Author Topic: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist  (Read 10838 times)

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kyjo

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I'm not expecting this thread to get many replies, but here goes....


A pupil of d'Indy, Lajtha collaborated briefly with Bartok and Kodaly in their collections of Hungarian folk song. He served in WWII as an artillery officer, an experience which is reflected in some of his music. After the war, he was appointed Director of Music for Hungarian Radio. Lajtha has the distinction of being Hungary's greatest symphonist, as Kodaly only composed one symphony and Bartok only completed the scherzo of a projected early symphony. He composed the fateful number of nine symphonies, which have all (along with other orchestral works) been recorded by Marco Polo, to whom we owe great thanks for rescuing the music of this neglected master from total obscurity. Hungaroton has also contributed to Lajtha's cause by recording his Symphonies 4 and 9, as well as all ten of his excellent cycle of string quartets and other chamber works.

Lajtha's style is rather difficult to describe in words. To name some composers whom he is closest to stylistically, I would suggest Martinu, Kodaly, Ravel and perhaps Shostakovich, but Lajtha has his own voice, really. Bartok is less of an influence than might be expected, but he rears his head from time to time in Lajtha’s music. Some of his works are somber and angry in mood, such as Symphonies 2, 3, 5, 7 and 8. The other symphonies and orchestral works are less dark and draw from the French school of composing in their rhapsodic and sometimes balletic feel. Orchestration was Lajtha's strong suit, without a doubt. Even in the darker works, Lajtha’s masterful orchestration lends the music an almost magical, otherworldly feel, completely avoiding the “greyness” which pervades the music of some other lesser-known eastern European composers.

Lajtha’s masterpieces are his Symphonies 8 and 9 IMO, especially the latter. No. 8 is a harrowingly dark work which really makes a big impact. It is also notable for beginning, unusually, with a scherzo! No. 9 couldn’t be more different-its otherworldly feel, which I mentioned earlier, is quite haunting. You will be spellbound to the very last bar of this remarkable, original work. That said, I certainly don’t want to leave the impression that the rest of Lajtha’s output pales in comparison to these works. There is great variety in his output and there is something for everyone to be found, whether it be the lilting grace of his ballets or the angry defiance of some of the symphonies.

You need not worry about the quality of the performances on the Marco Polo Lajtha series, in case you have been turned off by the quality of some other performances on this label. Nicolas Pasquet and the Pécs Symphony Orchestra deliver dynamic accounts of Lajtha’s music and are completely inside his idiom. One could perhaps wish for a little more polish from the Pécs players, but their utter conviction far surpasses any minor quibbles.

Fortunately, Lajtha has received the service he deserves on disc by both Marco Polo (orchestral works) and Hungaroton (chamber works). However, there are still a few orchestral works outstanding from Lajtha’s discography: Divertissement, Symphony Les Soli for strings, harp and percussion, two Sinfoniettas for strings, the complete ballet Lysistrata (the suite was recorded by Marco Polo), the ballet Capriccio-Puppet Show, and Missa in dies tribulationis for chorus and orchestra.

I would strongly encourage anyone not familiar with this remarkable composer to please investigate his music :)




« Last Edit: August 01, 2013, 02:57:32 PM by kyjo »

Sean

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2013, 06:25:55 PM »
Hi kyjo, nice to read all those notes.

I had a recording of the Fourth symphony a few years ago and the work didn't really stay with me; if I can remember at all it probably conformed to your points about rhapsody... We can talk about some of his contemporaries greying out but it happens in other places too of course.

I have access to the Marco Polo recording of the Ninth and I'll give it my usual five listenings forthwith- always appreciate a recommendation!

kyjo

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #2 on: August 01, 2013, 06:36:13 PM »
The Fourth Symphony is among Lajtha's most joyous works; I find it a real breath of fresh air and a life-affirming work, an excellent contrast to the troubled Third Symphony with which it is coupled on the Marco Polo disc. Please do revisit this piece as well as give a listen to the Ninth, Lajtha's masterpiece :)

Sean

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #3 on: August 01, 2013, 09:31:39 PM »
I've been hearing the Lajtha Ninth several times today, a serious conception with a fair sense of unity across its three movements. I find the presentation of material with its wide dynamic range a little wilful and intemperate and the invention not especially more memorable than the bubbly Fourth , also accessible via the Naxos site I use, but the work certainly helps fill in the picture of this figure for me.

Offline calyptorhynchus

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #4 on: August 02, 2013, 02:37:51 PM »
Interesting, I must have a listen to some of his music.

Just one question, how do you pronounce his surname, "lie-tar", "lay-tar", "lazh-tar"?

kyjo

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #5 on: August 02, 2013, 02:59:26 PM »
According to forvo.com, it is pronounced something like "loy-teh". Interesting! And please do investigate Lajtha's music!

P.S. I'll eat my hat if this thread gets to two pages (well, my first post does take up a lot of space, so....) ;D
« Last Edit: August 02, 2013, 03:01:40 PM by kyjo »

Offline Szykneij

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #6 on: August 02, 2013, 04:34:55 PM »
All of the Lajtha CDs I have are Hungaroton recordings:


Deux pieces pot flute seule Op. 69, Sonate en Concert Op. 64, I. Trio pour harpe, flute et violoncelle Op.22, II. Trio pour flute, violoncelle et harpe Op. 47


Sonata for Cello & Piano Op. 17, Concerto for Cello & Piano Op.31 (with Dohnanyi Op. 8 )
 

Chamber Music with Harp
Marionettes Op. 26, Trois Nocturnes Op. 34, 2eme Quintette Op. 46

It's been a very long time since I've listened to these. I'll try to re-visit them over the weekend and post again later.
Men profess to be lovers of music, but for the most part they give no evidence in their opinions and lives that they have heard it.  ~ Henry David Thoreau

Don't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines. ~ Satchel Paige

kyjo

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #7 on: August 02, 2013, 04:59:27 PM »
For some reason I've never gotten around to getting those Hungaroton discs you mentioned, Tony. I only possess the Hungaroton recordings of Lajtha's complete string quartets and the Marco Polo recordings of the orchestral works. Have you heard any of Lajtha's orchestral works? As you can tell by my rantings and ravings above, those Marco Polo discs occupy a very special place in my collection and I highly recommend them to anyone with even a passing interest in 20th century symphonism :) Please do report back with thoughts on those three chamber CDs! I'm a real "orchestral nut", if you will, and chamber music usually doesn't hold quite as much interest for me as orchestral music. But the fact that I'm a "Lajtha nut" as well may mean that those chamber discs will be essential listening!

Offline Szykneij

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #8 on: August 03, 2013, 10:10:29 AM »
For some reason I've never gotten around to getting those Hungaroton discs you mentioned, Tony. I only possess the Hungaroton recordings of Lajtha's complete string quartets and the Marco Polo recordings of the orchestral works. Have you heard any of Lajtha's orchestral works?

No, kyjo, I'm not familiar with his orchestral output. I'm partial to chamber music (which is primarily why the CDs I listed are on my shelf) and why I'm most eager to hear his string quartets next. I understand Lajtha was a pretty good violinist in his own right.

I just finished listening to his Sonata for Cello and Piano (Op. 17) and Concerto for Cello and Piano (Op. 31). Both of these works are dark in nature, as mentioned in your opening post, with a driving rhythmic force that does remind me of Bartok. Although there is a significant use of tonal repetition, the music keeps pushing forward thanks to various rhythmic devices. (I caught myself bouncing up and down in my chair at various points).

Despite the cadenza-like passage for the cello in the first movement of the Sonata, that work is more fitting of the and in the composition's title because the piano and cello seem to have an equal footing. I find the cello to be featured more in the concerto, with the piano taking on an accompaniment-like role on occasion. The interplay between the instruments in both works, though, is impressive with a conversational style that sounds to me like an agreeable discussion.

Although it was written 8 years earlier in 1932, the sonata held more interest for me than the concerto thanks to a variety of elements like whole tone scales and pedal tones in the piano which I find appealing. Hopefully, I'll have time to explore Lajtha's flute chamber music later this weekend.
Men profess to be lovers of music, but for the most part they give no evidence in their opinions and lives that they have heard it.  ~ Henry David Thoreau

Don't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines. ~ Satchel Paige

kyjo

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #9 on: August 03, 2013, 10:45:14 AM »
Thanks for the detailed feedback :) I'll have to check out those three chamber discs! I'm sure you'll enjoy the string quartets as well, which deserve comparison with the Bartok and Martinu SQ cycles. And please do investigate his orchestral output if you have the time!

Offline Sergeant Rock

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #10 on: August 03, 2013, 10:59:02 AM »
P.S. I'll eat my hat if this thread gets to two pages (well, my first post does take up a lot of space, so....) ;D

Length doesn't matter. I believe each page holds twenty posts regardless of length. This is my contribution to achieving that goal  :D

I haven't heard anything by Lajtha. Today I ordered 3, 4, 5, 8 and 9, hoping I'll enjoy his music as much as your previous recommendation of Freitas Branco.

Sarge
the phone rings and somebody says,
"hey, they made a movie about
Mahler, you ought to go see it.
he was as f*cked-up as you are."
                               --Charles Bukowski, "Mahler"

kyjo

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #11 on: August 03, 2013, 11:07:06 AM »
Length doesn't matter. I believe each page holds twenty posts regardless of length. This is my contribution to achieving that goal  :D

I haven't heard anything by Lajtha. Today I ordered 3, 4, 5, 8 and 9, hoping I'll enjoy his music as much as your previous recommendation of Freitas Branco.

Sarge

Oh, I didn't know that the length of posts didn't matter. Well, thanks to you, Sarge, and other members (and, of course, myself ;D), this thread may very well turn out to be a two-pager! Glad to hear you enjoyed Freitas Branco's music and I'm sure you'll find something to enjoy in Lajtha's :)

cilgwyn

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #12 on: August 04, 2013, 03:53:59 AM »
He certainly has a gift for orchestration. I still feel his ideas aren't as memorable as a composer like Martinu,for example. Yes,I enjoyed listening to them. Yes,his orchestration glitters & captivates;but unlike Martinu at his best,nothing seems to stay in the mind. Martinu's sound world has often haunted me for days on end. Lajtha's just seems to slip away.
With all due respect! ;D Having said that,I would certainly encourage exporation of this composer.

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #13 on: August 04, 2013, 06:27:31 AM »
He certainly has a gift for orchestration. I still feel his ideas aren't as memorable as a composer like Martinu,for example. Yes,I enjoyed listening to them. Yes,his orchestration glitters & captivates;but unlike Martinu at his best,nothing seems to stay in the mind. Martinu's sound world has often haunted me for days on end. Lajtha's just seems to slip away.
With all due respect! ;D Having said that,I would certainly encourage exporation of this composer.

I would definitely agree with this for sure. There's nothing particularly memorable about Lajtha's music which is not to say he's not a good composer just not a composer I personally connect with. That was an interesting factoid Kyle mentioned about Lajtha collecting folk songs with Bartok and Kodaly.
“Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art.” - Claude Debussy

kyjo

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #14 on: August 04, 2013, 07:31:16 AM »
I would definitely agree with this for sure. There's nothing particularly memorable about Lajtha's music which is not to say he's not a good composer just not a composer I personally connect with. That was an interesting factoid Kyle mentioned about Lajtha collecting folk songs with Bartok and Kodaly.

It doesn't really bother me that Lajtha's music isn't the most memorable ever written. I find some of the atmospheres he creates in, say, Symphony no. 9, to be quite haunting, though. Despite all the praise I've showered on him, I am in no way going to claim that Lajtha was a great a composer as Martinu. But I'm guessing not many people are familiar with his music and wanted to encourage those people to please investigate it :) I, for one, think Lajtha's music deserves wider exposure and that he has an individual voice.
« Last Edit: August 04, 2013, 07:36:01 AM by kyjo »

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #15 on: August 04, 2013, 07:50:29 AM »
It doesn't really bother me that Lajtha's music isn't the most memorable ever written. I find some of the atmospheres he creates in, say, Symphony no. 9, to be quite haunting, though. Despite all the praise I've showered on him, I am in no way going to claim that Lajtha was a great a composer as Martinu. But I'm guessing not many people are familiar with his music and wanted to encourage those people to please investigate it :) I, for one, think Lajtha's music deserves wider exposure and that he has an individual voice.

I can't argue with this. I'll have to dig out some of my Lajtha Marco Polo recordings at some point (if I can find them amidst the mayhem). :)
“Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art.” - Claude Debussy

kyjo

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #16 on: August 04, 2013, 08:11:06 AM »
I can't argue with this. I'll have to dig out some of my Lajtha Marco Polo recordings at some point (if I can find them amidst the mayhem). :)

Yes, please do! I encouraged Cilgwyn to revisit those Marco Polo discs and his impression now is more positive than it was previously :)

P.S. Seriously? A different Schnittke avatar? ;D

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #17 on: August 04, 2013, 08:24:01 AM »
Yes, please do! I encouraged Cilgwyn to revisit those Marco Polo discs and his impression now is more positive than it was previously :)

P.S. Seriously? A different Schnittke avatar? ;D

Yep, a different Schnittke avatar. :) I like this picture a lot actually. I'm starting to really love his music more and more.
“Works of art make rules; rules do not make works of art.” - Claude Debussy

Offline Szykneij

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #18 on: August 04, 2013, 04:08:04 PM »

Listened to this one today. --




The two solo flute pieces that begin the CD weren't particularly to my liking. While they contain some virtuosic elements, solo flute needs to be more melodic to keep my attention.

  I found the Flute Sonata (op. 64), however, very engaging. The first movement features some heavy, low tone clusters in the piano part that build quite a bit of tension underneath the flute, which is relieved by the haunting modal 2nd and 3rd movements.

  I found these middle movements reminiscent of Satie's Gnossiennes (with added flute, of course), while the beginning of the last movement reminded me of Respighi. (As kyojo remarked in his opening post, it's very hard to nail down Lajtha's style.)

As was the case with his Cello compositions, I prefer the earlier Trio for Harp, Flute, and Cello (Op. 22) over the later composition (Op. 47).

The first two movements of Op. 22 exude a distinct Medieval quality. The third movement features some really nice intertwining lines between the flute and cello, and the fourth movement displays the most cheerful character on the recording by far.

While the Trio for Flute, Cello, and Harp (Op. 47) has more of a variety of technical devices, such as tremolo and pizzicato in the cello part and flutter-tonguing by the flute, I found the earlier work to be more affective.
Men profess to be lovers of music, but for the most part they give no evidence in their opinions and lives that they have heard it.  ~ Henry David Thoreau

Don't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines. ~ Satchel Paige

Offline calyptorhynchus

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Re: László Lajtha (1892-1963), the greatest Hungarian symphonist
« Reply #19 on: August 04, 2013, 06:01:16 PM »
I listened to the Symphonies 7, 8 and 9 at the prompting of this thread.

I found them enthralling, rhythmically exciting, though I understand what people mean when they say the symphonies aren't that memorable melodically. However, the rhythms and textures, the use of percussion and low woodwind particularly, are compensation.

What does it sound like: I heard Ravel, Bartok, Kodaly, Janacek, Shostakovitch and even Vaughan Williams (4th Symphony) in there, but it doesn't sound like anyone else really. The three symphonies are reactions to the crushing of the 1956 Hungarian revolt against communism. The 7th is angry and outraged, and ends with a movement that alternates bustling stressful music with a noble paean/elegy for the dead. The 8th and 9th are more reflective, but contain almost as much angry music.

Well worth listening to, I'm going to try the String Quartets next.