György Selmeczi: String Quartets

Selmeczi Quartet

Available at Rózsavölgyi Zeneműbolt: HERE

String Quartet No. 3 (2007)
I. Preludio
II. Arietta
III. Allegro molto moderato

String Quartet No. 4 (2017)
I. Sonata
II. Scherzo
III. Piccole marcie funebre (56 emlékére; hommage à Gyula

String Quartet No. 5 (2020)
I. Andante mosso
II. Ombra. Lento
III. (Adagietto–Andante)

Selmeczi Quartet

Gábor Selmeczi, Ágnes Bíró – violin
Dénes Ludmány – viola
Balázs Kántor – cello

String Quartet No. 3 is a three-movement composition built around a classical structure written in 2007. The first movement, Preludio, begins with a kind of chilling introduction: this is how a 21st-century composer raises the curtain on the stage of the string quartet, during which we can hardly escape the memory and influence of the last movement, Terremoto (Earthquake), of Haydn’s The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross. The main part of the movement is a sonata movement featuring the rhythmic diversity that is so characteristic of the composer (with the rocking sound of a 5/8 theme setting the tone), in which the intonations of the great quartet composers who serve as his models, Bartók and Shostakovich, are not even hidden (for example, in the Pesante section). Although the spacious melody of the opening theme of the second movement, Arietta, flirts with dodecaphony, it soon becomes clear that this is merely a passing episode, which gives way to the slow opening melody on the cello that constitutes the meaning of the movement. It seems that the magic of dodecaphony refuses to release its grip on the composer even in the final movement: in several stages of the finale we discover that the entire, or almost the entire, set of chromatic notes serves as the dominant organising principle of the thematic development. But, as in the opening movement, here too we are faced with sharp changes in structure; for example, when the composer furnishes the cambiata-style organically and motivically developed themes with ostinato accompaniment parts using a characteristic rhythm.

The String Quartet No. 4 is separated from its predecessor in the genre by ten years and owes its existence to a film music commission. Its final movement is a five-part cycle of mournful music entitled Piccole marcie funebre (in memory of ‘56; hommage à Gyula Gulyás), which the composer wrote for the astonishingly powerful documentary film directed by Gyula Gulyás on the events of 1956 – the film was inspired by Lajos Szalay’s famous series of 1956 drawings. In this way, the composition filled the framework of the string quartet genre by moving “backwards” in time – and simply as a matter of interest, it is worth mentioning that a solo piano version of the film score was also created. The first movement (Sonata) is quartet music with a characterful, exciting structure: the minor second theme with a dotted rhythm reminds us of the beginning of Bach’s solo sonata in C major, while the Scherzo movement, played in a traditional way with pizzicato and arco playing styles, is a reimagining of an earlier composition created in Paris in the ’80s.
Living in Argentina at the time, ten thousand kilometres away from his native Hungary, Szalay learned about the 1956 revolution from radio broadcasts and written press reports. He recorded the events he imagined, based on the images, words, photos and written accounts he had seen and heard, in a series of compelling and evocative drawings, saying, “I tried to draw what I heard. I was not creating illustrations, but rather drawing in the mood induced by the radio. The drawings are graphic projections of my personal reactions to the radio news.” In October 1956, 50-60 drawings were completed, followed by another batch after November 4. The artist did not ask for money for the drawings; all he considered important was for them to be published and for him to be able to supervise the typographic work (SOS – El drama de Hungaria).
The final result, which was published in an edition of 5,000 copies, was funded by Hungarians living in South America and the printing house of Adorján Czanyó, and the material was sent to the world’s leading newspapers and politicians. Unfortunately, the original drawings have disappeared, or at the very least are being hidden, so they are only known from reproductions. Gulyás’s black-and-white montage film (titled Love of Freedom) was crafted from these drawings in 2006 (and then later revised in 2016).

As we have already mentioned, we believe that in Selmeczi’s five string quartets it is possible to also discover the imprint of the evolution and development of the composer’s creative style. If in the first and second quartets he found his own creative voice with his former neo-avant-garde orientation, from the 2000s onwards he consciously aimed to separate his applied musical work from what he termed his “artistic” musical efforts. The third and fourth string quartets were born as milestones in this endeavor.

The Quartet No. 5 was created in 2020 and is the work of a mature composer, in which cutting-edge radicalism has given way to a gentler, clearer, and more relaxed creative attitude. The only rule is that there are no rules: the creator dares to come up with ideas. He evidently finds the act of writing string quartets entertaining and does not necessarily wish to remain consistent either with his previous principles or with the rules of the genre, which have been overwritten many times over. In particular, he delights in allowing himself to use the effective devices of homophony tried and tested in the world of incidental stage music and film soundtracks, emphatic parallel voice parts and creative ostinatos. This also leaves the listener in a state of uncertainty as to whether the movements potentially contain a programme, which is not the case: the middle movement that unfolds over the wonderfully unique-sounding, rolling ostinatos is entitled Ombra (Shadow).
© Enikő Gyenge
György Selmeczi: String Quartets