On the Centenary of András Szőllősy
"The third master" - his faithful monographer, János Kárpáti used this epithet on András Szőllősy who was born on February 27, 1921, a hundred years ago. He was the third beside György Ligeti and György Kurtág, who were all born in Transylvania in the 1920s, and then graduated from the Budapest Academy of Music - that is, he was the third behind his world-famous colleagues and friends.
Szőllősy’s oeuvre is thin, consisting of barely thirty compositions, mostly from the 1970s and 1980s, followed by a few “autumn flowers” until 2002. The late start of the career is explained by the fact that although Szőllősy studied composition as a student of Zoltán Kodály, he felt more like a musicologist until the mid-1960s, collecting and editing the works and writings of his great predecessors, Béla Kodály and Bartók. (his Sz-numbers are still used to identify Bartók's works).
A fresh impetus for composing came at the commission of the renowned flautist Severino Gazzelloni in 1964 (Tre pezzi). It is rumoured that with this cycle, Szőllősy wanted to show his younger colleagues, enchanted by the avant-garde of Western Europe, that he also has an independent idea of the modern tone. The real breakthrough was Concerto no. 3, for string orchestra, written in 1968, which was chosen as Distinguished Composition of the Year at the 1970 UNESCO Rostrum in Paris. Concerto No. 3 already carries the features of Szőllősy’s style of the following decades: a strict structure, a very precise notation that gives the impression of aleatory, but at the same time a retrained expression of an overall tragic worldview that appears in recurring intonations such as dirges, chorales, and bells, summoning the atmosphere of a funeral.
In the 1970s and 1980s, in addition to Hungarian orchestras, Szőllősy received commissions from renowned European institutions as the Dresdener Staatskapelle (Preludio, Adagio e Fuga), the BBC Wales (Canto autunno), the Dutch Ensemble M (Pro somno Igoris Stravinsy quieto) and the Berlin Biennale (Elegia). In the 1980s, vocal works brought a new colour, most notably compositions for King’s Singers, like Fabula Phaedri, a fine example of Szőllősy’s humour, and the touching Miserere.
His last works: two poignant funeral music, in memory of his youthful friend (Passacaglia Achatio Máthé in memoriam) and the always supportive musicologist-critic colleague (Addio: György Kroó in memoriam). As if Szőllősy himself were saying farewell in these compositions with the sound of string instruments, like decades before, when in Concerto No. 3 strings helped to find the composer’s own voice.