Leo Weiner: Ballade for Viola and Orchestra op.28 –
Csongor and Tünde – Ballet (1959)
CD Notes by István Kassai for NAXOS 8.573491
Leo Weiner was born on April 16th, 1885 in Budapest. His parents did not give him a musical education. He began his musical studies on his own initiative and learned to compose by analysing the works of the great composers. At the age of 16 he applied for admission to the Liszt Academy in Budapest, where he was a pupil of János Koessler (1853-1926), a representative of the Brahms tradition, and who was the teacher of Bartók, Kodály, Dohnányi, Emerich Kálmán and Victor Jacobi among others. Weiner himself taught there from 1907 until his death. In his chamber music faculty he taught generations of musicians for half a century. Almost all the world famous Hungarian musicians of this period were his pupils. Apart from living tradition, his pedagogic activity has been perpetuated by his writings (text books of music theory, musical analyses).
Weiner’s career as a composer began like a comet. In his fifth year of study he won all the possible awards given at the Liszt Academy. He was awarded the Franz Joseph prize for his compositions in 1908, and this covered his study tour around Europe, to Vienna, Munich, Berlin and Paris.
Already his earliest works were characterized by his knowledge of classical culture, an imaginative use of colour and bravura in instrumentation, combined with lyrical emotion. Weiner managed to synthesize in an original way the tradition of Schumann and Mendelssohn together with the language of European and Hungarian music of the period. He composed true Hungarian music, without using folk melodies. He immediately made a stir with his new, captivating sound. The works of the composer in his twenties were welcomed on the prestigious concert podiums of the world and were published by famous European publishing houses.
The pressure of the new modern, diverse musical developments that were so distant from Weiner’s personality, threw him into such a creative crisis that he even relinquished his position as a professor of composition at the Liszt Academy. The inspiration of folk music showed him a way out of the crisis. He made use of folk music in a somewhat different way from Kodály and Bartók. As the writer of a monograph on the composer, Melinda Berlász, writes, „For Weiner, folk music represented a solely musical consideration. It was a precious musical material, rich in individual characteristics, which, as he confessed, he could stylize ’with refined artistic self-restraint’ in his works and make ’classical’.” These works by him were greeted with international success as well. The inferno of World War Two caused him another creative crisis that lasted for seven years. After the war he polished and orchestrated his earlier pieces, composed works for pedagogical purposes, and wrote some summing up works. He was awarded the highest Hungarian state award, the Kossuth Prize twice in this period. He died on September 13th, 1960.
Weiner did not belong among the reformers of the history of music. He remained faithful to the language of his youth, defying the storms of „-isms”, as well as to his Hungarian identity, despite the persecution of Jews during the Second World War.
Weiner’s Ballad Op. 8 was composed in 1908 for clarinet and piano. He attached a viola part as well to the score of the first edition, which differed only slightly from the clarinet part due to the different characteristics of the instruments. The impressionistic colours of the piece seemed to demand orchestration and Weiner made two versions. In the ’30s he did an orchestration in which the woodwind were omitted apart from two bassoons, in order to bring into relief the solo clarinet part. This version is musically identical with the version with piano accompaniment. It was not published but it has been recorded on LP and CD. The second version was composed in 1949 with the new opus number 28 and uses all the woodwind. This version is six bars longer than the previous one. The score was finished in 1949 and published five years later, but has so far not been recorded. We have recorded this more colourful orchestration using the viola part of the first edition.Weiner's Op. 10 “Csongor and Tünde” accompanied him throughout his life, and he regarded it as his main work. It is based on the dramatic poem written by Mihály Vörösmarty (1800-1855) in 1830. It is a love story about a prince and a fairy who struggle for happiness against the attacks of evil, and is widely known in world literature. Vörösmarty created a philosophical story out of the simple fairy tale, and his enchantingly beautiful Hungarian language has raised it to the level of an exceptional masterpiece one of the most important works of Hungarian literature. The play was not considered performable until the director of the Hungarian National Theatre, Ede Paulay (1836-1894) staged it with great success. The first incidental music for it was composed by Gyula Erkel (1841-1909), the son of Ferenc Erkel, for the premiere on December 1st, 1879. In 1913 the directorate of the National Theatre commissioned new incidental music from Leo Weiner, and the composer finished the score on November 1st the same year. However, its performance needs and the size of the orchestra required were beyond the means of the National Theatre. The premiere was postponed. The composer was keen to present his work, so first the Scherzo called “Prince Csongor and the Goblins” was performed in public on February 8th 1914 with the title “Intermezzo”. This piece is often performed still today. One year later the first Suite (consisting of four movements) taken from the work was performed. Eventually the date of the premiere was set for November 1916, but again it was cancelled due to the death on the 21st of the Emperor Franz Joseph, King of Hungary. A few days later however, on 6th of December, 1916, the performance was given. It was greeted with enormous success both by the public and the critics.
Vörösmarty’s play is multi-layered and full of meaning, but the ballet version concentrates on the love interest, so the story resembles more the folk-inspired sixteenth century fairy tale by Albert Gergei that served as the basis for Vörösmarty’s poem.
No. 1 Csongor, a young prince searching for happiness on his long wanderings, is walking along tired when he sees the foliage of a golden apple tree. He is surprised to see Mirigy, a witch, tied to the tree. She implores him to release her. The good-hearted young man unties her, but the wicked witch curses him. No. 2 The apples start to shine and Tünde, a fairy, appears in the sparkling light. They fall in love at first sight. After their love duet they lie down under the tree and fall asleep. A fairy choir sings. No. 3 Tünde’s fairy companions arrive with Ilma, Tünde’s maid. Their playful dance is interrupted by the arrival of the witch. The fairies run away, but Ilma hides nearby, sensing evil but feeling afraid of the witch. Mirígy sneaks towards the lovers and steals the fairy veil that carries Tünde's magic power. She starts a triumphant dance and Tünde is startled out of her sleep. No. 4 Tünde must leave forever because she has lost her veil and Csongor may not see her any more. She says farewell and departs on her long journey with Ilma. No. 5 Csongor follows them in despair, seeking the newly found happiness he has so quickly lost, no matter how long it takes. No. 6 In the second scene: the crossroads, three goblins chase a fox who is a phantom, and is really Mirigy’s daughter, Ledér. She dances with the goblins teasing them. She then playfully multiplies them and herself. They run away scared, chased by the phantoms. No. 7 Balga, a peasant boy arrives He also is seeking his love, as he has lost his wife, Ilma just as Csongor has lost Tünde. Csongor arrives and adopts Balga to be servant. No. 8 The goblins enter again, fighting over their inheritance, a magic cloak that makes its owner invisible and takes him wherever he tells it to go. The goblins ask Csongor to dispense judgement. He tricks them into letting him have the cloak and flies off to find Tünde. No. 9 Scene three: We see the witch Mirígy in her den, where she aims to acquire prince Csongor for her daughter. She covers her daughter with the stolen veil, which immediately makes her beautiful. Csongor arrives, having been attracted by Mirigy’s magic, which is more powerful than the goblins' magic cloak. Csongor begins an amorous dance with the phantom that he thinks is Tünde. Balga arrives with Ilma and they also take Ledér to be Tünde until the real Tünde arrives. Csongor tears the veil off Ledér and is astonished to see who he has danced with. Then Mirígy intervenes and grabs the veil and Csongor as well, due to the magic power of the veil. No. 10 The fourth scene is the kingdom of the Night. The despairing Tünde is being consoled by the fairies of the night, but they cannot alleviate her pain. No. 11 We are again at Mirígy’s den. Ledér keeps tempting Csongor in different ways, but the young man resists. Mirígy takes the initiative again, a real witch-Sabbath takes place, but it is useless. True love is stronger than any evil art. In the end Csongor manages to grab the veil and the witches have to escape. No. 12 The witch's homestead sinks down and our hero finds himself near the golden apple tree of the first scene. He adoringly gazes at his lower's veil remembering Tünde, then falls asleep exhausted. No. 13 The guardian fairies arrive and bring a new veil for Tünde, but she chooses earthly happiness and Csongor instead of being a fairy. Balga arrives with Ilma, whom he has finally found and they walk happily towards their hut. No. 14 Tünde wakes Csongor up and the choir of fairies sing about eternal love: „Come sweetheart, come with me and enjoy the night, the only thing now awake is love.”
(traduction by Prof. Paul Merrick)