Mihály Mosonyi (1815-1870)
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.
In the second period of his creative life, after his change of name and style, Mosonyi wrote two operas with Hungarian libretti, the first, in 1861, Szép Ilonka (Pretty Helen), conducted in the year of its completion by Ferenc Erkel, and the following year Álmos, first performed only in 1934. Other works from this period include a Massin 1866, several choral works, three cantatas between 1859 and 1870, twelve songs in the decade from 1860, four orchestral compositions, of which the last, Festival Music, was first conducted by Erkel in 1861 and again by Liszt in 1865. 1861 also brought the Románc for violin and piano, a piano transcription of Festival Music, a piano duet Az égö szerelern hármas szine (Three Colours of Burning Love), thirty-two works for solo piano and many transcriptions and orchestrations, among them a piano-duet version of Liszt"s Missa solemnis in 1860 and four years later a similar transcription of the nine symphonies of Beethoven.
The present recording includes works by Mosonyi and by his famous friend and compatriot Ferenc (Franz) Liszt, the chosen compositions by the latter closely connected with Mosonyi personally and musically. The six works by Mosonyi were written between 1855 and 1860, while the compositions by Liszt come from a longer period, between 1867 and 1885. This means that the former show a greater degree of homogeneity.
Liszt"s Hungarian Historical Portraits are important in the final period of his creative life. The seven pieces are musical portraits of great Hungarian statesmen, diplomats, poets and musicians of the time. Liszt composed the pieces in pairs, two politicians, István Széchenyi and Ferenc Deák, two diplomats, Lászlo Teleki and József Eötvös, two poets, Mihály Vörösmarty and Sándor Petöfi, and finally Mihály Mosonyi, whose partner is Liszt himself. Some of these, notably the portraits of Teleki, Eötvös and Mosonyi, have a close connection with other works included in this recording.
Mosonyi"s Drey Klavierstücke (Three Piano Pieces) were possibly written as a wedding-present in 1855 for Helene Mirosavlevits, perhaps a student of his. The second and third of these suggest part of the wedding ceremony. The first, Prayer after Danger Endured, is built from two different musical elements and their variations. The other two pieces, Making the Bridal Garland and The Bride"s Farewell to the House of Her Parents have an air of retrospection.
Zwey Perlen (Two Pearls), written in 1856 were inspired by Clara Schumann. During the second half of February 1856 she gave three recitals at the Hotel Europa in Pest, with compositions of Chopin, Mendelssohn and Schumann. After her last recital Brand-Mosonyi presented her with a large bouquet, within it a smaller laurel wreath dedicated to the genius and musical spirit of Robert Schumann. Clara Schumann at first wanted to refuse the presentation, but was finally persuaded to do so by the enthusiastic audience, with tears in her eyes. Her husband was at the time very near to his death in the asylum at Endenich. Mosonyi was inspired by that evening to write his Two Pearls, the first representing the flowers and the second the tears of Clara Schumann. These two pieces can be seen as a reflection of the love-story of the Schumanns, confession of love and tragic parting, the first like a solo aria, followed by a duet. In the second Mosonyi perhaps remembered also his own wife.
The improvisatory fantasy of Pusztai élet (Puzsta Life) was written in 1857, the first of Mosonyi"s works to use only Hungarian elements. As the composition was first published as part of a cultural collection dedicated to Queen Elisabeth, it includes fragments of the official Habsburg anthem, Gott erhalte.
Hódolat Kazinczy Ferenc szellemének (Homage to the Spirit of Ferenc Kazinczy), written in 1859, pays tribute to the distinguished Hungarian writer of that name (1759-1831), an important figure in the nationalist movement to purify the language. Mosonyi wrote his Homage for the centenary of the birth of Kazinczy, whose personality and life are reflected in the music, a Hungarian Lamento e Trionfo for a man once a political prisoner of the Habsburgs. Mosonyi also orchestrated the work, using the Hungarian cimbalom for the first time in a symphony orchestra. The orchestral version includes two cadenzas for the instrument. The middle section refers to the recruiting-dance style of Liszt"s symphonic poem Hungaria.
Magyar zeneköltemeny (Hungarian Musical Poem), composed in 1860, is dedicated to the wife of József Eötvös (1813-1871), writer and statesman, and at one time Secretary for Culture. The notation of the piece has a special characteristic feature, for here Mosonyi indicates the changes of tempo graphically in a way that is never found again until the twentieth century. His aim was to assist non-Hungarian performers in their understanding of the music. The attempt to show the exact tempo anticipates modern techniques and suggests clearly constant changes of character and tension throughout the work.
Gyász hangok Széchenyi István halálára (Funeral Music for István Széchenyi), written in 1860, honours the Hungarian statesman Count Széchenyi (1791-1860), who dedicated his life to establishing a strong economy in an independent Hungary. Mosonyi"s composition opens with a bitter cry, a full diminished chord, followed by a procession towards the key of sorrow and death, C minor. A unison bass melody leads to a basso ostinato that will serve as one of the basic elements in Liszt"s Teleki in the Hungarian Historical Portraits. Lászlo Teleki was a politician of importance in the Hungarian War of Independence in 1848-1849 and like Széchenyi finally took his own life. Both Mosonyi and Liszt use Baroque-type rhythmic variations of the bell-like ostinato. After a short middle section in B major with elements of the verbunkos (recruiting-dance), the funeral procession continues with the accompaniment of church bells. The recapitulation starts with the bitter cry of the opening, leading to the chord of C minor. The melody that follows, originally given to the bass, is accompanied by poignant chords. The life of the great man is remembered, as by a choir of angels, in a gentle G major, again with verbunkos elements. The whole composition ends in a plagal cadence, expressing the pain of the nation at the loss of a great son.
These six compositions of Mosonyi are followed by music written by Liszt under the inspiration of Mosonyi. Trauerspiel und Trauermarsch (Funeral Prelude and Funeral March), composed in 1885, form a pair of movements written after the completion of Teleki in the Hungarian Historical Portraits. The second of these, the Funeral March, is a slight variation of the original piece for Teleki and both are based on a continuing basso ostinato. That of the Prelude is in the form of a special seven-note scale, using semitones and whole tones but bearing no resemblance to conventional scales of contemporary romantic or earlier styles. Above this bass melody chords increase in texture to create a great crescendo, followed by the disappearance of the ostinato. The ostinato of the March resembles church bells, as in the Funeral Music for Széchenyi by Mosonyi. The portrait of Teleki is extended by the addition of a short introduction, a link, as it were with the Prelude The main melancholy theme is delayed by a short interlude and the final angelic chorus is extended. Tension is increased in the first part of the March through rhythmic variation, with new voices added in a thickening of texture, and through the shortening of repeated sequential formal elements. At the return of the ostinato the basic character of the piece changes and instead of church bells we hear the relentless tread of Death. Through a variation of the ostinato melody the music returns to the first note, C sharp, of the Prelude.
Liszt wrote his Fantaisie sur I"opera hongrojse ¡§Szép Ilonka¡¨ de Mosonyi (Fantasy on Mosonyi"s Hungarian Opera Szép Ilonka) in 1867. The relationship between the two composers was important, dating from 1856, and is fu1ly expressed in their music and their letters. The relationship began when Liszt asked Mosonyi to compose two interludes, a Gradual and Offertory, for the Missa solemnis. In Pest Liszt conducted the whole Mass. Four years later Mosonyi wrote a very fine piano duet transcription of the Mass. Whenever Liszt conducted in the Hungarian capital, as he did in 1856, 1858, 1865 and 1870, Mosonyi joined the orchestra as a double-bass player. In return Liszt invited him to Weimar in 1857 and composed a fantasy on Mosonyi"s opera Szép Ilonka (Pretty Helen).
On Mosonyi"s death in 1870 Liszt wrote a memorial piano composition, Mosonyj gyászmenete (Mosonyi"s Funeral Procession). Some years later this served as the final movement of the Hungarian Historical Portraits, under the title Michael Mosonyi. The only difference is to be found in the short chorale-like coda. In the Portraits Liszt repeated a few elements to create a stronger conclusion to the whole set. The starting material is again the sound of church bells, the sound of funeral bells. Here many of the later characteristics of Liszt"s music are apparent. In formal structures he liked to use sequentially repeated variations of a basic element. His famous Hungarian minor scale, a minor scale with two augmented intervals, can be heard clearly, as the procession makes its way to the church. Mosonyi is sadly remembered in four formal sections. The soft but bitter sound evoked by the bells expresses silent lamentation, impressionistic elements provide a portrait of the man and finally, after a great outburst of sorrow, Liszt, through a chorale, reaches Heaven again, silently accepting the will of God with hope in love and faith.
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.