Academy—took an entirely different path, with an astonishing succession of chamber works for string instruments which focused his creative energies for over a decade. Through them he became a mature artist. All are conceived on a heroic scale; all push the techniques of their chosen instruments to the limit. In abstract forms—quartet, sonata, duo—they show a unique and original fusion of classical formal principles with the new harmonic and melodic resources Kodály and Bartók had assimilated on their folksong-collecting expeditions.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2010