Something compelled me to go back to this violin concerto, and I can’t quite say what it was. I felt a certain urge to immerse myself into it again, to see if I would enjoy it in a different way or more deeply, with amplified emotions after having it initially dismissed as being of lesser interest.
And I was richly rewarded since Chloë Hanslip’s rendering of Jeno Hubay’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in E major. Op. 90 made a much stronger impression on me that I was ready to acknowledge in an earlier post on Hubay, written one and a half year ago. Hubay was a formidable violinist and the execution of his violin concertos in general require both endurance and virtuosity. Chloë Hanslip is more than up to the challenge and delivers a superb recording of this demanding piece, showing off in the brilliant violin passages and injecting a deep melancholic strain into the lyrical parts.
The concerto was written in 1900, it was published in 1904 in Paris, and what shall I say, it exudes an unbound optimism, a tremendous vitality that make it an appropriate companion at sunrise on an early spring morning. At the same time it has a deeply Romantic texture, that marks the second of the three movements and reflects the influence of the late master of Romanticism like Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms. Hubay’s wish to perpetuate the Romantic style brought him into conflict with other Hungarian composers like Zoltan Kodaly and especially Bela Bartok.
The dispute between Bartok and Hubay is a sad chapter of Hungary’s music, and it reflected the questions of identity and tradition that occupied people’s minds at beginning of the 20th century. Hungary as a country emerged from the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and nationalist awakenings set free uncontrollable forces. Both composers had their roots in the late Romantic period, influenced by ideas born in Leipzig, Vienna and Paris. However while Hubay, like Liszt, considered the gypsy music as the true origin of Hungarian music, Bartok came to different conclusions after his ethnic studies, tracing Hungarian folks music partly back to Romanian roots.
Of traitors and liars
The disagreement over aesthetics and music history in the 1920s led to a bitter personal feud culminating in Hubay calling Bartok a traitor and Bartok calling Hubay a liar. It was fueled furthermore by a competition between Hubay, Kodaly and Bartok for official appointments to Budapest’s music institutions and – that’s how I read this part of history – by who would demonstrate to have the biggest ego. Nothing however of this narrow-minded and unforgiving mood transpires in Hubay’s second violin concerto, and it will forever remain a mystery to me how tremendously inspired composers able to write sublime music cannot transcend such trivial rivalries.
© Charles Thibo