Spotlight on Rudolf Maros

Rudolf Maros (1917‒1982) began his career as a pupil of Zoltán Kodály. Although he could sample in 1949 some Western experiments in music at a master’s course held by Alois Hába, the decisive influences on his style were from Kodály and from Bartók, particularly from the discovery of the classicizing tones of the music of Bartók’s final years. Maros, up to the end of the 1950s, became one of the clearest and most successful exponents in Hungary of this folkloristic national classicism.

After the 1956 Revolution, Hungarian music moved steadily closer to West European models, which had been dismissed hitherto. Maros was among the first to apply knowledge of the expressionist Bartók, and of Webern, the Polish avantgarde and the Darmstadt serialists, to re-learning composition techniques and breaking with Hungarian traditions of the first half of the century. His first Western-style orchestral works ‒ the three Euphonies (1963‒65) ‒ sought a modern orchestral sound and came to serve as a model to be followed in Hungary. Yet his strong attraction to Hungarian tradition turned him back to more conservative composing from the 1970s onwards. In a word, his life’s work in orchestral and chamber music marked an attempt to balance modernity and tradition.

Cinque studi per orchestra (1959‒60) clearly documents the process by which Maros – starting from Bartók’s expressionist works written during the 1920s, especially The Miraculous Mandarin and The Night’s Music – tended to escape from the earlier tonal, classicizing realm of music. The composition takes the form of a suite, with alternating notturno and scherzo movements. Decisive to the character of both are percussion instruments hitherto used solo only rarely in Hungarian orchestral practice.

Unusual in Maros’s œuvre are Two Dirges (1962‒63) for solo soprano and chamber ensemble, as vocal composition was not a central interest of his. This song cycle with instrumental accompaniment comes right before the great stylistic change found in the Euphonies, and sheds sensitive light on the composing directions he was considering. The cycle, set to verses by Sándor Weöres, recalls ancient rituals, whose musical portrayal is helped by arrestingly strong use of percussion to show the primitive side of such music. Meanwhile the vocal line brings out the melodic traits of Hungarian folk song.

The three movements (Serenata, Rondo, Notturno) of the 1966 Musica da camera per 11 reflect in their musical character on the neo-classical works of Stravinsky. Its modernity derives from Maros’s instrumentation: the percussion and harp dominate among the eleven instruments, but the soaring lines of the melodic instruments ‒ flute, two clarinets and violin ‒ appear in the score as a signature typical of Maros.

Lament (1969), for solo soprano and chamber ensemble, was an exceptional experiment: Maros followed the strong tradition of Bartók and Kodály in clothing an authentic Hungarian folk lament in modern effects obtained from percussion and harmonic solutions and by using aleatory. This work initiated his rediscovery of tradition. It embodies his urge to face himself, in the light of the latest composing techniques, with his own Hungarian musical past and reincorporate it into the new music style he had developed just a couple of years before.

Notices (1972) for strings, uses traditional forms of reprise, although his instrumentation brings in many soloistic touches and a typically modern thematic sound arises from his long melodies and tight chromaticism. This and his harmonic search for a new treatment of tonality mark an important stage in his return to tradition in the early 1970s. The work alternates between slow passages that resemble a lament and fast, fidgety, clamorous ones. The composed noise at the end of the work forms a notable example of Maros’s instrumental technique.

Fragment (1977) was among Maros’s last works, and can be seen also as an epitome of his stylistic traits. Its two movements assign decisive roles to percussion instruments, lament melodies and dense chromatic passages, yet its two-movement structure harks back to the slow‒fast rhapsody form of Liszt. Nonetheless, the second movement is built of successive aleatoric passages, with a virtuoso, solo violin cadenza at its centre. Its sound alternate the traditional tonality with modern, chromatic blocs of sound. (Anna Dalos, translated by Brian McLean)

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