„The composer spent the most beautiful seven years in Galanta. At that time, the Galanta band was famous when Mihók was the first violinist. But it was even more famous a hundred years before. Around 1800, several books of Hungarian dances were published in Vienna. One of these described its sources as: „von verschidenen (sic!) Zigeunern aus Galantha”. (…) Let this small work follow this old Galanta tradition” – wrote Kodály on the published manuscript.
Zoltán Kodály (1882–1967) composed what remains one of his most popular symphonic works in 1933 for the 80th anniversary of the Budapest Philharmonic Society and it was premiered the same year.
In the hesitant introduction, the cello and then the horn introduce the characteristic slow verbunk motif. It is as if the other musicians are searching among the melodic fragments how to develop this musical material. Following the melody of the first violins, the clarinet shows the way: its improvisatory cadenza leads to the work’s main theme, a “dignified stepping” verbunk, according to Kodály’s instructions. When it is repeated, it is more passionate still and the entire orchestra takes part.
In the first interlude, serious, powerful string and woodwind passages alternate with pizzicato strings, evoking a leaping dance. There is a witty compositional solution in the repeat, with flute and piccolo employed in parallel fifths. The recurring rondo theme is made all the more passionate by timpani tremolos and melodic crescendi.
The section commencing with an oboe solo imitates a bagpipe dances. The contrasting material is bright and transparent because of the sound of the triangle and the harmonics produced on violin, accompanied by piccolo. Then we seem to hear a folk band evoking a bagpipe solo, as a contrast to the elevation of the orchestra. After a few bars, an increasingly ecstatic third interlude sweeps away the returning andante maestoso theme. The strings launch things, then every instrumental group joins in the dance.
„A bit tipsy” – could be the subtitle of the fourth section, introduced by the horn. The clarinet solo perhaps evokes the crooning of someone who has drunk too much, merry but not quite conscious, as they try to get home.
But the party continues without him. Its sweeping momentum is broken only once, and then at its climax. After a fortissimo A minor, we heard a pianissimo G sharp minor chord: it is a spine chilling moment. The dignified, bittersweet principal theme departs on flute and oboe, and returns to where it began, on the clarinet. The interlude like appearance of the theme placed at the end puts a full stop to the end of this dizzy dance – or rather, an exclamation mark.