The modern Hungarian city we know as Budapest is really three older settlements merged into one: Buda, on the west bank of the Danube, was the royal seat of the medieval Hungarian kings; Obuda, just to the north, was an ancient Roman provincial capital; and Pest, is a newer city situated on the east bank of the Danube. These three became the modern-day city Budapest in 1873.
In 1923, to celebrate modern Budapest’s 50th anniversary, the Hungarian government commissioned two of its greatest composers, Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály, to compose orchestral pieces which both premiered on today’s date that year.
Bartók’s contribution was a lively “Dance Suite,” with themes reminiscent of Hungarian folk melodies, although no actual folksongs are quoted. It’s one of his most genial and upbeat orchestral scores.
Kodály’s contribution was his “Psalmus Hungaricus” for tenor, chorus and orchestra, a free setting of a 16th century Hungarian translation of Psalm 55, in which the Psalmist pleads for deliverance from his persecutors.
That Psalm had a special political resonance for Zoltán Kodály, who had fallen out of favor with the right-wing Hungarian regime then in power. Despite its melancholy tone, “Psalmus Hungaricus” was an instant hit in Hungary and elsewhere, and helped established Kodály’s international reputation as one of his country’s greatest composers.
Music Played in Today's Program
Béla Bartók (1881-1945)Dance SuitePhilharmonia Hungarica; Antal Dorati, cond.Mercury 432 017
Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967)Psalmus hungaricus, Op. 13Lajos Kozma, tenor; Brighton Festival Chorus; London Symphony; István Kertész, cond.London 443 488