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ClassicsOnline Home » LAJTHA: Capriccio, Suite de Ballet
(Puppet-show) Op. 39
Laszlo Lajtha, one
of the greatest Hungarian composers of the first half of the
was born in Budapest on 30th June 1892. He took his composer's diploma as a pupil of Viktor
Herzfeld at the Budapest Academy of Music and continued his studies in Leipzig and in Geneva, until1914 spending six months of each
year in Paris. There Lajtha was a pupil of Vincent
d'lndy, who introduced him to the musical world of Paris
and the periods he spent there brought friendship with a number of people who
exercised a decisive influence on his musical language. He began to collect
folk-music in the second decade of the century, then spending the four years of
the war at the front as an artillery officer. In 1919 he was appointed to the
teaching staff of the Budapest National Conservatory .From 1928 Lajtha
was a member of the International Commission of Popular Arts and Traditions of
the League of Nations and then a member of the Commission of
Arts and Letters until the outbreak of the second World War. He was also a
member of the committee of the International Folk Music Council, based in London. It was in 1930 that he signed his first contract
with the Paris publisher Leduc, his exclusive publisher
from 1948. His international career as a composer began in 1929 with the award
of the Coolidge Prize for his Third String Quartet.
After the second
World War Laszlo Lajtha became director of music for Hungarian Radio, director
of the Museum of Ethnography and of the National Conservatory. In 1947, commissioned to provide
film music, he spent a year in London, but on his return lost all his official
positions, for political reasons. In 1951 he received the Kossuth Prize for his
activities in the field of folk-music. He was the on I y Hungarian composer
since Franz Liszt to be elected corresponding member of the French Academie des
Beaux-Arts. Lajtha died in Budapest on 16th February 1963.
The one-act ballet
Capriccio was written in 1944. Lajtha worked here on a cheerful, light
and brilliant piece of music at one of the darkest periods of modern Hungarian
history. Contrasts of this kind between the internal and external worlds are
characteristic of the composer, for whom composition was an escape from harsh
reality. His orchestral Mass, Missa in diebus tribulationis, Opus 50,
for example, was written in 1950, the year in which the Hungarian church was
under strong attack, with the suppression of the monasteries. The same period,
between 1948 and 1950, saw the birth of his ingenious opera buffa, The Blue
Hat, Opus 51, (Le chapeau bleu). While working on the orchestration of this
composition, he w rote in a note to one of his sons: "Just as in the town
l have a room that is mine and only mine, so I have in my soul a secret room of
my own. It has nothing to do with reality, yet it is more real".
One of the closest associates of the composer, Margit Toth, revealed that while
composing Capriccio, Lajtha "often refused to stop working when an
air-raid was sounded, because he was working on apart that gave particular delight'.
The original work is for four hands and was later orchestrated by the composer.
(Tibor Devai adapted Capriccio for two pianos.)
Lajtha had a
peculiarly strong affinity with the period around 1700 and Capriccio, like
The Blue Hat, is set in that time. "The costumes and the
architectural style recall the age of Watteau", he wrote on the first page
of the scenario. In an interview with the publication Film, Theatre, Music in
1962 he remarked: "I like stage subjects evoking the 1700s; I like those
years of the theatre, when actors were stock characters, and it intrigues me
how a man of today can move these figures from another age". As for Capriccio
he said: "Today's ballet genre, for me, is a comedy on a workable
plot. It is easier to dance farcical situations". Capriccio, more
than any other work by Lajtha, shows a clear relationship with the commedia
dell'arte, with popular Italian theatre of the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries. This is already clear from the names of the dramatis personae,
Arlequin, Colombine, Pantalon, the Captain and so on, but the story itself is
also typical. It is not too far-fetched to describe Capriccio as a
twentieth century commedia dell'arte. There is here too a close kinship between
the comic opera The Blue Hat, with a libretto by Salvador de Madariaga,
and the ballet, both of them inspired by the same artistic intention. It is
possible, moreover, that Lajtha only had a commedia dell'arte stage-work in
mind, with action taking place around the year 1700, with the actual genre only
appearing later, leading first to a ballet and then to an opera. Lajtha's
posthumous papers suggest that the libretto is based on an idea by the French
writer Francois Gachot, while the meagre literature on Lajtha alleges that Kalman
Csatho was his co-author.
The setting is a
clearing in a large park. To the left there is a mill “for honest labour” and
to the right the drive-way to the castle.
1. Ouverture. (Presto
molto) The director of the puppet-theatre, as an exception not wearing costume
of the Watteau period, but tails and top-hat, arranges and winds up the
puppets. These include Arlequin, Colombine, the Captain, Isabelle, the
Baroness, Pantalon, the Ballerina and Mezzetin, as well as servants, butlers,
orderly and peasants.
et Arlkequin consolateur (Complaint and Arlequin as Consoler).
Colombine is distressed, for the mill rented by her husband Arlequin and her
has broken down. Arlequin, back from the war, repairs the mill.
3. Marche goguenarde (Mocking March). The Baroness has decided to sell her
mill to Pantalon, who wants to convert it into a bar for his girl-friend, the
Ballerina. Arlequin twice chases away the servants who want to put up the
4. Isabelle. (Molto
con moto) Isabelle, the niece of the Baroness, plays about with the letter that
announces the sale of the mill, ignorant of its contents. She joins Arlequin
and Colombine in begging the Baroness not to sell the mill, but in vain. The contract
is signed. Arlequin and Colombine walk sadly away. The Baroness waits excitedly
for the Captain, whom she has chosen as a husband for Isabelle.
5. La marche du Capitaine (The Captain's March). The Captain presents the
Baroness with a bunch of white roses and wants to give Isabelle a bouquet of
red roses, but she declines it. Pantalon introduces to the Ballerina the
Captain, who takes a liking to her.
6. Serenade de
Mezzetin. (Allegretto) The poet Mezzetin serenades Isabelle, then they dance
7. Menuette et
Musette. Le le9on d'amour, the lesson in love. The Ballerina stealthily
watches Mezzetin and Isabelle first chasing each other and then embracing. She
runs off to the castle and tells on them to the Captain.
8. Toccata. (Presto)
The Captain challenges Mezzetin to a duel. The former "fights" with a
toy sword, the latter with his guitar, then a stick. The Ballerina calls
the Baroness, Pantalon and the servants, while Isabelle runs for Arlequin and
Colombine. When the belligerents are separated, the Ballerina dances an
alluring dance to the Captain and the four drink until they are intoxicated.
Mezzetin's friends help him, in the meanwhile, to steal away.
etcouplet. (Allegro) The Captain, the Ballerina, Pantalon and the Baroness
dance in pairs or all four together, pas de deux and pas de quatre alternating,
then they fall asleep drunk on a stone bench.
10. Romance. (Andantino)
Isabelle and Mezzetin dance, later joined by Arlequin and Colombine.
11. Scherzo. (Vivace)
Seeing the drunken company, Arlequin racks his brains to find a way of
recovering the mill and righting matters for the lovers. At last they turn to
the Director for help and he dresses Arlequin up as the Emperor of the Moon,
with the others as his retinue.
12. Marche plut6t gracieuse pour un empereur de la lune (A Rather Graceful March in Honour
of the Emperor of the Moon). The Emperor of the Moon and his suite
appear. The Emperor offers "treasures" (illuminated inflated plastic
bags) for the castle to the Baroness and for the mill to Pantalon. An agreement
is concluded, and the Emperor gives presents to everyone, before leaving with
13. Les regrets
(Regret). (Andantino) The Ballerina is the first to open her bag of
"treasure"; the light dies out, it is empty .Everyone loses heart.
14. Finale. (Vivace)
Arlequin, now dressed as himself, brings matters to rights. The Baroness gives
Isabelle and Mezzetin her blessing and the castle. Arlequin and Colombine
recover the mill. The Captain consoles himself with the Ballerina, the Baroness
with Pantalon. They dance a round-dance in pairs, but when the curtain goes up
again to the applause, the puppets are all still in their places, and the
The delays that
were the lot of Capriccio, and much of Lajtha's work, were most unworthy
of one of the greatest Hungarian composers of the present century .A letter
from Lajtha in 1960 to the directorate of the Hungarian State Opera reveals
that the work had been left lying at the Opera for ten years. "There must
have been enough occasions during this time to stage my work at the
Opera House. This, however, has not been done. The excuse is immaterial,
libretto, music or something else." Lajtha knew full well what he was
driving at: since he never surrendered to the communist regime, he was
politically a persona non grata in artistic life. Between 1948 and 1962, for
example, he was not granted a passport and he was dismissed from the positions
he held. In an interview in the daily Magyar Nemzet in May 1959 those in charge
of the Opera announced Capriccio as "the great novelty of next
year's ballet scene", but the production never took place. The same
article declared that Lajtha considered making an opera from the ballet, but
this too remained only an unrealised project.
Now, after three
and a half decades, Capriccio has still not been staged, as far as is
known, nor has the choreography been completed. Of Lajtha's three ballets, Lysistrate,
Opus 19, The Grove of Four Gods, Opus 38, and Capriccio, on I
y the first was performed at the Budapest Opera House in 1937 and that for a
mere four nights. Hungarian Radio recorded the complete score of Capriccio in
1987, 43 years after its composition.
suggested three different suite sequences of ballet movements:
movements 1, 2, 5, 13, 14
movements 9, 10' 12, 6, 8
movements 3, 4, 7, 11, 14.
Five movements of Capriccio
were performed by the Hungarian State Orchestra under Janos Ferencsik in
April 1963, that is, after the death of the composer. The critic Andras Pernye
w rote at the time in Magyar Nemzet: "As if Lajtha had condensed all his
composing abilities and qualities in these five short movements, every detail
of his work is permeated with sparkling wit, French ease and the tone of warm,
humane humour". Another reviewer, Esti Hirlap, described Capriccio as
"so fresh, refreshingly charming, so much tailored for dancing and set to
such a joyful story that it is hard to understand why there has been such delay
and why it has not been billed at our ballet theatres: to one's delight, one
catches here a glimpse of the rare, smiling face of LAszl6 Lajtha, who is known
to seek expression usually for serious meditations and philosophical questions
on which he has long ruminated".
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LAJTHA: Capriccio, Suite de Ballet