A pianist mourns the highly-strung Zoltán Kocsis

Peter Donohoe has posted this memoir of a close associate:

 

Zoltan Kocsis - portrait of the Hungarian pianist, conductor and composer in rehearsal with the Orchestre National de France, December 2004. b. 30 May 1952.

It was with huge dismay that I learned of the death of Zoltán Kocsis. I cannot claim to have known him well, but my awareness, admiration and musical collaboration with him – rare though the latter was – spread across several decades since I first him when I was still a student in 1974.

At that time I made a special study of the works of Bartók, and this led me to enrolling for a summer school in – the then communist – Hungary – the Bartók Seminar in Budapest, held by the great Pál Kadosa – by then in his 70s, and although he was actually a student of Kodály and Székely, had a close affinity with Bartók’s music and it was widely assumed that he was actually a student of Bartók.

I was already aware of Kocsis’ extraordinary recording on the Hungaroton label of the Bartók Piano Concertos Nos 1 and 2. As Concerto 2 was a seminal and life changing work for me, I had studied every recording I could find, and Kocsis’ was the one I admired most. Made when ZK was about 18, it has an insight into this great music that goes so far beyond technical considerations (it is one of the most technically demanding concertos in the repertoire) and that so belies the soloist’s age on that recording. It is also of such command and understanding of the orchestra that it could not really be bettered. Since then excellent recordings have been released by, amongst others, Pollini, Ashkenazy, Richter, Lang Lang, and – although I am inclined not to mention it, I will – myself. Kocsis also re-recorded it later. However, to my ears, none of us have toppled that original, raw, brilliant yet thoughtful, magnificent snapshot of a great artist in his youth.

It was with great joy – and respectful fear – that I discovered that Kocsis was assisting Kadosa in his masterclass and talks on Bartók. The result was a feeling of a direct line to my then greatest 20th Century composer-hero. The atmosphere of admiration for Bartók was something I will never forget, and Kocsis’ demonstrations were phenomenal in their unique combination of confidence and devotion. He also performed for us a suite of short pieces by Kadosa, demonstrating his ability to be so completely convincing at first hearing of totally unfamiliar music.

At one point I was ‘volunteered’ to play through Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion – one of the composer’s greatest masterpieces – in front of the class with Zoltán, and it was one of the most heart-pounding experiences I had ever had. This was when Zoltán first displayed to me his renowned impatience; he made it plain that he wanted to go into the finale as an attacca and I didn’t – something that seemed to inspire an extraordinary degree of anger in him, and one that I railed against on the basis that the composer did not write ‘attacca’ so there was no need for ZK’s ‘appalling attitude’. [incidentally his nickname was something like ‘Jolly’ – an abbreviation of Zoltán. I don’t use it here because I do not really know how to spell it; it is probably not ‘Jolly’, because that is something he could never be accused of being.] [Edit: I am now reliably informed that it should be spelled ‘Zoli’. Thanks to Raluca Rad!]

This inspired a permanent friendliness between us from that moment to the last time we met. He came to my performances at the 1976 Liszt-Bartók competition and was incredibly supportive, and he invited me not so long ago to perform with him conducting his own Hungarian National Symphony Orchestra, playing Bartók’s Concerto No 3 in both Budapest and Pecs. Zoltán drove his wife and me back to Budapest after the Pecs concert, and his wife navigated and sent him down the wrong road for about twenty miles. The screaming temperamental fit that ensued reminded me of that moment in 1974 when we played the Sonata together, and I felt it necessary to again put him straight – again it led to great friendship being renewed. It was another insight into the impatience of genius.

One other example was Jeremy Siepmann’s collection of interviews regarding the performance and interpretation of Bartók. I was one of those interviewed, and one of my main thrusts was regarding the Hungarian-ness of the music; I always feel strongly that musicians of the same country as whichever composer is being referred to should not feel that they have a hotline to the style that excludes the rest of the world. Zoltán’s interview seemed to assume that, as a Hungarian, he had a greater insight into Bartók than anyone from outside his country. This led to me wanting to throttle him again, and I sent a message via Jeremy that the reason his performances of Bartók were so great was because he was a great artist and musician, not because he was a Hungarian. In any case – my verbal message continued – Bartók was from Transylvania, which has far more cultural affinity with Romania than with the totally different one of Hungary; a Hungarian expecting ownership of Bartók would be the equivalent of an English pianist assuming a hotline to Debussy – said I. I never had a response from him, and sadly Jeremy Siepmann has also died recently, so I will never know if he received my slightly tongue-in-cheek poke; however, I have every reason to believe that he would responded in kind.

The last time I saw him perform was in the 2009 Enescu Festival in Bucharest in err Romania…. He conducted Enescu Symphony No 2 wonderfully and the first half was a performance of Bartók Piano Concerto No. 2 – again – this time with another soloist. I wanted to go backstage to congratulate him on his performance of the Enescu, but I didn’t have a chance – something which I so regret now. He did look older than his years on that occasion, but I had no idea that his health was failing.

Even though I did not see him from one year’s end to the next, I feel very strongly that he was a close associate, a great person and a wonderful musician. That he so recently died has hit me very hard, and I am somehow aware that part of my own past has died with him. Very sad.

zoltan-kocsis

 

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  • This is a sincere and personal tribute and I thank you for it. I love the way you recount your experiences with him- the greatest and most respectful tribute. I could read on for hours.
    There are already too many cut and paste generic death notices on the web. How insulting.

  • In fact, I have been informed of a few factual errors since writing the original post. Mea Culpa.

    Here is a corrected version:

    ZOLTAN KOCSIS

    It was with huge dismay that I learned of the death of Zoltán Kocsis. I cannot claim to have known him well, but my awareness, admiration and musical collaboration with him – rare though the latter was – spread across several decades since I first him when I was still a student in 1974.

    At that time I made a special study of the works of Bartók, and this led me to enrolling for a summer school in – the then communist – Hungary – the Bartók Seminar in Budapest, held by the great Pál Kadosa – by then in his 70s, and although he was actually a student of Kodály and Székely, had a close affinity with Bartók’s music and it was widely assumed that he was actually a student of Bartók.

    I was already aware of Kocsis’ extraordinary recording on the Hungaroton label of the Bartók Piano Concertos Nos 1 and 2. As Concerto 2 was a seminal and life changing work for me, I had studied every recording I could find, and Kocsis’ was the one I admired most. Made when ZK was about 18, it has an insight into this great music that goes so far beyond technical considerations (it is one of the most technically demanding concertos in the repertoire) and that so belies the soloist’s age on that recording. It is also of such command and understanding of the orchestra that it could not really be bettered. Since then excellent recordings have been released by, amongst others, Pollini, Ashkenazy, Richter, Lang Lang, and – although I am inclined not to mention it, I will – myself. Kocsis also re-recorded it later. However, to my ears, none of us have toppled that original, raw, brilliant yet thoughtful, magnificent snapshot of a great artist in his youth.

    It was with great joy – and respectful fear – that I discovered that Kocsis was assisting Kadosa in his masterclass and talks on Bartók. The result was a feeling of a direct line to my then greatest 20th Century composer-hero. The atmosphere of admiration for Bartók was something I will never forget, and Kocsis’ demonstrations were phenomenal in their unique combination of confidence and devotion. He also performed for us a suite of short pieces by Kadosa, demonstrating his ability to be so completely convincing at first hearing of totally unfamiliar music.

    At one point I was ‘volunteered’ to play through Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion – one of the composer’s greatest masterpieces – in front of the class with Zoltán, and it was one of the most heart-pounding experiences I had ever had. This was when Zoltán first displayed to me his renowned impatience; he made it plain that he wanted to go into the finale as an attacca and I didn’t – something that seemed to inspire an extraordinary degree of anger in him, and one that I railed against on the basis that the composer did not write ‘attacca’ so there was no need for ZK’s ‘appalling attitude’. [incidentally his nickname was something like ‘Jolly’ – an abbreviation of Zoltán. I don’t use it here because I do not really know how to spell it; it is probably not ‘Jolly’, because that is something he could never be accused of being.] [Edit: I am now reliably informed that it should be spelled ‘Zoli’. Thanks to Raluca Rad!]

    This inspired a permanent friendliness between us from that moment to the last time we met. He came to my performances at the 1976 Liszt-Bartók competition and was incredibly supportive, and he invited me not so long ago to perform with him conducting his own Hungarian National Symphony Orchestra, playing Bartók’s Concerto No 3 in both Budapest and Pecs. Zoltán drove his wife and me back to Budapest after the Pecs concert, and his wife navigated and sent him down the wrong road for about twenty miles. The screaming temperamental fit that ensued reminded me of that moment in 1974 when we played the Sonata together, and I felt it necessary to again put him straight – again it led to great friendship being renewed. It was another insight into the impatience of genius.

    One other example was Jeremy Siepmann’s collection of interviews regarding the performance and interpretation of Bartók. I was one of those interviewed, and one of my main thrusts was regarding the Hungarian-ness of the music; I always feel strongly that musicians of the same country as whichever composer is being referred to should not feel that they have a hotline to the style that excludes the rest of the world. Zoltán’s interview seemed to assume that, as a Hungarian, he had a greater insight into Bartók than anyone from outside his country. This led to me wanting to throttle him again, and I sent a message via Jeremy that the reason his performances of Bartók were so great was because he was a great artist and musician, not because he was a Hungarian. In any case – my verbal message continued – Bartók was from Transylvania, which has far more cultural affinity with Romania than with the totally different one of Hungary; a Hungarian expecting ownership of Bartók would be the equivalent of an English pianist assuming a hotline to Debussy – said I. I never had a response from him, and sadly Jeremy Siepmann has also died recently, so I will never know if he received my slightly tongue-in-cheek poke; however, I have every reason to believe that he would responded in kind.

    The last time I saw him perform was in the 2009 Enescu Festival in Bucharest in err Romania…. He conducted Enescu Symphony No 2 wonderfully and the first half was a performance of Bartók Piano Concerto No. 2 – again – this time with another soloist. I wanted to go backstage to congratulate him on his performance of the Enescu, but I didn’t have a chance – something which I so regret now. He did look older than his years on that occasion, but I had no idea that his health was failing.

    Even though I did not see him from one year’s end to the next, I feel very strongly that he was a close associate, a great person and a wonderful musician. That he so recently died has hit me very hard, and I am somehow aware that part of my own past has died with him. Very sad.

  • Beautiful memories from Peter Donohoe. Thank-you. Zoltan Kocsis was indeed a wonderful musician. All of us at PRESTO CLASSICAL were very sad to hear about his death. We pay our tribute to this great pianist here http://www.prestoclassical.co.uk/obituary/1616/Zoltan-Kocsis. Although known mainly for his Bartok recordings, I would encourage everyone to seek out his recording of Debussy’s Images & Arabesques, which won a Gramophone Awards and a Penguin Rosette Award. A masterclass in Debussy playing. The reissue is here – http://www.prestoclassical.co.uk/r/Philips/4752102.

  • This is on the thread: follow the link to the black and white photos. They are nice.
    Pal Lederer says:
    November 7, 2016 at 11:01 am

    His death is an enormous loss! May he rest in peace.
    And let’s not waste too much time on his sometimes really controversial statements. He was an outstanding musician and a great patriot of Hungary.

    Let us mourn by recalling a few moments of his life with the help of some great pictures taken at different times and places by Mr. Gábor Fejér, former chief photo editor of the recently “executed” Hungarian daily Népszabadság. Before clicking: on the landing page please go to the bottom menu line, click MUSIC and from the pop-up menu choose the artist. http://www.fejergabor.hu/main.php?lang=eng&restart=0

    And if you have time click through the rest as well.

  • When writing about the Piano Concertos of Bartók, it is unpardonable to NOT mention the name of György Sandor, who was a close friend of the composer and who premiered the Third. His recordings are authoritative, with a focus on the dance-like, folk-inspired aspects of Bartók, avoiding the cliché of motoric, violent brutality.

    • Don’t be silly. This is not intended as a catologue of who recorded the Bartók Concertos. Kocsis’ recordings were my chosen favourites during the period I was describing. The others I mentioned were released later. ‘Unpardonable’….. ? This is a memory of Zoltan Kocsis, not an opportunity for you to be fundamentalist about your choices.

      • Don’t get me wrong, your memoirs are very interesting (and reading this, I can’t help wondering if there was a connection between Kocsis’ short-temperedness and his early heart failure…).
        But this is as much about you as it is about Kocsis. It’s fine to promote your own Bartók recordings (although you were inclined to not mention them, but you did, didn’t you?), but it’s not fine to not mention the most important ones.
        And whether you like it or not, there IS definitely a link between Bartók’s music (so full of typical Hungarian rural peasant- and folk songs) and Hungarian identity. That’s why his greatest interpreters on piano were HUNGARIAN, not ROMANIAN: György Sándor, Andor Földes, Géza Anda, Zoltán Kocsis and several others. Nothing “fundamentalistic” about it.

      • Well spoken, Peter, as ever, and a fitting and very well tribute. Amazing how so-called experts jump on the bandwagon to get heard!

        Just seen you are coming to Leeds with Martin – look forward to seeing you there in March if not before in Manchester.

  • Dear Mr. Donnohoe, I have to take issue with you on this – “Bartók was from Transylvania, which has far more cultural affinity with Romania than with the totally different one of Hungary.”
    Transylvania was always Hungary until the Treaty of Trianon at the end of the first world war. Hungarians still regard Transylvania as the historical heart of their country, an area steeped in their culture – the most “Hungarian” part of Hungary, despite the imposed border. Most of the people who live their speak Hungarian on a daily basis and despise the fact that they are still under Romanian control. Of course, as the geographical area is the same, there are cultural similarities – which Bartok acknowledged in many pieces – but no Hungarian – least of all Kocsis – would agree with your assertion regarding cultural affinity. But thank you for this memory, nonetheless.

    • Entirely agreed.
      I have the utmost respect for Zoltan Kocsis, he was a great pianist with a momumental approach. I heard him at the height of his powers, in the 1980s, playing Sonatas of Beethoven and Schubert, and I was deeply impressed.
      Like I said, Donohoe’s reminiscences of Kocsis are interesting, but IMO it paints an incorrect, incomplete picture of Bartók and the recorded legacy of his piano music. There are many influences in Bartók’s music, but its fundaments are clearly Hungarian, and the greatest advocates of his music have always come from Hungary — that’s no coincidence. Both Kocsis and Bartók deserve a better tribute than this.

      • Erwin: “Both Kocsis and Bartók deserve a better tribute than this.”

        Both Kocsis and Donohoe deserve better than your churlish comments! This is a warmly personal tribute from a fine artist, friend, and colleague of Zoltán Kocsis. It’s not about you, Erwin, and your self-important cavils.

        • Whether you like it or not, I made these remarks for no other reason than that I care for Bartók and what his music stands for.

    • Dear Mr Cavaye,

      Thank you very much for your post. Your point is very well taken, and I entirely respect what you say. My statement, which was part of a quote from what I sent to ZK via JS as tongue-in-cheek, was in any case based on my impressions of the music, rather than on any detailed historical knowledge. In my piece about Kocsis, I was reporting what had happened between us, not throwing out a bland statement up for argument. Bartok Rhapsody Opus 1 – a work I have played a lot – seems to me to encompass many influences, not least of which is Romanian. But I also hear Hungarian folk music and dance, the influence of Liszt very obviously, as well as Dvorak and many others. In his later music I hear Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Strauss and Debussy, as well as a wonderful fusion of Eastern European influences on the rhythm and harmony. That in the final analysis Bartok was, for all those influences listed, a great and formidable original is completely obvious. However, your historical perspective is very illuminating, and I am sorry if I wrote something untoward regarding these facts.

  • Some people just cannot stop digging can they, Erwin? Once you have been crass and inappropriate and been reproached for it, if you cannot bring yourself to admit it, it is probably best to go silent. I understand it, I really do. Along with almost everyone, I have been guilty on occasion of saying the wrong thing, or even the right thing at the wrong time, so you have my sympathies.

    I have long admired the work of Peter Donohue, amongst many others including Zoltan Kocsis. In particular, I have been impressed by his performances of Bartók, also along with those by Zoltan Kocsis. I have also been for years, a huge fan of these concertos. They are to my ear perhaps the most significant of the era in which they were written.

    Of all the recent excellent performances of the Bartók Concertos I have heard, Donohue, with Sir Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra – all non-Hungarians as far as I know – of all three concertos is the most comprehensively and consistently insightful, brilliantly played and – when necessary – magical, on CD.

    Even if they weren’t as good as they are – and I recommend that you check them out before putting your foot in it again – your remarks are in the wrong place.

    Given that Donohue has recorded not only the concertos, but the Piano Sonata and the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion for EMI/Angel, and, as he says, made a particular study of Bartók at one stage, it is difficult to imagine that he has much respect for your words. It is one thing not to like his performances for artistic reasons, and quite another to imply dismissal of them (I would put money on your not having heard them) on grounds of race. It is an amateurish response, and you should know better.

    And, more particularly, this is not a place for discussion of whose recordings are the ‘best’. This was a tribute by one musician to another – the latter having a far higher profile than the former, by the way – upon the latter’s passing away. That Kocsis has received so much adulation from all sides, including Donohue, is this really a place for such nonsense?

    By the way, I am not sure that I can think of any significant recordings of the Bartók Concertos by non-Hungarians, other than those by Pollini and Donohue. I know Lang Lang recorded the Second (also with Rattle), as did Simon Barto with Eschenbach, but not the other two concertos. The 1980s Pollini recording – of Nos 1 and 2 with Chicago Symphony and Abbado – is simply stunning to my ears. Both supreme artists being Italian doesn’t seem to have held them back.

    So your statement that ‘all the greatest exponents of [Bartok’s] music have always come from Hungary’ is specious and missing the point. Great artists though all the ones you mention are, for years Hungarian pianists were the only ones whose performances were made available. To some degree that would have been inspired by the same sort of thinking by the record companies as your own.

    • Can I give you some advice as well, dear A. Parker? Here it is: read comments carefully before you reply to them.
      I never wrote “ALL the greatest exponents”. I didn’t write that ONLY Hungarians can play Bartók well, but in my opinion THE GREATEST ones were/are Hungarian, and I’m certainly not the only one to have that point of view. I certainly not exclude non-Hungarian musicians performing Bartók, now that would be really foolish. In fact, I admire several non-Hungarian pianists who recorded (some of) the Piano Concertos, too…indeed, Pollini, Richter come to mind as examples.

      As for your statement that only recordings of Bartók’s Piano Concertos made by Hungarian pianists are available, that is simply not the case, already for decades there are many other alternative recordings available, but the truth is (in my opinion) that nobody so far can “compete” with these older recordings, in terms of depth of interpretation and mastery.

      If you have long admired Peter Donohoe, you would also be well advised to learn how to spell his name properly.

      This is a site with a comment section. Critical comments can be posted under every article, be it a tribute or the latest gossip. If you don’t like them, or if you find them nonsense, it’s best to just skip them, not reply to them.

      My critical remarks were not aimed at Donohoe’s artistry, but at his superficial and IMO inaccurate remarks regarding Bartók in this tribute. The sentence “A Hungarian expecting ownership of Bartók would be the equivalent of an English pianist assuming a hotline to Debussy” doesn’t make any sense to me, and they don’t help to give me more confidence in his level of understanding Bartók’s idiom.

  • Dear Erwin,

    You have every right to an opinion, as I do. However, given your assertion that comments can be ignored, skipped and not replied to if one doesn’t like them, perhaps you should have taken your own advice in the first place when Peter Donohue’s post originally upset you.

    Before making your assertions about Donohue’s [Donohoe’s?] level of understanding of Bartók’s idiom, you might take the trouble to listen to his recording with a more open mind than you seem to have had thus far. If after that, you have good reason to think he doesn’t understand it, or otherwise, fair enough. The whole discussion is then over.

    Otherwise this exchange is futile. I believe you are digging your heels in over assertions for which you have no basis other than prejudice bordering on artistic racism.

    Given your thought process regarding this matter, surely the Kocsis performances of Beethoven and Schubert you refer to, which I am sure were truly great, would not be in the same league as performances by Austro-German artists. As a great admirer of Kocsis’ performances of the music of many other non-Hungarian composers (Debussy and Rachmaninov immediately spring to mind, and there are obviously many others), you can surely appreciate why your point of view grates on me.

    Yes, you are right. I did miss mentioning the Richter performance although I note that Peter D did include mention of it in his post. It is, as always, amazing piano playing, although, as I recall, it is not at all together with the orchestra.

    • Dear Art Parker,
      Thanks for your suggestions.
      However, with due respect, who needs Donohoe in the Bartók Concertos when there are the recordings of Anda, Sandor, Farnadi, Kocsis etc.? Believe me, I have listened to all, and I have studied Bartók’s style and piano pieces for decades. I simply like the Hungarians most…has nothing to do with prejudices or “racism”…

  • I thought this was about honoring a great light that has gone out. It has become Desert Island discs (sp?) meets the Clinton-Trump campaign. Now stop it. Adults don’t need to explain or justify. The best answer is NO answer.

  • Erwin.

    Oh dear, that has to be one of the the most childish response I have read on here. Are you sure you are not Milka under another name? ‘Who needs Donohoe in the Bartók Concertos when you have ……etc’. You call that due respect do you? Don’t bother replying. Just open your mind and ears and keep your opinions to yourself – you might learn.

    • Parker,
      Don’t you see the total arrogance of your attitude? I have just as much rights to reject a certain recording as you have to admire it.

  • Please, dear Editor, please remove the pathetic and inappropriate comments by Erwin, who, in picking fights with Peter Donohue and everyone else, is distracting greatly from the original intention of this article, which was the celebration of one great pianist by another. There’s no place for trolling like this here.

  • Erwin. I read your words – including the phrase ‘who needs Donohoe in the Bartók Concertos, etc’ – just immediately before a performance of the Rachmaninov Paganini Rhapsody in Moscow. Fortunately I am resilient, so the performance was not affected as far as I know. But I did have a vision of you saying ‘Who needs Donohoe in Rachmaninov when there have been all those Russians etc etc.’ and perhaps, ‘You need to be a Russian aristocratic exiled in America to get the nuances of that work’, or similar – so, thank you for that. It is always good for the soul when one is kept in one’s place.

    The exchange between you and Mr Parker has gone on long enough.

    I have three comments, and then I will withdraw.

    The first two are to you: My comment about Bartók and Hungarians assuming a hotline to his style was meant – as was plain to see if my original post had been read properly – as a friendly, not-too-serious poke at Zoltan Kocsis after he had implied in his interview that one needed to be Hungarian to get the nuances. It was not meant to open up the floodgates of an argument in the way that it has. That it should have done is ridiculous.

    My second is that if you feel, as you say, that ‘Kocsis …… deserves a better tribute’ than the one I wrote, how about you write one, instead of sniping anonymously?

    My third is to Mr. Art Parker: Thank you so much Mr. Parker for being supportive – that you took so much trouble to write so well on the subject is greatly appreciated. However, please stop now. Closed minds are usually impossible to open in my experience. Both you and I have far better things to do than be involved in this twaddle. In any case, it may well be that Erwin is right, and that without being Hungarian one cannot understand Bartók – in which case I shouldn’t have bothered to try. I would be very interested to know if he has bothered to listen to the CD however; I notice that he carefully avoids answering that question.

    Finally, let me remind you both that this started out as a memory of Zoltan Kocsis. I never claimed he was a close friend – in fact we hardly knew each other. We did meet to work together a few times, and hit it off in a big way at the time, and I always admired his exceptional talent. When heard of his death it really did feel like something in my own life had been taken away from me, because encountering him was something that happened at a very formative time for me. My memories of him included the friendly argument referred to, and it was therefore important to me that I include it. No more and no less.

    Erwin: I don’t really feel too insulted by your final sentiment, but I must say that I would rather you had kept it to yourself, rather than lashing out in a public forum. You don’t have to like my CDs of Bartok, any more than anyone else; that is the way it goes. Perhaps you are Hungarian yourself, although most of the ones I have ever worked and talked with are delighted that foreign artists love and play the music of their greatest composer. Certainly if what you say is true, and you are not Hungarian – as Mr Parker implies – how would you know the difference?

    If I were a primary school teacher, I would feel like banging the two of your heads together and telling you to grow up. Argue about something appropriate that matters, for goodness’ sake.

    Right: that’s it from me. I have spent far too long on this already, as indeed have both Erwin and Art Parker.

    • Dear Peter,
      Thank you for taking the time to reply to me.
      No doubt you are a fine pianist and a respected musician. But the fact that I enjoy other pianists (mostly Hungarian) more than you in Bartók doesn’t mean I have a “closed mind”.
      What is publicly written about composers in general and Bartók in particular does matter to me, as I am a musician myself and very fond of this composer.
      If you want to avoid discussions like this after one of your posts, you would be well adviced to NOT include very controversial statements in it, even if they were meant as “tongue in cheek” — which isn’t so obvious when you read your words.

  • Mr. Erwin, I have followed thread from the opening. You were out of order in the first beginning. Donohoe was far more restrained than most would have at your unbelievable words “Who needs Donohoe….[etc]”. Why not say sorry for insulting, arrogant and condescending instead of always needing being right and having a last word? You hide behind anonymous nickname and continue with pompous rudeness. And from what I see you have never listened to Donohoe’s Bartok recording you have dismissed it in a public place and not admit to whom you are. Not good behaviour in any estimate.

  • Reading this back, I realize that Cristobal and several others are right. In the heat of the moment, I was indeed unnecessarily rude and pedantic and that’s certainly not my habit (I hope!). So I apologize to Peter Donohoe, I hope he reads these lines. But as several musicians may recognize, these things can happen with debates about music, when one loves something so passionately that it becomes a matter of life or death to defend it…
    I also apologize for my pompous English, indeed it is not my native language.
    I thought I made it clear that I did listen to Peter Donohoe’s Bartók recordings. I did, with great interest, several times. There’s no doubt that they are very very good, but overall, because of several important details that I don’t agree with, it’s simply not my taste. As Peter wisely said, “that is the way it goes”. I think I’ll always favour the old Hungarian recordings…

    With the risk of annoying even more people, I want to add some final thoughts.
    I wonder if the silly modern-day political correctness, fueled by the EU Utopia, is now also starting to influence the way we appreciate music? Is it now suspicious to believe that nationalism in music was (and perhaps still is), purely musically speaking, actually a good thing? Bartók, Sibelius, Verdi, Wagner, Granados, Chopin, Mussorgsky, the list goes on and on…they were all ardent nationalists in their own way, and it inspired them to write great music. “The art of music above all the other arts is the expression of the soul of a nation” (Ralph Vaughan Williams).
    Very much connected with this, why would it be something negative (labeled “artistic racism” by some) to admit that it IS a huge advantage when an interpreter has something in common with a composer in terms of homeland, culture and language, and that it is therefore natural to presume that they are inclined to have more insight in the style of this composer than others? Doesn’t this bring him/her automatically closer to this “soul”, whatever it is? To limit it to historical performance practise of the piano, very often (but not always) the most excellent, “idiomatic” interpreters of a certain composer shared the same “roots” with the composer: for example, Alicia de Larrocha for Albéniz, Richter for Prokofiev, Rubinstein for Chopin, Schnabel for Schubert, Germaine Thyssens-Valentin for Fauré, Gieseking for Debussy (yes, Gieseking, who was born in France and spent his whole childhood there, he spoke an impeccable French his whole life)…and yes, the list of great Hungarian artists I mentioned who all excelled in Bartók.

    In short, I think Kocsis was simply spot on with his remarks. But it doesn’t mean that non-Hungarian pianists can’t play Bartók well, and I think there are many other factors that decide whether a musician becomes a truly great interpreter of a certain composer or not.

  • “Bartók was from Transylvania, which has far more cultural affinity with Romania than with the totally different one of Hungary; a Hungarian expecting ownership of Bartók would be the equivalent of an English pianist assuming a hotline to Debussy – said I.”

    Mr Donohoe, no wonder you never had a response to this assertion from Kocsis…
    However I, as a Hungarian from Transylvania, I would like to kindly inform you that Transylvanian-Hungarian culture is an integral part of Hungarian culture, even now, 100 years after that part of Hungary was given as present to the Romanians. Some of the finest Hungarian artists of all kinds to this day have been Hungarians from Transylvania. However, Hungarian and Romanian language and culture are as different from each other as the English is from the Chinese…

    I am not a musician and I do not know your work, but with all due respect to your impressive CV, I wonder how you can claim to understand Bartók as a Hungarian would, when your idea about his cultural identity is so vague? The reason is perhaps that you use the wrong sources of information….but from here we would enter the realm of politics and (cultural) diplomacy, which I do not intend to do here.
    With kind regards.

    • Thank you for this. That was exactly the most important point I was trying to make here (in my overly rude, pedantic way, for which I have apologized).

    • Dear Mr Bilibók, I refer you to the reply I gave to Mr Cavaye above. Your point is well taken, and I respect it very much. Again – I was reporting what I had said as a light-hearted comment some years ago to Kocsis, not as a serious point for discussion now or at any other time.

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