Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Suite from Hary Janos

Another piece performed on the upcoming October 24th performance is Suite from Hary Janos. This is the program note written by Austin Allen, percussionist in the GDYO.

Suite from Háry János

Zoltán Kodály

Born December 16, 1882 in Kecskemét, Hungary

Died March 6, 1967 in Budapest, Hungary

Zoltán Kodály, one of Hungary’s most esteemed composers and educators, studied viola, violin, cello, and piano as a young child. He was in both the Nagyszombat choir and orchestra and, at the age of 15, entered the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest. Graduating with a teaching diploma in 1905, he began a lifelong project of collecting, categorizing, and analyzing Hungarian folk tunes. Today, Kodály is recognized as one of the first people to delve into the field of ethnomusicology. In 1907, now 23, Kodály, along with his friend and colleague Béla Bartók, was appointed professor at the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest.

Kodály composed Psalmus Hungaricus, an oratorio written in celebration of the unification of the cities of Buda and Pest after World War I. This composition marked an enormous breakthrough for Kodály in terms of international recognition. His growing reputation was solidified with the composition of his opera Háry János only a few years later.

In addition to his awe-inspiring compositions, Kodály is equally known for his work in music education. This field is where his love for folk songs was very useful, for Kodály believed that folk songs were more accessible to young people than most forms of music. Upon retirement, Kodály began to travel the world, conducting many of his own works. He never ceased loving music and received many awards throughout his life for both his inspirational compositions and his efforts in the field of music education.

Kodály's opera Háry János was first performed on October 16, 1926 in Budapest. It is a comedic Hungarian folk opera based on the comic epic The Veteran by Janos Garay.

In the Opera’s preface, Kodály explained:

Háry is a peasant, a veteran soldier, who day after day sits in the tavern, spinning yarns about his heroic exploits and being a real peasant, the stories produced by his fantastic imagination are an inextricable mixture of realism and naïveté, of comic humour and pathos… .That his stories are not true is irrelevant, for they are the fruit of a lively imagination, seeking to create, for himself and for others, a beautiful dream world.

From this four act opera, Kodály extracted the orchestral highlights of the Háry János Suite. Although the premiere date for the suite is usually cited as December 1927 in New York City, the first actual performance of the Suite took place in Barcelona a few months earlier. This was suppressed primarily, because of the inadequacy of the Spanish performance. The suite consists of six parts. Movements 1, 3 and 5 are largely atmospheric, while Nos. 2, 4 and 6 are based mainly on scenes from the opera.

Prelude: the Fairy Tale Begins

The suite starts with an orchestral imitation of a sneeze. This comes from the old Hungarian belief that a story told after a sneeze is always true. Following the sneeze, the basses and celli emit slow, almost somber tones, finally emerging into a sad melodic theme. This movement provides almost a dreamlike setting for the following movements.

Viennese Musical Clock

The Viennese Musical Clock begins with Háry János at the Austrian Emperor’s court, where he hears the clocks strike at midday. Snare drum and chimes start this movement in imitation of the Emperor’s clock. A light, chipper, yet almost regal melody follows, that, much like the first movement, meanders throughout the orchestra. Needless to say, plenty of percussion is used in this movement!


Song starts with a solo viola, joined presently by the cimbalom. [See sidebar] The music has a light and airy feel and much of the music from this movement is supplied primarily from the Hungarian folk song “This Side the Tisza, Beyond the Danube.”

The Battle and Defeat of Napoleon

The Battle and Defeat of Napoleon is both humorous and satirical. It is a parody on France’s national anthem, La Marseillaise, an example of the European march, and tells the story of how Háry János singlehandedly defeats Napoleon and his men. Brass is extremely prevalent in this movement so be sure to listen for the fanfares as well as the glissandi written for both trombone and tuba.


Intermezzo is a Verbunkos, an 18th-century Hungarian military recruiting dance. The movement’s primary theme is from a piano method written by Istvan Gati in 1802. The cimbalom adds to and complements this movement creating a folksy and atmospheric aura.

Entrance of the Emperor and His Court

Entrance of the Emperor and His Court depicts the Imperial court as seen through the eyes of a peasant. Starting off the movement, the woodwinds mimic the high-pitched banter of the courtiers. Kodaly implements the entire orchestra at once in this movement creating a contrast to the minimal instrumentation commonly heard in the previous movements and we will once again hear the Marseillaise parody from the fourth movement.

The Háry János Suite is scored for 3 flutes (each doubling on piccolo), 2 clarinets (one doubling on alto saxophone), 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 cornets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, Timpani, a large complement of percussion, cimbalom, and strings.

-Austin Allen, percussion


The cimbalom, (sim-buh-luh m) is a stringed instrument similar to the hammer dulcimer. The instrument has a trapezoidal body with four legs and 125 strings, with 3 to 5 strings per note. The instrument is struck with two small spoon-shaped wooden hammers. These hammers are generally wrapped in either soft or hard leather.

Although the use of the cimbalom dates back to the 16th century in Hungary, the modern cimbalom was invented in 1870 by Jozsef Schunda. Many instruments of a more portable nature can be found throughout history in Romania, Greece, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. These instruments were carried around and played primarily by wandering Gypsies although, in 1890, the instrument was proclaimed the national instrument of Hungary. The instrument appears in Franz Liszt's Ungarischer Stummarsch, Stravinsky's Le Renard, and Ragtime, and the piece you will be hearing performed tonight by Zoltán Kodály, the Suite from Háry János

-Austin Allen, percussion

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