Laszlo Lajtha (1892 -1963)
Orchestral Works Vol. 5
Symphony No.4 ?The Spring?, Op. 52 (1951)
Suite II, Op. 38 (1943)
Symphony No.3, Op. 45 (1948)
If there existed a top-list of Lajtha works, the Fourth Symphony would certainly be somewhere in the vanguard, as it captivates the listener"s heart at the first hearing. Although the time of composition, the early 1950s was one of the darkest periods in Hungarian history and Lajtha himself, deprived of any leading position and his passport, was neglected, insecure and weighed down under anxieties, this work is full of joi de vivre, bliss, wit, charm. Here, art and music offered an escape for the composer from unfortunate reality.
Like most Lajtha symphonies, Symphony No.4 also has three movements, two fast ones, Allegro molto and Vivace, flanking an Allegretto middle movement which, despite its brooding, pensive mood, has a subtle dance-like pulse. The highly inventive musical material contains many Hungarian or quasi- Hungarian tunes, the orchestration is airy and transparent, another proof of Lajtha"s exceptional skills at instrumentation resting on the noblest European traditions. Lajtha is most frequently epitomized as the combiner of Hungarian folk-music and European, first of all Latinate, art music at the highest level. This statement, of course, fails to characterize many of his works but holds true of the Fourth Symphony. The finest example to prove this is the closing lyrical section of the first movement with the violin solo. The subtitle Spring obviously best fits the last movement. The last movement is an uninterrupted, sweeping round-dance brimming with the joy of life in typica16/8 metre. What is more, Lajtha built a sort of stretta or graded acceleration into the movement, so towards the end a climactic dance scene with all the reeling and spinning is evoked. It is a peculiarity of construction that the opening and closing movements are also thematically related.
It is illuminating to know that the Communist government, guided by Soviet ideas, received the masterfully written composition, scintillating with wit, most unfavourably. Composer Ferenc Szabo declared at the end of the First Hungarian Music Week in 1951 of Lajtha"s works: ?One of the chamber music programmes of the Music Week also included the fresh and lively seventh string Quartet with a Hungarian tone, which could be welcomed as a decisive turn in the oeuvre of Lajtha towards Hungarian folk-music and realism, as a serious step towards the denunciation of West European cosmopolitanism and formalism. -His Fourth symphony, however, seems to continue without scruples the undesirable form of composition in an extremely subjective spirit, which it was hoped had been completely banished from Lajtha"s valuable and significant creative art.?
The antithesis to the Spring symphony is declaration of life and happiness is the seventh symphony, desperate in tone, originally subtitled Autumn, commemorating the 1956 revolution. It was composed in 1957.
Like so many other Lajtha compositions, the Fourth symphony was also first performed by the noted pupil of the composer Janos Ferencsik on 15th October 1951 in Budapest, with the Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra. It was soon heard in Paris, Frankfurt and Hamburg. It is among the few Lajtha compositions which were also recorded.
Oddly enough there is no sign on the title-page of the score of the second Suite to indicate that we have a ballet suite in hand. The four movements, Vivace, Prestissimo, Molto quieto, Vivace were originally part of the one-act dance comedy, Le bosquet des quatre Dieux (The Grove of Four Gods). The score of the original ballet was probably lost and no choreography was designed, so it was never performed. Of the composer"s three ballets, only Lysistrata had a few performances at the Opera House of Budapest in 1937. The working piano score, for four hands, is extant, with only the movements combined into a suite being known in orchestrated form. The story, which choreography could be built upon, is known in detail. The libretto was written by Jozsef Revay (1881-1970), literary historian and translator, who was deeply interested in antiquity, as was Lajtha. The action takes place in the holy grove on Mount Lycabettos near Athens, in mythological times. It consists of nine scenes.
The plot is set in the grove of four gods where the statues of Zeus and Hermes come to life to seduce two earthly maidens, Chrysilla and Philotis. The statues of the other gods, Aphrodite and Ares, also came to life and disappear in a hiding-place for lovers" trysts. The places of the absent gods are taken by power-thirsty mortal men. The attributes of Zeus are taken on by Cleon, possibly a reference to Hitler and the fascist dictators of the age. Hephaestos, Aphrodite"s cuckolded husband, makes a snare in revenge and entraps the embracing Aphrodite and Ares in the net. Zeus restores divine order, frees the lovers from the trap and recaptures his throne. The grove of the four gods bursts into bloom and a rapturous feast begins.
The four-movement Suite II made from the satirical dance comedy was performed in Paris, Budapest, Turin, Munich and Brussels in the composer?s life-time.
In 1947-48, Laszl6 Lajtha spent a year in London with his family. He had been invited by the Austrian film director Georg Hoellering to compose music for the film version of T. S. Eliot"s verse play Murder in the Cathedral, the story of the martyrdom of Thomas a Becket. Symphony No.3 is part of this film music. Other compositions belonging here include Temptations. Eleven Variations for orchestra, on a simple theme for the same instrumental ensemble as the Third Symphony, and the Harp Quintet No.2. It was probably in London that Lajtha, in all his life could work best, as he did not have to take on various assignments to make a living. Although he received promising offers, he did not stay in the British capital when he had completed the work but, fired by patriotism, returned to his native land. In that political situation it was actually hardly a surprise that an artist was harassed, dismissed from his posts, his passport confiscated such after a lengthy sojourn in the West. After an excellent creative period, 1948 thus marked the most tragic turn in Lajtha"s life.
The film won two prizes at the Venice Film Festival in 1951, including the Grand Prix. In spite of that, it never won the appreciation of either the public or the critics. It was found dull and protracted and was rarely shown. Yet even the most severe critics acknowledged the value of Lajtha"s music.
Not working together with Hoel1ering for the first time, since in the 1930s he had composed the music for the film Hortobtigy, also eliciting sincere praise from critics, Lajtha enjoyed the perfect confidence of both the film director and T. S. Eliot, who told him: "Only your music will make the film complete, it will help much, and it will elevate my words and thoughts." A letter written by Lajtha to Bence szabolcsi from London in 1948 says: "I am writing the film music under circumstances that have rarely if ever fal1en to the lot of a musician. They do not simply want to have the music composed, but also record it, and the pictures and texts are arranged adjusted to it. I do not compose the background, I do not explain anything by music - Hoellering has comprehended that it just cannot be done and it is also useless. Nothing restricts me but time."
It was very important for Lajtha to compose music which does not merely il1ustrate a film but is self-contained and performable without the film. As a result, the Third Symphony is a captivating composition without any knowledge of the film version of Murder in the Cathedral. It has two movements, Lento, quasi rubato and Allegro molto e agitato. Rather unusually, the first movement begins with the painful tune of a solitary clarinet, the rest of the instruments joining in gradually. The most conspicuous feature of the feverishly passionate second, as well as the closing, movement is an energetic quaver figuration of smal1 tonal range turning around its own axis.
Symphony No.3 was first performed in London in March 1949, when the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. In Hungary, it was first performed under the baton of Janos Ferencsik.
Emöke Solymosi Tari