by Jack Bryce
Carleton College Professor Emeritus
Listen to the first movement below, performed by the Azahar Ensemble.
Program Notes: Szervánsky’s Wind Quintet
Endre Szervánsky (Budatétény, 1911 – Budapest, 1977) studied clarinet at the Budapest Academy of Music, and then played in orchestras before he returned to study composition. He worked for the Hungarian Radio in orchestration and was a theory teacher in music schools until in 1948 he was appointed professor of composition at the Academy. His works include Clarinet Serenade and Flute Concerto, Concerto for Orchestra, two string quartets, two wind quintets, Six Orchestral Pieces in which he turned towards a serial style, an oratorio Requiem, a set of orchestral Variations, and a Clarinet Concerto. There are also many choral works and songs, and much chamber and piano music. He is regarded as a very important figure in 20th century Hungarian composition, developing the achievement of Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók; finally he is becoming known farther afield. He was honored by the state of Israel with its “Righteous among the Nations” award for his heroic actions to save Hungarian Jews from the Nazis. His brother Jenö was an important artist; another brother, Peter, a violinist; and his niece Valeria is an important pianist living in London, where she focuses on piano duet music with her husband, Ronald Cavaye, both in Europe and the far east.
The first Servánsky Wind Quintet, composed in 1953, is as splendid a “new” acquaintance as I can imagine making this season. It is warm and sunny, lilting and enthusiastic, gentle and exciting by turns. It demonstrates remarkably effective writing for the instruments, and features a part for horn which one can only describe as astounding: good luck to you, Caroline! After a tiny and mysterious Adagio featuring descending seconds, the first movement offers an Allegro Moderato whose themes begin in G major, and feature initial grace notes in a charming variety. The development features horn calls and scales of increasing excitement; then the movement settles back to a little flute cadenza and the opening ideas, further ornamented with scales. An abrupt key change introduces the closing, which features more horn calls and a final set of rapid scale passages in the opening key. The second movement, Allegro Scherzoso, features jolly repeated notes in all parts ornamented with rushing scales. A slower trio is based on scales, mostly descending. The Adagio movement starts with a lovely scale theme, mostly descending; then comes a second theme, passionate and a bit convoluted, which ends in a horn cadenza. The return of the main motive is mysterious and enchanting. The fourth movement, Allegro vivace, begins in G minor with an exciting theme, and those that follow have to me the most Hungarian attitudes of the piece, featuring repeated notes, five-note themes, and unexpected changes of key. It ends with another brilliant reach by the horn into its top notes.