Zoltan Kodaly

Zoltan Kodaly’s Psalmus Hungaricus, a choral work for tenor, chorus and orchestra is the work which the finalists of the Kodaly Conducting Competition in Debrecen must rehearse and conduct, was composed in 1923. Jury member Remy Franck has more information about this masterpiece.

Psalmus Hungaricus is a truly beautiful vocal work which deserves to become more popular outside Hungary. It shows such a richly flowing melodic invention and, as a song of the oppressed and persecuted, it is deeply moving. »

The text is based on the Psalm 55, « Give ear to my prayer, oh God », by 16th-century poet, preacher, and translator Mihály Vég. The text, including passages of despair and call to God, allow the composer to address Hungary’s tragic past, when it lost large parts of its national territory and was occupied by various oppressive regimes.

The distressing situation is evoked by the tenor and commented and even lamented by the choir.

Bitterness, lamentation, and desolate loneliness characterize the music, in which, however, a visionary, lyrical-epic meditation is also embedded, as is the dramatic expression of anger at the betrayal by friends.

The final movement is alternating sounds of martial bombast with words of defiance. The work ends with a quiet prayer.

Psalmus Hungaricus, a beautiful but all too seldom heard composition, testifies to Kodaly’s melodic imagination, the love for his country and evokes through the biblical text the adversity he himself often had to face in his work. The not so many recordings of this work show the various interpretative possibilities, between the between the angular and edgy version of Georg Solti, the opulent recording of Charles Mackerras, the richly diversifying, orchestrally wonderfully transparent version of Ivan Fischer, the dramatically intense declamatory recording of Ferenc Fricsay and the most lyrical and directly operatic version of Herbert von Karajan.


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