Counterpoint at the service of modern-day mysticism

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Beginning and end. © Charles Thibo

Mysticism. If you are tempted by mystic experiences, Bela Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (BB 114/SZ 106) should enchant you. It certainly did enchant me and the audience in the 1930s. In a time of disenchantment, when frivolity and hate rule, Bartok’s music hints at man’s desire to retrieve a state of internal purity, that does not change over time and that alone allows creativity, the French writer Pierre Jean Jouve once opined. Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta is a landmark in the history of 20th-century classical music and one of Bartok’s best known works.

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Inspired as a child by a gypsy band

The colour of tradition. © Charles Thibo

In 1933 Zoltan Kodaly wrote a symphonic poem called “The Dances of Galanta”. Galanta is a small town in what is today Slovakia. It used to be part of Hungary, and Kodaly spent several years here when he was a young. A well-known gypsy band stimulated the boy’s interest in music and gave him a first idea of harmony and melody. “The Dances of Galanta”, written to mark the 80th anniversary of the Philharmonic Society Orchestra in Budapest, take up material form 18th-century verbunkos dances, and became Kodaly’s most popular work.

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Love and death reflected by a young, unknown singer

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Scary morning. © Charles Thibo

Schubert. An early work. The composer’s first string quartet ever! Interesting dynamics, changing keys, a main theme developed in several steps – a young man is searching his way to express himself, not afraid to make errors, keen to try stuff that’s not in the books. If Franz Schubert’s String Quartet No. 1 (D 18) lacks thematic coherence, it has an abundance of surprises and remarkable Romantic passages.

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Memories of a dead friend

Grześ, myślę o tobie. © Charles Thibo

I once had a friend. He died a few years ago. He was the husband of one of my oldest friends. He stayed for some time at my mother’s place before he found a flat for himself and his wife. He was a jolly character, an intellectual, an artist, a philosopher, a wine lover. I sometimes miss his laughter, his bright, round face, his love for mankind. I want to remember him today. All Souls Day. One more Catholic holiday. People go to cemeteries, listen to sermons revolving around eternal life, deliverance. I don’t believe a word of it. My friend is dead. His ashes have been buried, and he only lives on in the memories of those who have known him. Such as my memories.

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