ZOLTÁN KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Dances of Galánta (Galántai táncok) (1933)
Notes by Michael-Thomas Foumai
FRAMING 1930s: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Composed in 1933, Zoltan Kodály's Dances of Galánta frames a turn in Hungarian race relations. The year marked Adolf Hitler's rise to power. Hungarian interest in an alliance with Nazi Germany stemmed from kindred political values and a hope to regain land lost during the First World War/collapse of Austria-Hungary. Following Anschluss (annexation of the Federal State of Austria) in 1938, racial profiling commenced with Hungarian anti-Jewish laws, severely limiting Jewish economic participation and eventually evictions and deportations.
In the Territory of Hawai'i, allegations of rape and the murder of native Hawaiian boxer Joseph Kahahawai headlined the tabloids and radio airways, culminating in the heated Massie Trial. In 1931, Thalia Massie accused a group of young Hawaiian men of sexual assault. Five suspects were arrested (Horace Ida, Benny Ahakuelo, Henry Chang, David Takai, and Kahahawai), though Massie's account of the incident consistently changed. The resulting mistrial led Massie's mother, husband, and two other Navy men to kidnap Kahahawai to force a confession, ending in his murder. The vigilante quartet was arrested, tried, and found guilty of manslaughter. Under pressure from the Navy and the U.S. government, Governor Lawrence Judd reduced the ten-year sentence to one hour served in his office.
"If I were to name the composer whose works are the most perfect embodiment of the Hungarian spirit, I would answer, Kodály," writes Béla Bartók. As a composer, educator, and ethnomusicologist, Kodály's many vocations intersect in his Dances of Galánta of 1933. "Galánta is a small Hungarian market town known to travelers between Vienna and Budapest," Kodály writes. Spending seven years of his childhood in the town, "there existed a famous gypsy band that has since disappeared. The forebears of these gypsies were already known more than a hundred years ago. About 1800-some books of Hungarian dances were published in Vienna, one of which contained music after several Gypsies from Galánta." Compelled to preserve the old tradition, Kodály drew upon these themes as the principal material for the work, weaving the Verbunkos style music through his modern voice to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Budapest Philharmonic Society.
Beyond the Music: When Henri Berger assumed the position of bandmaster of the Royal Hawaiian Band in 1872, he was baffled to find no printed Hawaiian music (an issue that persists to a degree today). Hearing the tunes, he collected and wrote them down, then arranged them for various instrumentations, including voice and piano, then for band and orchestra. Soon, he began collecting and preserving chants. As a result, Berger began to change the process of composing in Hawaiʻi. Lyrics, often composed first, were later fit to music. However, Berger had started to compose music first, then find words to fit the tune. The marriage of words to music eventually evolved so Hawaiian composers would simultaneously compose lyrics and music. Like Berger, Kodály and Bartók collected and recorded folk music, preserving the musical tradition of their homeland. Then using their musical voice, they created new original music informed by their discoveries.
The first performance of the work in Honolulu was given in 1956 by the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra under the Hungarian-American conductor, George Barati, who studied with Kodály at the Liszt Academy of Music in the 1930s. The 16-minute score calls for two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, timpani, percussion, and strings.
Zoltan Kodály was born in Kecskemét, Kingdom of Hungary, on December 16, 1882, and died in Budapest, Hungary, on March 6, 1967.