String Quartet No.2, Op.10
Kodaly's String Quartet No.2 was composed during the First World War and completed in 1918. It was premiered shortly thereafter to much confusion. Some critics thought the music too simple, others found it too complex and modern. However in many ways, it resembles his First String Quartet, especially in its use of folk melody. However, in other ways it is quite different. For one thing, its structure is no longer traditional but quite free formed. It is in two movements, but in reality each movement consists of several sections and the second movement might well have been divided into at least two if not more.
The opening Allegro is characterized by its use of interwoven melodies, none quite independent of the others. The second movement, Andante, is marked 'Quasi recitativ' and begins with the first violin playing a rhapsodic solo. The music proceeds in rather halting sections each strikingly different. Slowly the tempo picks up and the music morphs into an Allegro giocoso. There are more than a dozen sections to this lengthy movement. Our soundbite presents several of these but not all.
Zoltan Kodály (1882-1967) and Bela Bartok are widely regarded as the two most important Hungarian composers of the 20th century. Kodály was born in town of Kecskemét and from his father, a keen amateur musician, learned to play the violin as a child. In 1900, he entered the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Budapest where he studied composition with Hans Koessler. After graduating, he began a serious study of Hungarian folk melody. In 1905, he started visiting remote villages and collecting folk songs. Folk melody plays an important part in his music. Kodály later went to Paris where he studied with Charles Widor and was greatly impressed by the music of Debussy and the French impressionists. He composed in most genres, and while he did not write a great deal of chamber music, what he wrote is invariably engaging.
String Quartet No.2 must be considered one of the more important early modern pieces of Hungarian chamber music, very different from what Bartok was doing. As such, it deserves to be heard. The work is not particularly difficult from a technical standpoint and as such is not beyond experienced amateurs. It does require some work to put it together from an ensemble standpoint but is well worth the effort.