Csalog, Klenyán, Buza, Götz, Sáry, Déri, Eckhardt, Horn, Mérey, Lakatos, Vékony László Sáry: Dance Music

BMCCD069 2003

It is not music to dance to that I write, but music that has gone through a process of filtration – the essence of what the given dance means to me. I am not interested in co mposing dance music as a kind of stylistic exercise. I want to raise the dance into the higher regions of the abstraction of the concert hall.

László Sáry


Gábor Csalog - piano (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11)
Csaba Klenyán - clarinet (2, 4)
Vilmos Buza - double bass (4, 7)
Nándor Götz - saxophone (4, 8)
László Sáry - piano (5)
György Déri - violoncello (7, 10)
Gábor Eckhardt - piano (8, 10)
András Horn - clarinet (10)
Anna Mérey - violin (11)
György Lakatos - bassoon (12)
Ildikó Vékony - cimbalom (13)

About the album

Music publisher: Editio Musica Budapest
Recorded at Phoenix Studio, Hungary, December 20-21, 2002 and February 2, 2003
Recording producer: András Wilheim
Balance engineer: János Bohus – Sound editing: Veronika Vincze

Cover art by Meral Yasar based on the concept of Gábor Bachman
Portrait photo: István Huszti
Design: Meral Yasar – Architect: Bachman

Produced by László Gőz

The recording was sponsored by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, the National Cultural Fund of Hungary and the Artisjus Music Foundation.


Szitha Tünde - Muzsika (hu)

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Albert Mária - Világgazdaság (hu)

11 EUR 3500 HUF

Lászlo Sáry: Dance Music

01 Hungarian dance ’95 2:01
02 Blues I 3:33
03 Echo Rag I 1:38
04 Kind of a waltz for Esterházy 4:41
05 Souvenir 3:55
06 Tango 3:01
07 Echo Rag II 3:22
08 Blues II 1:57
09 Broadway boogie-woogie 1:51
10 Echo Rag III 3:04
11 Blues III 2:47
12 Grandmother’s dance 5:22
13 Slow and brisk 5:26
Total time 42:38

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Dance music of László Sáry

Can one dance to any kind of dance music? In earlier times, when music formed a more integral part of everyday life, this question would never have arisen. However, in the last 3-400 years of European culture, dance music has divided into two distinct branches. One branch is represented by a range of pieces written for actual dances, which could serve either as an accompaniment to the traditional dances of the community (at court, in ball rooms or even in taverns), or to an individual sequence of movements devised by a single choreographer, in other words as ballet music. The other branch of development could be called “music inspired by dances”. The suites of Bach, Händel or Telemann, written for orchestra or keyboard instruments, the minuet movement of the Viennese classical symphony, almost all of the piano pieces by Chopin, and the Hungarian and Slav dances of Brahms and Dvorak can be included in this category. In these compositions, the concrete dance provides inspiration, character and a frame for a work of art created with all the tricks of the trade, the techniques of composing music. There can be no doubt that László Sáry’s Dance Music series belongs to the latter category; as the author himself writes: “It is not music to dance to that I write, but music that has gone through a process of filtration – the essence of what the given dance means to me. I am not interested in co mposing dance music as a kind of stylistic exercise. I want to raise the dance into the higher regions of the abstraction of the concert hall.”

For those who are familiar with László Sáry’s oeuvre it will undoubtedly seem strange, paradox, even absurd that the composer whose early works were written in the spirit of neo-avantgarde trends, whose development as a composer was decisively influenced by the New Music Studio of which he was a founding member – in other words a composer whose work is characterised by experimentation and the questioning of tradition – is now writing dance music. Dance music which in one way or another is still strongly bound to tradition. Given the knowledge of Sáry’s past record as a composer, it may be divined that there are more question marks in his dance music than in the pieces of the committed followers of retro-trends. Sáry’s Dance Music owes its singular atmosphere to the fact that the composer does not even attempt to resolve the immeasurable distance between the traditional conception of the dances and his own musical style (we may even safely say styles).

It is the high degree of stylisation, the reserved but not hostile attitude to tradition, the affectionate, mischievous irony and the inexhaustible rhythmic ingenuity that make this series so appealing. This creative attitude is perfectly illustrated by one of Sáry’s musical parlour games, with the “Kuruc” song that begins with Tyukodi pajtás. The majority of the performers become a speaking choir which plays a humorous, virtuosic rhythmical game with the text, while in the background the original mournful, lamenting melody can be heard, slowed down, and it is to this melody that the dancers dance their stylized dance, in slow motion as it were.

In Dance Music, one of the means of keeping distance is the rigorous consistency with which certain movements are constructed, and the music thus composed is not the lively foot-tapping kind that “draws the feet to dance” but rather an image of dance as it would appear if “filtered through a veil”. The thirteen pieces of the series can be arranged into various groups. The two most strongly alienated movements are Hungarian Dance ‘95 which opens the cycle and in which it would be hard to discover any kind of connection with the humorous folk song to which the subtitle refers (...mégis bunda a bunda!), and Tango, one of the earliest pieces of Dance music, composed in 1989 at the instigation of Ivar Mikashoff, who commanded compositions from all over the world for his “International Tango Collection”. The two movements are closely related from a formal point of view as well, since the second part of both is a repetition of the first – with the changing of a single parameter. In Hungarian Dance, capricious in mood and with a restless beat, it is the dynamics that are reversed. In the sequence of frequently alternated fortes and pianos, the second formal part repeats forte everything that was previously piano, and vice versa. The notes of the first part of the Tango with its fragmented, broken rhythm are lengthily sustained in the second part, thus enrichening its sound. This movement contains the only, but perhaps most characteristic rhythmical element of this South American dance: taking the delaying pause, the “stopping short” before the accented beginning of a bar measure, and making it the focal point of the piece.

It is characteristic of Sáry’s compositional technique that he keeps rewriting his pieces, each musical idea is realized in several variants, none of which invalidate the earlier forms but are equal to them. In consequence of this lively and varied creative spirit, there are several movements within the Dance Music series that are closely related to one another. All of the three Blues were written for a melodic instrument and a piano, and appear to represent a lyrical moment of the cycle which radiates the quiet melancholy of the original Afro-American blues style. Of the birth of Blues I the composer writes: <iy“it is="" so="" slow="" that="" it="" can="" barely="" be="" perceived="" as="" a="" dance.="" my="" piece="" owes="" its="" inspiration="" to="" this="" practically="" timeless="" blues="" i="" once="" heard="" from="" an="" american="" group.”<=""> The piano, pealing in ethereal heights, plays an increasingly rich chordal accompaniment in which the number of notes increases from one to seven, and the clarinet develops these chordal notes into a melody with a swinging movement. To the soprano saxophone solo of Blues II is added the lively comple-mentary play of the four parts of the four-handed piano accompaniment. In Blues III the melody of the violin integrates the notes of the solo parts of the two previous blues. Thus this violin part is the “resultant” force, the summing up of all that the clarinet and the saxophone “related” in the previous blues. Of all this the listener perceives at the most the close relation, the melancholic atmosphere and the beautiful instrumental tones of the three movements.

Similar to the three Blues, the three Echo Rags derive from the same root, but while the blues serve as the slow movements of the Dance Music series, the latter are incredibly varied, capricious, lively scherzos evoking the fragmented, “ragged" rhythm of ragtime. The echo-motif asserts itself in several layers of the composition: the right and left hand of the piano piece (Echo Rag I) plays the same sequence of notes but while one hand plays them as a continuous, unbroken melody, the other gathers them into chords, and these roles are continually reversed. The result sounds like a musical game of hide and seek in which the parts sometimes overtake, sometimes fall behind each other, only to meet up from time to time. This compositional technique is slightly reminiscent of imitation, but it is much more unpredictable. In Echo Rag II this “shadowplay” is played out between the cello and the contrabass, once again with a continual reversal of roles, as now one, now the other instrument leads the way in the development of the melody. The capriciousness and ingenuity of the movement is further enhanced by the alternation of notes played pizzicato and with a bow. Finally, the echo te chnique is used in Echo Rag III in the four-part texture of the clarinet, the piano and the cello, the glissandos of the clarinet and the cello adding further interest. These “gliding” sounds fit in very well with the jazz-like style of the piece. As the parts echo one another within each movement, so the three Echo Rags are also echoes of each other, given that variations of the same ragged, broken melody or rather sequence of notes run through them.

Besides his own work, László Sáry makes compositions culled from earlier periods of musical history the objects of continuous metamorphosis. Souvenir is the metamorphosis of Forbi, a late piano piece by Edvard Grieg. Though Sáry follows the pattern almost note for note, Grieg’s piece practically loses its identity in the course of the adaptation (it is no accident that, hearing Sáry’s popular and often played piece, for many years no one recognized the original archetype). Sáry takes the chromatic melody which plays a key role in Grieg’s piece from the musical texture and makes it the leitmotif, but though entrusting it to the pianist the melody is whistled. Other parts of the original piece are spread out in time, their accents rearranged, and the musical flow is interrupted several times: it is as if shots from an old film were frozen into still pictures. The piano piece, accompanied by soft whistling and performed in a free manner, radiates an unforgettable atmosphere of sadness over death.

Souvenir is the earliest piece of the cycle as it was composed as early as 1987, and it was only later that the composer made it a part of the Dance Music series. It is typical of Sáry that the musical material of Souvenir, “distilled” from the Grieg piece, was not left unchanged either – with a pronounced re-rhythmization of the musical progression, he created a new composition. And the result is none other than Broadway boogie-woogie which follows the harmonic and melodic progression of Souvenir almost note by note, but which, due to its jazz-like rhythm, gains a completely new character.

While Souvenir and Broadway boogie-woogie are closely related, presenting as they do the two faces of the same musical idea, the Kind of a waltz for Esterházy is a more distant relative, as it is only the leitmotif-like role of the chromatic melody line that connects it to the aforementioned pieces (and, as opposed to the nostalgic, descending chromatics of these pieces, the direction of the chromatic line running through the Waltz is ascending). This movement is written for clarinet, saxophone, piano and double bass, and thus has the largest number of performers. The composer makes the most of the possibilities afforded by this “rich” instrumentation, from the piano’s motifs pealing in ethereal heights through the pizzicatos of the double bass to the expressive gestures of the clarinet and the saxophone. The piece is dedicated to the composer’s friend, novelist Péter Esterházy.

Like Souvenir, Grandmother’s dance is also a previous Sáry piece later placed into the series, where it acquires its true form. The bassoon part, kept in a high register throughout, owes its birth to György Lakatos’s manner of playing. “I generally think in tone colours,” says Sáry. “In this case it was the high register of the bassoon that inspired me.” The accompaniment to the bassoon solo is provided by the piano or a recording of notes simulated by a computer. The composition differs stylistically from the series as it presents the characteristics of repetitive or minimal music. It illustrates remarkably well Sáry’s talent for creating incredible diversity with the variation of only a few notes – for example, in this character piece, with heartwarming humour.

Slow and brisk is the closing composition of Sáry’s Dance Music series, and the only one composed for cimbalom. The title of the piece refers to the customary slow-quick pair of movements to be found in Hungarian instrumental folk music, especially in the “verbunkos” type of music (and which determines, among others, the sequence of movements of Bartók’s rhapsodies for violin and piano for example). Sáry’s music – apart from the tempo of the movements – is not connected stylistically to the verbunkos type of folk music at all. “Slow” is reminiscent of a free fantasy in which the harmonic progression flows along, seeking tonality, consonance through slow changes. “Brisk” represents a character frequent in Hungarian music (a type of movement favoured by László Sáry’s brother József Sári as well). Irregular accent-notes rise from the ostinato-like musical material with its steady, rapid beat to form chromatic melodic arcs.

Is it possible to dance to László Sáry’s Dance Music? A choreographer would probably have no trouble devising a sequence of gestures to go with these extremely characteristic movements, but the series is valid as it stands as “absolute” music as well.

Zoltán Farkas
translated by Eszter Molnár

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