, which carries the subtitle In convertendo
, was commissioned for Paul E. Oakley’s birthday by his students from Hartt School. It is a beautiful piece that we found great pleasure in. It is a beautifuly nostalgic piece.
“As it was their conductor’s favourite psalm, a choir decided to commission this piece for him. The composition process went suspiciously quickly so I was hardly surprised by my colleague’s question, ‘Why is this piece so sad? It is about being freed from captivity , after all, isn’t it?! The thought that I had misread something (which, unfortunately, happens) scared me, so I read the psalm again, several times, carefully and in different languages that I understand a little: English, Italian, French, Romanian, Russian translations and of course, from turn of the century Pest, the excellent bilingual Torah. But, I could not help it, the first interpretation remained. Even today, the tone is the same – being freed is dreamlike. It is floating in time as well: it seems like a promise. As there are generational feelings, there are geographical as well. On this stretch of the map that we call, for lack of something better, Central-Eastern Europe, this psalm sounds this way (perhaps because we have experienced many liberations and they have gone through inflation).”
Ave maris stella (based on Pauli Diaconi‘s Hymnus ad Beatam Mariam Virginem) was completed in 1991. The Ars Nova Vocal Ensemble gave the first performance and revived the piece for this CD. They were again surprised by the lyric ‘Mary song‘ which emerged from the complexity of rolling melodies.
“Here a form is born from a basic variation principle: a simple melody is heard about half a dozen times, with harmonic variations, basically that is it, no more. But the important feature of the piece is its melismatic character. I have been tempted by different methods of weaving musical lines from the beginning – it is consistant, knowing very well that a special feature of a choral piece has an enormous value when planning a choral programme.”
The peaceful, beautiful Amor sanctus contains several challanges despite being so short: maintianing the flowing unison of the female voices and securing the harmonic process despite the difficult, interrupting rests require subtle work.
“This is a very early motet of mine, maybe my third choral piece I composed, as far as I remember. In several places it is still rough, peculiar, unexpected. My career developed in such a way that I went from the earlier difficult music towards the easy. This is one of the more difficult pieces. (The idea that my earlier pieces are more interesting comes up over and over again. But it is impossible to sing them, I say, cursing).”
The hit song of the album is Daemon irrepit callidus (Anonymi Hungari – ‚Setteng az ördög‘ – affectus, in Jesum Super fragmentum). This was the first piece of the repertoire of the Ars Nova Vocal Ensemble and they were proud to have contributed to its success. It spread around the world extremely quickly after our performance. Its exciting, dynamic, virtuosic, demonic mood makes it irresistible.
“The text is an extract from the “Cantionale catholicum“ (the beginning of the original is “Vis tibi dicam“). This text was recorded in the printery of the great Transsylvanian place of pilgrimage, Csíksomlyó. (If anyone is surprised by the unintentional humour of the piece, they should remember that the Somlyó Franciscans, like other great teachers of the era, made brilliant Passion plays to educate people, where the devil himself was a humorous character given a sound beating, just to be on the safe side).”
The text of Chiaro (subtitled “Chiarina“) comes from Dante’s Paradiso Canto XXXIII 1-9, as does Verdi’s famous female choir piece Laudi alla vergine Maria. The Italian language and the sophisticated poetic text support the musical lyrical poetry as well. The complexity of the flexible melody results in a rich texture.
“For the opening song of Dante’s Paradise. Its foundation is a diatonic major scale without modulation. No doubt, it could not have been born in its tonal simplicity without the American minimalism of the 1980s, but probably it is an absolutely uninteresting circumstance. The musical discourse is realised by the non-repeated ornaments and yet somehow is closely related to the Italian madrigals. Or does it seem like it only because of the Italian language?”
This flower song Vále, vále is dedicated to Katalin Kiss and the Ars Nova Vocal Ensemble. It came to existence in 2007 as part of a flower song series. It came into existence in 2007 as part of a flower song series and stands out from Orbán’s style with its rich polyphony, accompanied by an incredible tonal variety
“Whilst the title is in Latin, the text is Hungarian, the lyrical love poetry of the 18th century: a flower song. The emergence of choral culture of minor nations has been significant in the last decades. An impressive repertoire has emerged based on folk songs and other literary texts. The reason, in my opinion, is simple: composing in languages which are used all over the world is an artistic ambition, while composing in one’s mother tongue is love (and, of course, historic heritage). As one’s native language is an enormous inspiration, better pieces should be created. Naturally with this approach, the usual dilemma occurs: should all pieces always be performed in the original, no matter how much time and energy is needed? I can’t answer this.But there is a much more difficult phenomenon as well: in some cases the language is not only carrying the content, does not only act as an emotional inspiration, but technically is inseparable from the musicality of the voices. In fact, the text forms the melody. The next piece is exactly like this.”
The Emperor’s Garden, a brilliant, virtuosic piece, is also dedicated to Katalin Kiss and the Ars Nova Vocal Ensemble. Studying it is a serious task but the invested energy is definitely returned. The singers become part of the musical miracle when a choir sounds as rich as an orchestra. Both flower songs were first performed by Ars Nova Vocal Ensmble.
“This piece evokes the same historical flower song poetry as the previous one. However, this text does not exist, it is fictitious, a ‘found text’. It uses the linguistic musicality of the words. It contains parts of flower songs and names of numerous flowers and plants: it is a sort of botanical dictionary, if you wish. It is a fast, what is more, rushing movement made from names of flowers with the most piquant rhythm – the Hungarian language is a real treasury in this respect. I composed a quasi-instrumental piece, having diligently looked for the fanciest flower names that match the notes. A very time-consuming puzzle, but incredibly entertaining (I have tried it several times, for example, with names of birds).
One remaining question is what the real function of the text is in this piece. The idea of a choral piece occured because I was inspired by the rhythm and melody of some flower names and later, as I had gone ahead with the music, I searched for the suitable words, then I created music for the text and so on until I finished the piece.
In fact, the text and music were created almost in synch. This method is trying to follow the ancient synchretic example as text and music come to existence almost at the same time. However, the price is high: these pieces cannot be translated into any other language, as note by note they are connected to the diction of the Hungarian language.
(My play with the language is extended to the Latin movements: I always look for rhythmical “gifts“ in a text beyond prosodic accuracy which could help me to compose pulsating music. This leads to lovely arguments: everyone insists on their own Latin pronunciation, thus do not understand why I hold on to Latin pronounced the German way, forgetting that back in the Roman Empire several pronounciations existed in parallel. My Pange lingua works only with German consonants. Some of my Western-European colleagues call some of my fast movements “ping-pong“ music. They are probably right – and now I am going to reveal the most terrible thing – my fast Latin movements sound as they do due to the way I handle Hungarian texts. After all, my Latin choral pieces were composed by a Hungarian composer, weren’t they?)”
Next come four Mary songs. These pieces, commissioned by Clifford Poole, were written in 2010 for a mixed choir of three voices. Each calls attention by sophisticated taste, high-quality melodies, subtle polyphony. The pieces were first performed by the Ars Nova Vocal Ensemble.
“I have composed six choral pieces for two female and one male voice. Here we have four of them. It is a compromise, they try to make up for the lack of male voices in choirs. When I was young I used to lead such a choir and I could tell you long stories about the accoustic deficiencies. Certainly, this standard form has its own beauty: you cannot solve everything by the tried and trusted resonation of the four voices, so there is a bigger emphasis on linearity and the lower number of parts provides the musical lines with more space. These pieces require clear vocal intonation and they are full with delicate details.”
Salve regina (3 voci)
Ave Regina (3 voci)
Regina caeli (3 voci)
Alma redemptoris mater (3 voci)
Missa Duodecima was commissioned by Judith Watson for the Loughside Chamber Choir in Belfast in 2005. The first performance of the piece, however, was given by nine singers of Ars Nova Vocal Ensemble (Zsófia Megyesi, Szilvia Fenyvesi, Piroska Pintér, Borbála Selmeczi, Melinda Antal, Zsófia Horváth, Gyöngyvér Jánoskuti, Zsuzsa Egri, Mónika Szabó). This unique piece is a real challenge as it requires serious vocal and musical skills. Its performance gives an exceptional musical experience both for the artists and the audience.
Sanctus – Benedictus
“I was lucky with my masses. After the commissioned ones I felt compelled to compose several others as well, so I had the chance to experiment a lot with artists, forms, and most importantly, the possible diversity of character in movements.
Debates over setting sacred texts to music are as old as the church itself and composers have taken a share in this obtrusive and officious “creativity“. Several of my masses were performed in liturgical form. I was greatly honoured but these were the most miserable hours of my life. The ideal way to perform my mass settings, and other sacred pieces which I have composed, would be in concert, either in a church or in a concert hall.
This mass was composed for a female choir and string quintet (and there is also an orchestra version). The Kyrie was inspired by the Bach Passion traditions, and the Sanctus – Benedictus also has Baroque roots. The Gloria is a little bit vague and foggy, with changes in background and foreground. Ethereal vocal lines make it dreamlike. The string playing in the Agnus Dei is exceptionally fast. The colour of the accompaniment creates a light, almost cheerful background for the voices.”
(Dr. Katalin Kiss, conductor 2014)
(Quotations from György Orbán, composer, 2014)
(Translated by Zsuzsanna Egri, 2014)