Two Books from Kecskemét

A historical document and a guide to musical analysis

Although one of the new publications of the Kodály Institute appeared only in Hungarian, the reviewer thinks that this is a very important book for everyone who is interested in the history of the Kodály concept. The reasons why this documentary volume has recently been published is the double anniversary of Márta Nemesszeghy (née Szentkirályi). The founder and first headmistress of the internationally known Kecskemét Kodály Musical Primary and Secondary School was born eighty years ago and she died thirty years ago (March 17, 1923-July 13, 1973). This book gives correct information for those who are interested in the background of the foundation and development of the special singing-music school type in Hungary. It is a very important document of a 'heroic age' of the reform of the Hungarian music pedagogy inspired by Zoltán Kodály. This is a selection from Márta Nemesszeghy's diary which she kept in the 1950s. The title of the book sounds like a slogan and is a quotation from Mrs Nemesszeghy's notes recorded in the most difficult period of her fights for the school: 'In the matters of the school we should fight, we cannot be modest'. („Iskolaügyekben harcolni kell, nem szerénykedni". Nemesszeghyné Szentkirályi Márta naplójából. Kecskemét: Kodály Intézet, 2003.)

One can learn from this exciting 'story' how many political, financial and other problems made the foundation and stabilization of the school difficult. Although Kodály helped a lot when he saw the first results and the problems as well but it is clearly documented that the foundation of the school was Márta Nemesszeghy's idea. She made an enormous effort in incredibly difficult political and financial circumstances. Márta never gave up her decision to realise Kodály's ideas in general music education. The result finally justified her dream and tireless work.

Beside the account of the 1953-1956 period, the editor selected earlier parts of Márta Szentkirályi's diary: a short chapter is about family circumstances and inspiration, and another deals with her first years as a teacher. Márta's self-conscious, determined and resolute character appears already here in this early period.

Ágnes Szögi, the editor, used to be a student of the Kecskemét Kodály school in the 1960s and she has been a senior researcher of the Music Pedagogical Archives of the Kodály Institute for over twenty years. Her personal inspiration is mentioned in the Preface. She carefully selected and edited the text. Notes, photos and facsimiles enrich the documentary value of the book. With this publication 'nes Szögi continued her earlier work about the history of the Kodály School of the composer's native town and its founder-headmistress.


The other book was published in English on the occasion of the 2003 Kecskemét Kodály Seminar as material for a workshop on musical analysis led by Zsuzsanna Kontra, assistant professor of the Kodály Institute. The wide scope of the material is already reflected in the title of the volume: A Guide to Teaching Musical Style. Vocal Music from the Renaissance to the 20th Century. The motto points out the high-quality requirement of the book with a quotation from Ernõ Lendvai's book, Symmetries of Music: 'An analysis is justified only if it leads closer to the content of music and its authentic interpretation'. The aim of the author is to combine musical and intellectual factors of music. She formulated her ideas and aims at the beginning of the Preface partly in questions.

'The more we deal with a piece of quality, the better we understand it and enjoy it. This is why music-making (and teaching) is an intellectual adventure. We can understand musical styles when we go deeply into concrete musical works. What is common and what is individual within the given piece? Which musical tools are more emphasised in contrast to others? Which musical elements are used differently in different epochs?' She tried to choose pieces (independent ones or movements of larger works or cycles) characteristic of the different styles and they present a great variety of genres and characters (musical and poetic contents) although sometimes not the best known items. About the working method Zsuzsanna Kontra explains that only vocal pieces (songs, a cappella or accompanied choral movements) were chosen because 'singing is the most direct way of music-making'. The other very important tool of practical analysis is relative solmisation 'because it expresses the content of music and it is suitable for examining (and understanding) the phenomena comprehensively'.

The book gives a really rich and well-selected material; four pieces or movements from each chosen epoch: Renaissance from a Busnois chanson through the Benedictus of Palestrina's Missa Papae Marcelli and a Morley part-song to a chromatic motet by Lassus. The baroque period is represented by Monteverdi, Purcell and Bach (a cantata recitative and Crucifixus from his B minor Mass). Of course, movements of the three great Viennese classical masters analysed: a Mozart offertorium is followed by a solo-trio and choir movement from Haydn's The Seasons and the Gloria of the Missa Solemnis by Beethoven. A song by the latter composer is also included. Schumann and Wagner songs as well as choir pieces by Hugo Wolf and Liszt represent romanticism. Finally, unaccompanied choral pieces by Stravinsky and Bartók then the Agnus Dei from Britten's Missa brevis and an unaccompanied song by György Kurtág are the examples of the 20th century. In connection with this period one can criticize the lack of a Kodály example. Probably it can be explained with the special purpose of this book: it was written and used as a workshop material in the programme of a Kodály seminar where more than one other lecture and workshop dealt with certain aspects of Kodály's works. But the method of analysis through vocalism and with relative solfa is doubtlessly rooted in the Kodály concept.

Harmonic and structural analysis are equally important in the book but other elements of the music like melodic elements, rhythm or form are also investigated. Although summaries of the characteristic features of the different styles are not given in the book but the reader/user can draw the lesson in each chapter. The author points out the more or less direct connection between the text and music showing the 'programme' and illustrative elements of the musical settings.

Unfortunately but naturally, complete pieces are not included in the book because of copyright problems. Instead of this, the scores used are listed at the beginning of the book. In the Appendix some basic phenomena and technical expressions are explained, and suggested reference books are mentioned.

Zsuzsanna Kontra appears through these analysis as an experienced teacher and a musician for whom the deep understanding of music is a basic demand. Surely, such an intellectual adventure in music can make the performers' relation to the pieces more personal.

Of course the book will fulfil its role if we not only study these analyses but are inspired by them to do something similar with other pieces for ourselves or with our students.

Mihály Ittzés

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