new music studio/uj zenei studio

Jeney/Sary/Vidovszky: Undisturbed
Ensemble of New Music Studio

Dukay: To the changing Moon:
sacrificial music for eight parts (for instruments of one instrumental family)
Auer and Somogyi String Quartets, conducted by Andras Wilheim

Eotvos/Jeney/Kocsis/Sary/Vidovszky: Hommage a Kurtag
Ensemble of New Music Studio

Being part Hungarian (like the late Puerto Rican/Hungarian comic Freddie Prinze, who viewed himself as a “Hungarican”), I’ve always had a soft spot for Hungarian composers, especially Bartok, Kodaly and the “Hungarian minimalist” Zoltan Jeney. I came to know Jeney’s music in the early 80’s on LP, and the music I heard was sparse, evocative and pretty unique. I remember one piece of his for piano that consisted on single notes played in succession. It completely went against the idea of a keyboard as a polyphonic instrument, and was pretty novel.

So I was really intrigued when I was sent the Hungaroton album New Music Studio/Uj Zenei Studio, containing works from, as indicated, the New Music Studio in Hungary, a collective of contemporary composers. Even better, the album highlights their experimental works from the 1970’s, when the composers were searching for “new musical ideals and a new way of thinking,” negating pretty much everything that had occurred in Hungarian music since Bartok.

Let’s start with what I like the best on the album: Barnabas Dukay’s To the changing Moon: sacrificial music for eight parts (for instruments of one instrumental family). Performed by two string quartets, it is spare, quiet and beautiful. It reminds me a bit of some of Brian Eno’s work (particularly Discreet Music), as well as the best of Part and a few other composers (even John Adams and John Luther Adams). I would never take it as a “Hungarian” piece, at least in terms of what is thought of as stereotypically “Hungarian.” The work reminds me of some of the best postminimalist works, and has earned a valued place on my iPod. It’s also the only work by a single composer on this album, since the two other works were composed as team efforts.The Dukay piece is actually a canon with eight independent voices, although it only sounds canonical in retrospect.

The other pieces were composed by more than one composer, and are in a sense, products of many years of improvisations that had been going on for years in the NMS. Undisturbed dates from 1974 and was poorly received by the Hungarian musical establishment at that time. Indeed, the performance was not broadcast, and the NMS was nearly banned out of existence were it not for the support of two political leaders. The music itself is pretty standard for these days, but apparently avant-garde for 1974 Hungary. Each of the three composers contributed a section of the work, in a way that each section is a complete whole, but integrates with the other sections. Vidovszky wrote a section for four keyboards that are in different tempi that diverge, then converge. Sary wrote a section for strings that also involves improvisation, and Jeney contributed 36 movements for prepared piano, percussion and two tapes. There are repetitive elements as well.

Hommage a Kurtag was similarly a joint effort, and was conceived in honor of Gyorgy Kurtag’s 50th birthday. Kurtag has been a great supporter of the NMS. Interestingly, this recorded performance was made in honor of the composer’s 60th birthday, but was never released, in part due to the political situation in the 80’s. As with the other team-composed work, this one includes improvisatory elements, and is scored for a very large group of instruments.

Overall, this is an incredible album, both as a document of a historic music studio within a country in transition, and as a really enjoyable set of pieces.

3 Responses to “Music by Hungarian Composers”
  1. I was in Budapest for a couple of days in early September. Budapest was to be the diversion or excursion on what was to be a work week of recording Hovhaness in Bratislava. My initial impression of Budapest was that of a once glorious city in grave decline. To personify it, Budapest seemed like a once great boxer past his prime and taking a serious beating.

    On a Saturday night, it was difficult to find an open restaurant, and all too easy to find a bar. It is quite obvious that alcoholism is rampant. It all seemed rather depressing.

    Beneath the surface of negativity in Budapest, I found something ever so rare…A true love of living art and music…A love that I have seen nowhere else. That same Saturday night at 10:30pm, I found a violin shop: a tiny shop about 6′ by 8′. There were 3 old men…the violin maker and his 2 friends drinking a bottle of wine and talking about violins. I tried a couple of instruments just for the fun of it. Before I knew it dozens of people gathered outside of the store just to listen. There were yuppie couples, blue collar workers, drunks, old, young, middle aged etc… pretty much everyone who walked past the store stopped to listen. This was nothing I have seen anyplace before.

    The next day, I walked by the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts. The website for the museum played up the Picasso and Rembrant exhibits. This was clearly for the tourists. At the museum, not much advertising about these two exhibits was apparent. In fact, what they did play up and what people were going to see was an exhibit featuring works by current Hungarian artists. Where else in the world would that be the hook and bait for an audience! Compare that with the Tate Modern in London, where a Salvador Dali exhibit was the hook and bait. Tate’s hook and bait came complete with a Salvador Dali impersonator beckoning you in.

    So, it is no wonder that creative music continues to come from Hungary.

  2. Bren Jeney says:

    I am trying to find out if I am related to Zoltan Jeney, can you give me any family imformation about him please.

  3. Steve Layton says:

    Jeney’s page at the Budapest Music Center:

    has his address and phone number. You could contact him directly.

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