Dances of Galánta

Programme note

Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967)
Dances of Galánta

Galánta is a small town about twenty-five miles east of Bratislava, in what is now Slovakia. Kodály spent seven years of his childhood there (his father was the local station-master), and it was the scene of his first folk-song collecting expedition in 1905. The town’s gypsy band had a wide reputation, and a collection of its traditional tunes was published in Vienna about 1800.

In 1933 Kodály was commissioned to write an orchestral piece to mark the eightieth anniversary of the Budapest Philharmonic Society. In response he produced what has since become one of his most popular works, based on tunes from that 1800 collection.

A slow introduction ends with a short cadenza for solo clarinet, an instrument which plays an important role throughout the piece. The cadenza leads directly into the first dance, a stately tune which has the characteristically jerky rhythm of the verbunkos, a dance traditionally associated with village recruiting fairs. This returns between the remaining dances giving the work a rondo-like shape.

Flutes and piccolo take the lead in the quicker second dance, which culminates in a passionate, fully-scored re-appearance of the verbunkos melody. As this dies down, a graceful new dance starts up on solo oboe, with violin harmonics and glockenspiel contributing to Kodály’s engagingly delicate scoring. Only a few bars of the verbunkos link this to the next dance, characterised by its syncopated rhythm. Considerable excitement builds, but it all stops abruptly for a slower section with a perky clarinet tune over a heavy, low-pitched accompaniment.

Gradually the tempo picks up again, and we are whirled into the headlong excitement of the final section, to which the syncopated idea from the earlier dance makes its contribution. It is interrupted just before the end by a quiet reminiscence of the verbunkos, before the last exhilarating flourish.

© Mike Wheeler