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Name of Work

Kodály , Zoltán (1882-1967)
Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7

Allegro serioso, non troppo
Maestoso e largamente ma non troppo lento - Presto


Mar 18, 2007

Jasmine Lin, Violin
Katinka Kleijn, Cello

Mar 19, 2007

Jasmine Lin, Violin
Katinka Kleijn, Cello

KODÁLY-Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7

Composed in 1914

In the first decade of the 1900s, Bartók and Kodály undertook an ambitious project that would have profound effects on their own creative personalities and on the new academic realm of ethnomusicology: using primitive equipment – no recordable CDs, no iPods in their day – they traveled the countryside to record and transcribe folksongs. Their work helped uncover and preserve a rich musical heritage that might otherwise have been lost. Both composers absorbed these tunes from Hungary and Romania and incorporated them into their own concert works. Kodály also devised influential music-education systems that start by teaching children to sing and play traditional songs. The roots and branches of Hungarian folk music have been linked to the music of Turkey and Central Asia, and the country's parallel gypsy-music tradition links to northern India, where the Traveling People are thought to have originated. So Hungary is a stop, so to speak, on the ancient Silk Road that joined the commerce and the cultures of East and West.

Kodály wrote his String Duo in 1914, shortly after returning from one of his research trips. Already some of his chamber works had been performed abroad, in Paris and Rome, and he was a tenured professor at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, where eventually one of his students would be the young Georg Solti. The melodies and rhythms of the Duo, premiered in Budapest at an all-Kodály concert in 1918, show how thoroughly he had assimilated folk styles into his own individual voice.

The usual diatonic scale of Western music is made up of seven notes, which you can play on a piano's white keys starting on middle C. If you combine those white keys and the black keys that separate them, you play a chromatic scale. Then if you play just five black keys, starting with the F-sharp (G-flat) a half-octave up from middle C, you could play a pentatonic scale. If you were singing a pentatonic scale, the note names would be Do, Re, Mi, Sol, La. The pentatonic scale is characteristic of a great deal of the world's folk music; it had a major influence on Debussy at about the same time as Bartók and Kodály were hearing its patterns again and again in the course of their researches in Hungarian villages.

The first movement of Kodály's Duo, Allegro Serioso, is laid out in traditional sonata form, with two themes introduced and combined through the processes of exposition, development, and recapitulation. The opening theme, based on the outlines of the pentatonic scale, is introduced as a canon between the two soloists. Canon is the most straightforward variety of contrapuntal imitation: one voice starts the melody, the other joins in slightly later. The most famous canon, with apologies to Pachelbel, is "Row, row, row your boat." The Allegro Serioso's second theme contrasts its melodic elements with pizzicato playing on plucked strings. This sonata movement doesn't exploit the strict tonic-dominant key relationships that so fascinated Beethoven; the Duo has no official key signature, so the players are in effect free to explore them all.

The violinist Imre Waldbauer, who premiered the Duo with cellist Jeno Kerpely, heard this first movement in terms of "epic struggles," perhaps perceiving a sense of competition in the canonic opening. Kodály's biographer Laszlo Eoszo, on the other hand, described the Allegro Serioso as a serene tribute to the awesome majesty of the Swiss Alps, where both Kodály and Bartók enjoyed spending holidays. The somewhat contradictory tempo marking – Allegro means lively and cheerful, but this is a 'serious' liveliness – seems to warn us to expect a variety of moods and emotions.

It would be hard, though, to dispute the nature of the Adagio, full of intense lyricism and expressiveness. Though rhapsodic in sound and feeling, it is tightly organized in terms of form: the main theme is treated as a fugue, with melody and response constantly interweaving. The cello occasionally plays in a higher register than the violin, and also occasionally contributes pizzicato comments from its lowest register. The cello's final phrase is marked 'flautato,' flute-like, or light-textured, and this leads to the stately introductory portion of the finale, which briefly echoes the theme of the second movement. This mood gives way to the more dance-like nature of the presto main section, where violin and cello exchange a variety of dancing tunes that recall the folkloric sources of the entire work.

Program Notes written by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performance date: March 18 & 19, 2007

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