| Artist/Composer:Zoltán Jeney
In 2003 the journal MusikTexte polled composers on their views about the Irak war. They received more than fifty responses: some wrote letters, others wrote compositions. Zoltán Jeney sent in just one small work for one voice, one of the saddest musical jokes of all time. In this narrow-range, wavering, roaming chromatic melody, the listener slowly recognizes the theme of the Ode to Joy. While Beethoven’s exhilarating melody has over the centuries proclaimed the triumph of humanism, and is even used as the anthem of the European Union, Jeney’s version is a lost, clumsy, privately mumbled parody of the original, and as such says far more than a verbalized protest.
Heraclitus in H
“which half is never the same?”
Consolazione (something lost: echo)
Songs of Innocence and Experience
MR Symphony Orchestra and MR Choir conducted by Zoltán Kocsis (1)
Gábor Csalog – piano (2-4)
Krulik String Quartet (5)
György Déri – violoncello, Gábor Csalog – piano (6)
Piia Komsi – soprano (7)
MR Symphony Orchestra conducted by Zoltán Kocsis (8)
Magyar Rádió Szimfonikus Zenekara, vezényel: Kocsis Zoltán (8)
Recorded at BMC Concert Hall on 5 May, 2013 (4,5,7) by Sándor Papp, on 2 October, 2013 (2,3,6)
by Zoltán László and at Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music on 25 October, 2013 (1,8) by Tamás Horváth
Recording producers: Tibor Alpár (1,4,5,7,8) and Péter Illényi (2,3,6)
Consultant: András Wilheim
Digital editing: Viktor Szabó
Artwork: László Huszár / Greenroom
Produced by László Gőz
Label manager: Tamás Bognár
In association with MTVA (Media Support and Asset Management Fund)
The recording was supported by the National Cultural Fund of Hungary
Hartmut Lück - MusikTexte (pdf) (de)
Robert Ratajczak - Long Play (pl)
Jan Hocek - Harmonie (cz)
Kovács Ilona - Gramofon (pdf) (hu)
Komlós József Jr. - Alföldi Régió Magazin (hu)
In 2003 the journal MusikTexte polled composers on their views about the Irak war. They received more than fifty responses: some wrote letters, others wrote compositions. Zoltán Jeney sent in just one small work for one voice, one of the saddest musical jokes of all time. In this narrow-range, wavering, roaming chromatic melody, the listener slowly recognizes the theme of the Ode to Joy. While Beethoven’s exhilarating melody has over the centuries proclaimed the triumph of humanism, and is even used as the anthem of the European Union, Jeney’s version is a lost, clumsy, privately mumbled parody of the original, and as such says far more than a verbalized protest. The original monophonic version of Wohin? was soon followed by other versions (for four melodic instruments, string quartet, wind trio, solo melody and six-part accompaniment, etc.). The most complete version, which was premiered at a concert in the Budapest Music Academy on the occasion of the composer’s 70th birthday, is a unification of several earlier versions, and takes the parody even further. Here not only is there a twisted version of the Ode to Joy, but there is also an evocation of the 6/8 march, or Janissary music, included in the finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and a caricature of the ecstatic climax filled with continuous quaver movement. When the musical process reaches the part where Beethoven’s original work has the text “Seid umschlungen, Millionen! Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!” [“Be embraced, oh millions! This kiss is for all the world!”] for the chorus, it comes to a halt, and the composer links in a later excerpt from Schiller’s ode: “Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen? Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?” [“Do you fall in worship, millions? World, do you know your creator?”]. All this is difficult not to hear as a musical image of The Decline of the West, painted in scathing irony.
FROM THE HERACLITUS SERIES
Zoltán Jeney has been working on a Heraclitus series since 1980, inspired by the Heraclitus poems by Dezső Tandori. The first piece in the series, the 1980 Heraclitus in H is based on Tandori’s poem Heraclitus Memorial Column (1970), in which every letter of the text is put in a new line, and the poem forms the image of a column. The task set in the poem ( “Tryandsayatfirstsighthowmanylines” ) is impossible precisely because of this typographical layout: as a musical equivalent of Tandori’s paradox Jeney created a sophisticated melody to which he gave the following performance indication: “Play the melody, or hear somebody else’s performance of it, then try and play it from memory”. The composer found the melody interesting enough to use it as a building block for many other compositions using various apparatuses (1983–88: Heraclitus watermark; Heraclitus interpretation; Late season Heraclitus; 1997–98: Heraclitus transformations, Heraclitus Fragments, 2009: “breaking, one single Heraclitic flute solo” , etc.). The Heraclitus melody has thus followed its inventor like an underground stream for more than three decades, by now growing into a monumental series of variations. The composer
intends the original melody to be played before each version. The next four pieces on the CD are part of this series.
Heraclitus in H was first played in the Hungarian town of Hatvan at an opening of a Dezső Tandori exhibition; this is what the title refers to, rather than any tonal centre. The sophisticated “unmemorizable” melody, which according to the composer’s instructions can be played by any number of performers, is on this disc played by only one.
Heraclitian teardrop: in an increasingly dense canon, and garnished with characteristic snappy rhythms, the basic melody gravitates down to the depths.
Heraclitus adverbial: the accompaniment is formed from a tower of fifths made of six loud chords, and each time only one voice moves one semitone step. Over this accompaniment unfold countless variations of fragments of the descending Heraclitus melody. The trills and appoggiaturas give the melody a folksong-like colour. The interplay of the static with slow, constant change lends a particular melancholy to this twenty-first-century “night music” movement.
The title of the 2013 arrangement of the Heraclitus melody for four undefined melodic instruments again quotes Tandori: “which half is never the same” . Analysed on paper, this movement might appear to be like an etude. The first half is taken up by a strict canon at the second in the upper two voices, while in the second half they are joined by the two lower voices in larger rhythmic values, again in a canon at the second. But the final result we hear is more than an etude. The discipline of the structure immediately creates a kind of intellectual aura (but then which Jeney works do not?), and not only does the continuous abrasion of the minor seconds hold the process in a vibrating tension, but the following voice in the canon seems to negate, note by note, putting the melody in quote marks, or smudging it, thus creating a kind of floating, persistent ambiguity. The lower voices that augment the theme enrich the sound, thus contributing further to an increased sense of disturbing ambivalence.
CONSOLAZIONE (SOMETHING LOST: ECHO)
This quiet consolation was written in 2001 for the 80th birthday of composer András Szőllősy, an old friend, when Jeney was 58. The rising consonant gestures of the piano are echoed by the cello, but in fragmented fashion, and in this echo the rising piano motif sinks back down. This was an apposite gift for an old man whose uncompromising demand for quality, whose integrity and personal losses had distressingly turned him away from this world. The melancholy of Jeney’s work seems to illustrate a monologue from Faust: “The rainbow’s arch of colour, bending brightly, / Is clearly marked, and then dissolved in air, / Around it the cool showers, falling lightly. / There the efforts of mankind they mirror. /Reflect on it, you’ll understand precisely: / We live our life amongst refracted colour”. (Translated by A. S. Kline)
SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE
Zoltán Jeney’s output of songs is rich indeed, but only a few are for unaccompanied voice (as well as the solo versions of some psalms from the Funeral Rite, there is a cycle each to poems written by Giuseppe Ungaretti and Sándor Weöres, one setting of a poem by Giacomo Leopardi and six songs by William Blake (1996–97, rev. 2012). In his earlier works Jeney often used a code that assigned musical pitches to the letters of the alphabet, thus creating a clearly perceptible unique pitch system and binding text and music together in a close relationship. The music of the Blake songs is not written to such a rigid system, but is a “freer” composition, insofar as the letter to which each musical note corresponds can be selected from the syllables of the text.
The composer makes great use of the internal rhymes and repetitions of the short lines of verse – these appear as motivic, musical repetitions, and form “local” tonal centres in the dodecaphonic musical material. Thus here too, the music is in a close-knit symbiosis with the texts that serve as a starting-point. These dense poems by a man Antal Szerb characterized as the “mad English pre-Romantic painter-poet” again thematize transience (sometimes with balladic drama, sometimes diluted with playfulness) like so many of Jeney’s compositions from the last few decades.
The orchestral piece Pavane was written to a commission by Zoltán Peskó and the Philharmonia Hungary Concert Agency. It was premiered by the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zoltán Peskó on 18 July 2007 at the closing concert of the Bartók Seminar and Festival in Szombathely. In 1979 Zoltán Jeney used a calculator to generate eight different fractal series, then converted the series of numbers to a melody consisting of 128 notes. This served as the main melody for his major work, Funeral Rite. In an interview Jeney confessed that he had dreamed which would be the other two note rows he would use to construct the Pavane.
Despite the identical basic material, the character of the three movements is markedly different. In the opening section the melody begins from the same note in all the voices, but proceeds in differing rhythms, and in slowly rolling, strangely radiant colours, creates the impression of shining heterophony. The fast central movement turns the melody into a five-part ricercar, and the entries of the different voices follow one another at the distance of a minor second. Striking rhythms and rests gives this movement a strenuous character. Even in polyphony, Jeney is always interested in unpredictability. In the third movement, which is the longest, the different voices play the melodic line with a time lag, so a note marked “forte” stands out in unexpected places, and this makes the musical process dynamic and tense. The listener can perhaps subconsciously sense the disciplined structure of the composition deriving from the basic melody, but this does nothing to abate the restlessness of the listening experience.
Translated by Richard Robinson
Zoltán Jeney was born on 4 March 1943 in Szolnok. He studied composition with Zoltán Pongrácz at the Zoltán Kodály Music School in Debrecen (1957-1961), with Ferenc Farkas at the Ferenc Liszt Conservatoire in Budapest (1961-1966), and with Goffredo Petrassi at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, on the postgraduate composition course (1967-1968).
In 1970 at the instigation of Albert Simon he founded the New Music Studio with Péter Eötvös, Zoltán Kocsis, László Sáry and László Vidovszky. Between 1972 and 1990 this was the most important forum for progressive music in Hungary.
One of the main threads in Jeney’s musical thinking is the transcribing of extramusical material (e.g. texts, chess games, meteorological data, telex messages, fractal series) into musical processes. Between 1975 and 1984 he sang in the Schola Hungarica choir conducted by László Dobszay and Janka Szendrei: this encounter with the musical practice of Gregorian plain chant had a decisive effect on his thinking as a composer.
Since 1986 he has been a lecturer at Ferenc Liszt University of Music in Budapest. He is currently a professor emeritus at the institution. In 1993 he was elected as a member of the Széchenyi Academy of Letters and Arts, from 1993 to 1996 he was president of the Society of Hungarian Composers, from 1993 to 1999 he was a member of the board of the ISCM (International Society for Contemporary Music), of which he was vice-president from 1996 to 1999.
His works include orchestral compositions, chamber works, songs, choral works, electronic and computer pieces, compositions written together with other composers, and incidental music for theatre and film (including the music for Zoltán Huszárik’s film Szindbád). In 2005 he completed his monumental oratorio Funeral Rite, which he had been working on continuously since 1987.
Prizes and awards: Kassák Prize (1979), Ferenc Erkel Prize (1982), Artist of Merit (1990), Kossuth Prize (2001), Artisjus Music Prize (2001), Aegon Associate Art Prize (2006), Bartók-Pásztory Prize (1988 and 2006).