Mihály Mosonyi (1815-1870)
Piano Music for Four Hands
Mihály Mosonyi, known for many years under his original name, Michael Brand, was born in Boldogasszonyfalva, Hungary (now Frauenkirchen, Austria), on 2nd September 1815 and died on 31st October 1870 in Pest. He was the third most important Hungarian composer of the nineteenth century. He did not enjoy an international reputation, like Liszt, or a European reputation, like Erkel, nevertheless he was famous enough in his own country. He studied at the Teachers" Training College in Pozsony (the modern Bratislava, capital of Slovakia) and for a time had private lessons from the pianist, composer and conductor Károly Turányi, while making diligent use of the four volumes of Anton Reicha"s work on the art of composition, as well as of Hummel"s valuable instruction-book for the piano. On the recommendation of Turányi he became music-master to Count Péter Pejacsevich and accompanied the Count to the latter"s castle in the village of Rétfalu, near the town of Eszék (the modern Croatian Osijek).
From 1835 to 1842 Brand lived at Rétfalu, analysing carefully many important examples of Viennese classicism, mainly the work of Beethoven, as well as of the best early German romantic compositions. The results of these researches were his own compositions from that period. In 1842 he left for the Hungarian capital, where he remained until the end of his life, except for short periods spent in the country and abroad. In these new circumstances it was very important for him to be personally acquainted with as many musicians in the city as possible, and to find enough students. For a long time his principal income came from teaching the piano, although he continued to apply himself diligently to composition.
Essentially Brand"s life and activities may be divided into two periods. The first of these lasted unti11858. Until then he retained the name of Michael Brand and composed German romantic music. In 1859 he changed his name to Mihály Mosonyi, after the county of Moson, where he was born, and altered his style, to write Hungarian romantic music. During the first period the best work he wrote was the Piano Concerto in E minor, completed in 1844, but not performed until 1950. His other compositions from this period were, in 1857, an opera with a German libretto, which remained unperformed, four Masses, between 1840 and 1842, the first performed in 1844, seven sacred choral works, between 1843 and 1856, with an Offertory and Gradual conducted by Liszt in the latter year. Between 1844 and 1857 he wrote four secular choral works, in 1853-54 thirteen songs, with one symphony in 1842-44 and a second in 1856, the first conducted by Schindelmeisser in 1844, the second by Ferenc Erkel in 1856. Other compositions include an Overture, completed in 1842 and conducted by Schindelmeisser in 1843, a string sextet, composed in 1844, six string quartets between 1842 and 1845, a Grand Nocturne in 1845 for piano, violin and cello, in 1841 a Ballade for violin and piano, and between 1855and 1857 six works for solo piano, with piano transcriptions and orchestrations of works by foreign composers.
The earliest work of Mosonyi that survives is the Grand Duo à quatre mains in F minor, written in 1837-38. Although it lacks individuality, it is written with considerable care and calls for performers of the highest ability. In style the work lies between Viennese classicism and early Viennese romanticism. The first movement is in sonata-form and begins with an accompanimental figure from the second player. This figure, only one bar in length, changes continually throughout the whole piece and plays an important rôle. The primo player starts the first subject, continually ascending in its unfinished melodic line. The secondo repeats the same subject an octave lower, while the other player adds a transformation of the accompanimental figure. There is an undulating second subject, the exposition ending with an upward skipping third subject, a varied form of which opens the development, starting with a fugato. The recapitulation varies both the third subject and the accompanimental figure. The second movement has a Mozartian theme with five variations in which the character of the theme does not change, instead becoming quicker and more interesting, ornamented with rapid scale passages and recalling the form of the Baroque Chaconne. In the fifth variation the music changes into the tragic. The third movement is again in sonata-form. The first piano starts the first subject, to which the second makes a short answer, continuing a fugue-like exposition with brief motifs recalling the first subject. This leads to the second subject, while a third is left to the primo. The development is based on the first and the closing themes of the exposition in dialogue, one then accompanying the other. All three subjects return in the recapitulation, with a characteristically Romantic key pattern, D flat major - F major - F minor, offering a close connection with the second movement in its change from major to minor.
Mosonyi wrote three other works for piano duet, Az égö szerelem hármas szine (Three Colours of Burning Love), in three movements, in 1864. The first movement, A piros rózsa (The Red Rose) is in ternary form, with a coda, and has two important characteristic rhythmic elements, the choriamb typical of popular Hungarian songs of the nineteenth century and the bokázó (capering), the characteristic mark of the verbunkos or toborzó recruiting-dance of the same period. These patterns appear symmetrically in the outer formal A major sections, while the central section, in A minor, generally avoids these rhythms.
A liliom (The Lily) is a short, cheerful piece in C major, which is in the relationship of a third to the key of the first movement. Seemingly ternary in form, it is rather a type of variation, with a short recurrent motif constantly recurring from both players, finally fading away.
A babér (The Laurel) is again in ternary form, like the first movement, although departing from it in many respects. The key plan is D major - G major - D major, which lifts the music, after the preceding C major tonality , although it is a step back from the key of A used in the first movement. The choriamb rhythm appears here, but not the bokázó.
In common with the preceding work, the Ünnepi zene (Festival Music) is in Mosonyi"s Hungarian manner. It was originally written for orchestra in 1860 and transcribed for piano duet in 1861. The orchestral version was first performed under the direction of Ferenc Erkel on 6th January 1861 and on 17th August 1865 by Liszt. The four-hand piano version was not performed during Mosonyi"s life-time, in spite of the excellence of the transcription. It makes considerable technical and musical demands on performers, couched in an irregular version of sonata-form.
The C minor first subject has the characteristic sorrowful mood of the opening of the recruiting-dance, with its dotted rhythms. The second subject recalls the cheerful lighter mood of the second half of the toborzó dance. A bridge-passage and a motif from the Rákóczi March is followed by an E flat major third subject, marked Andante maestoso and identical with the Szózat (Appeal), one of the Hungarian national anthems, written by Béni Egressy in 1843. The development is based on the second subject, while all important material re-appears in the recapitulation, with the key pattern C minor - B flat major - C major.
Mosonyi"s other important composition for two pianists is his transcription of Liszt"s Missa solemnis. This has its origin in 1856, when Liszt came to Hungary to conduct the first performance of his famous setting of the Mass. This was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between the two composers, an important element of which was the influence exercised by the latter. Liszt expressed his own approval of the transcription, which preserves the spirit, keys, modulations and harmonies of the original. In the six sections of the Mass he stresses the recurrent leading motifs, the first heard in the middle of the Kyrie, to return in the Gloria and in the first part of the Agnus Dei. The second such motif appears as an expression of exultation in the Gloria, re-appearing in the Credo, in the Sanctus and in the Agnus Dei. The third motif is again first heard in the Gloria, re-appearing in the coda of the Sanctus and finally in emphatic augmentation in the Agnus Dei. Mosonyi aptly reflects the orchestral colours in his transcription, which Liszt himself could hardly have bettered.
István Kassai was born in Budapest in 1959 and was admitted to the Bartók Conservatory at the age of ten. In 1972 he was first prize-winner in the Czechoslovakian International Youth Piano Competition. He then went on to study under Pál Kadosa at the Ferenc Liszt Academy and won first prize in the Hungarian Broadcasting Company"s Piano Competition. In 1982 Kassai was granted his diploma by the Academy later going on to win first prize in the Debussy International Piano Competition. Having won a scholarship to study at the European Conservatory of Music in Paris he gained a master diploma with the highest distinction in 1984. Since 1987 he has been one of the pianists of the Cziffra Foundation.
Klára Körmendi, secondo
The Hungarian pianist Klára Körmendi was born in Budapest and studied under Kornél Zempléni at the Bartók Conservatory, later becoming a student of Péter Solymos at the Liszt Academy, where she received her diploma with distinction in 1967. She enjoyed early success in a number of international competitions, before embarking on a career that has taken her to the major musical centres of Europe, with broadcasts in Vienna, Paris and London, as well as Basle, Cologne, Lausanne and Ljubljana. Klára Körmendi has a wide repertoire, and has always shown particular interest in contemporary repertoire, both Hungarian and foreign. Her recordings for Hungaroton include music by Pierre Boulez, Olivier Messiaen, Luciano Berio and Heinz Holliger. For Naxos she has recorded works by Debussy and Ravel and the complete piano music of Erik Satie.