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ClassicsOnline Home » ZADOR, E.: 5 Contrasts / Children's Symphony / Aria and Allegro / Hungarian Caprice (Budapest Symphony MAV, Smolij)
Eugene Zádor was a remarkable colourist and orchestrator whose Hollywood film work was extensive. He described himself as a ‘middle of the road extremist’. The Aria and Allegro is a beautifully crafted work brimming with rhythmic energy. Five Contrasts for Orchestra demonstrates his rich sound world at its most vibrant; film noir jostling with a big-booted country dance. The lighter A Children’s Symphony is one of his most popular pieces—communicative, witty, accessible. We also hear two small and captivating evocations of his native Hungary.
Eugene Zádor (1894–1977)
Aria and Allegro • Five Contrasts • A Children’s Symphony Hungarian Capriccio • Csárdás Rhapsody
“Every work is worth however much emotional power it has, and that is why I write only when I am inspired. If one can relate to a piece only intellectually, then it isn’t worthwhile; for good music must also reach that very old fashioned and often cursed resource, the heart.” When he made this statement—published in the Los Angeles Free Press in April 1971—Eugene Zádor was looking back on more than six decades of composing music which appealed directly to his listeners’ emotions.
Zádor was one of many composers with European roots who emigrated to the United States in the 1930s and 1940s and made a living in motion pictures while continuing to write music for the concert hall. Unlike Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Waxman and Miklós Rózsa, however, Zádor’s original work for films was sparse—and mostly uncredited. Instead, he earned his living in Hollywood as an orchestrator, turning detailed “sketches” by other composers into full orchestral scores. From 1941 to 1963, he worked almost exclusively for Rózsa, who admired his fellow Hungarian’s skill so much that he made keeping Zádor as his orchestrator a condition of his first contract with M-G-M in 1948.
Born in Bátaszék, Hungary, in 1894, Zádor demonstrated an early affinity for music (exhibiting great keyboard virtuosity) and at the age of sixteen went to study with Richard Heuberger in Vienna. A year later he moved to Leipzig, where he was a pupil of Max Reger. After completing his doctoral degree at the University of Münster, he returned to Vienna, where he taught at the New Vienna Conservatory through the 1920s. While there, he composed (among other works) a symphony and two operas (both produced by the Budapest Royal Opera). He left the Conservatory in 1928 to devote himself full-time to composition and never ceased writing music until his death in 1977. His final catalogue comprised numerous works for orchestra (including four symphonies), several operas, chamber music, piano pieces, choral works, songs and various concertos for what he liked to call “underprivileged” instruments—including trombone, cimbalom, double bass and accordion.
Although some of his pieces are overtly “Hungarian” in style, for the most part Zádor composed in a cosmopolitan but conservative twentieth-century idiom, firmly grounded in tradition, that is strongly tonal and highly contrapuntal. His formal structures are often elaborate but always tightly knit. Effective communication of emotion was his constant goal, and to that end he gave emphasis to melodic expression and evocative orchestral colour. Many distinguished conductors, including Stokowski, Szell, Mehta, Weingartner, Barbirolli, Monteux and Furtwängler, performed his music in Europe and America.
Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, one of Zádor’s classmates in Münster, commissioned Aria and Allegro for Strings and Brass and gave the première with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in March 1967. After leading two performances with the Utah Symphony in 1969, Maurice Abravanel praised it as “a work that is beautiful, moving, novel and makes a great impact even on first hearing.” Neo-classical in character, the piece opens with a warm C major cantabile, initially for strings, in which a gently undulating accompaniment supports a long lyrical line in first violins. An ascending trumpet scale signals the entrance of brass, and the two choirs function somewhat independently until coming together in the first climax of the piece. The ensuing Allegro encompasses two themes, the first characterized by its opening octave span and the second by a short Scottish-snap figure. (The distinctive short-long rhythm is a common trait of Hungarian folk-melodies.) Zádor develops the two ideas contrapuntally, with fugue-like entrances successively cascading over one another. A fortissimo statement of the first theme in unison brass crowns the rhythmically agitated coda.
Five Contrasts for Orchestra showcases Zádor’s mastery of orchestration, combining rigorous development of motifs with diverse orchestral colours, changing moods and kaleidoscopic rhythms. Written in 1963 and published by Ernst Eulenberg in 1964, the work was introduced by Zádor’s Hungarian compatriot, Eugene Ormandy, in Philadelphia in January 1965. The opening movement, Introduction, develops a terse rhythmic figure that evokes the sound of a brutal, dissonant 1940s film noir score. Autumn Pastorale, scored for strings, harp and woodwinds, creates a nocturnal atmosphere with a hint of chinoiserie in its opening piccolo solo. The percussive beginning of Phantasy leads to a contrasting middle section with a unison woodwind line (accompanied by skittish strings) before the piano-driven aggressive material returns. The fourth movement, Scherzo rustico, brings to mind the almost-nightmarish world of Mahler with its heavy-footed country dance. Solos for cheeky clarinet and peasant-like accordion add touches of humour, as does the passage for three bassoons at the beginning of the trio section. The concluding movement is a contrapuntal marvel, spinning three related fugal webs, the first with an expansive subject characterized by wide intervals and the next two with quicker themes that frequently change meter.
A Children’s Symphony was first performed in New Orleans in 1941, and a revised version (dedicated to Zádor’s own children, his son Leslie and his daughter Peggy) was given in Los Angeles in 1960. With its simple diatonic melodies, its traditional formal scheme and evocative orchestration, the work reflects Zádor’s belief that composers should write “original, witty, and easily understood pieces for young people, and if needed provide a programme they can follow.” The work proved to be one of the composer’s most popular, with over a hundred performances in America, Israel, Europe and the Philippines.
The first movement is in the customary sonata-allegro form, contrasting a spirited theme in F major with a more legato second subject. The sleepy clarinet melody which opens the second movement, Fairy Tale, leads to a more adventurous mid-section featuring harp and celesta. The music in this passage suggests a vaguely threatening childhood adventure, but all is set right at the end with the return of the clarinet theme. In the third movement, Scherzo militaire, crisp snare-drum rhythms and buoyant strings support a solo trumpet motif that bursts with boyish confidence, and the trio section highlights a mischievous and playful idea introduced by bassoon. The concluding movement, The Farm, opens with a dreamy passage that perhaps signals the start of a new day; this in turn leads to a principal theme that recalls the traditional children’s chant, “It’s Raining, It’s Pouring.” As the farm awakes, Zádor’s orchestra evokes a mooing cow, a crowing cock and a cackling goose. An exuberant barn dance breaks out before the symphony comes full circle with a return to the opening theme of the first movement.
Hungarian Capriccio is a quicksilver scherzo with elements of sonata form, built on a running sixteenth-note (semiquaver) figure (introduced at the onset by strings) and a succession of melodic motifs which feature prominent Scottish snaps in their rhythm. Light-footed and mercurial, it combines the character of a peasant dance with sophisticated symphonic development. Carl Schuricht conducted the first performance with the Budapest Philharmonic in February 1935.
Zádor moved to America following the Anschluss in 1938. He initially settled in New York, where one of his most successful works, the opera-oratorio Christopher Columbus, had its première in 1939. The following year, perhaps with a slight twinge of nostalgia, he composed his Csárdás Rhapsody, a freewheeling evocation of gypsy songs and dances. From its sensual opening clarinet solo to its energetic and vivacious conclusion, the Rhapsody is a whirlwind of ever-shifting moods. Now slow, now fast, now major, now minor, the music has an improvisatory character that belies the firm compositional technique beneath its surface.
Zádor once described himself as a “middle of the road” composer: “All right,” he admitted, “a middle of the road extremist; and I like to write for my audience.” As the works on this recording amply demonstrate, his music communicates easily but never cheaply; his romantic passion is always tempered with classical restraint. His heart-felt melodic inspiration is grounded in a complete mastery of contra-puntal technique and given flight by his amazing command of orchestral colour.
Frank K. DeWald
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