Imre Székely - Quatuor Hongrois
The answer to a question occasionally posed to NEQ, “why Imre Székely?” can be found by navigating a winding course upstream from our April, 2013 performances of “The Danube Runs Through It.” On that program, Székely’s “Quatuor Hongrois” was given its North American premiere between Haydn’s opus 33/1 and the first quartet of Bela Bartók.
The headwaters of the Székely back story originated in a rehearsal room. From its first years of experiencing the transformative effects of gut strings on late Haydn, NEQ looked forward to hearing how other classical and romantic quartet repertoire would respond (gut strings were in standard use well into the 20th century). With devoted Bartók partisans in the quartet, it wasn’t long before “hey, what about Bartók?” became an in-house joke. To a February, 2012 quartet memo proposing repertoire for the following season came the reply: “How can we squeeze Bartók in there?” For the first time, NEQ began to think seriously about the idea.
While exploring ways to link Haydn and Bartók, a remarkable double-centenary connection came to light: Haydn composed his opus 33 quartets in 1781, 100 years before Bartók’s birth, and Bartók wrote his first quartet in 1909, 100 years after Haydn’s death. The Danube program concept soon followed, and NEQ began to search for a “midstream” Hungarian composition.
Dead-ends and disappointments ensued; mid-19th century string quartets from Hungary were scarce. Resident composers of the period were often azyex-pats whose nationalities were reflected in their musical styles. Online research resulted in a fortunate introduction to Dr. Balázs Mikusi, Director of the Music Collection of the National Széchényi Library in Budapest. Dr. Mikusi, a wellspring of historical expertise and a delightful and encouraging correspondent, revealed that the Library housed the complete manuscripts of Imre Székely (1823-1887). With his kind assistance NEQ was able to purchase scans of several quartets. When the title “Quatuor Hongrois” in Székely’s handwriting was discovered at the top of one manuscript, the Danube program was complete.
NEQ offers heartfelt appreciation to Dr. Mikusi and his staff for providing the manuscript. We would like to thank our ace recording team Lolly Lewis, Piper Payne and Michael Romanowski, along with our studio audience at Coast Recorders. We also thank our generous supporters who made this project possible.
- Lisa Weiss for New Esterházy Quartet