Zoltán Kodály

Sonata for solo cello, Op. 8

    Description by Chris Morrison

    Kodály's Sonata for solo cello of 1915 is perhaps the first major work for unaccompanied cello after Bach's six great suites of almost 200 years earlier. The sonata, in three movements totaling about half an hour, synthesizes many of the musical interests Kodály was exploring at this early time in his career. Since becoming a professor of composition at Budapest's Royal Academy of Music in 1908, most of his compositions had been chamber works for strings; the Cello Sonata is perhaps the most ambitious of the early string works. The sonata exhibits Kodály's interest in the music of Claude Debussy, which he had encountered while studying in Paris a couple of years before. Hints of the style of Béla Bartók, Kodály's good friend, can likewise be discerned. The sounds and inflections of Hungarian folk music also play a prominent role; Kodály was passionately interested in the folk music of his native land and several years earlier had started taking regular trips around the country, many with Bartók, collecting, recording, and transcribing folk songs and dances.

    Kodály was declared unfit for military service in World War I; during those years he worked with a volunteer group put in charge of defending the chief monuments in Budapest, while continuing his studies in Hungarian folk music and composing. Due to the war, the sonata, once completed, had to wait three years for its first performance. The cellist to whom the sonata is dedicated, Jenö Kerpely, gave that premiere in Budapest on May 7, 1918.

    The sonata begins with a very serious-minded Allegro maestoso ma appassionato, featuring big gestures and alternating between anger and acquiescence. The second movement, Adagio con grand' espressione, begins with a dark, meandering melodic line accompanied by occasional resonant pizzicati. After a much more aggressive central section, the music slows again and works its way to a spare and haunting conclusion. With the third movement, Allegro molto vivace, the listener is plunged into the world of Hungarian folk music. This headlong, vigorous, and diverse movement is full of virtuoso passages featuring pizzicati, double stops, and fast repeated notes and runs, and makes for an exciting conclusion.

    In a 1921 article titled "The New Music of Hungary," Béla Bartók wrote of this sonata: "No other composer has written music that is at all similar to this type of work... Here Kodály is expressing, with the simplest possible technical means, ideas that are completely original. It is precisely the complexity of the problem that offered him the opportunity of creating an original and unusual style, with its surprising effects of vocal type; though quite apart from these effects the musical value of the work is brilliantly apparent."

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro maestoso ma appassionato
    2. Adagio
    3. Allegro molto vivace

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Aerocade Music AM 004
    2015 Avie AV 2351
    2015 Klanglogo KL 1507
    2014 Onyx / Onyx Classics ONYX 4120
    2014 Decca / London
    2014 Decca B 002160802
    2013 Musica Omnia 0603
    2013 Atoll / Atoll Records ACD 884
    2012 Edition HERA HERA 2124
    2011 Quartz QTZ 2080
    2011 Alto ALC 1138
    2011 Cadenza / Zebralution
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099909467
    2011 Harmonia Mundi HMC 902078
    2011 Harmonia Mundi 501735
    2011 Dynamic CDS 690110
    2010 Hyperion 67829
    2010 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 509996886272
    2010 Centaur Records 3012
    2010 Avie 2160
    2009 Sony Classical 752307
    2009 Camerata Records 28134
    2009 Orfeo 798091
    2009 Naim Classical 118
    2007 EMG Classics 942311021
    2006 Harmonia Mundi 905265
    2005 Decca 4756327
    2005 Skarbo 1058
    2005 DG Deutsche Grammophon 002894775506
    2004 Oehms 332
    2004 Chandos 10189
    2004 Praga 50065
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 575685
    2003 Hungaroton 32196/8
    2003 Supraphon 35152
    2003 Scandinavian Classics 220587
    2002 Campanella 130144
    2002 Harmonia Mundi HMC901735
    2001 Classico 353/4
    2000 Channel Crossings 15398
    2000 Danacord 425
    2000 Praga 250150
    1999 Sony Classical Essential Classics 61739
    1999 Sony Classical SK 64114
    1999 Sony Music Distribution SS 64114
    1996 Naxos 553160
    1995 Centaur Records 2228
    1995 Pavane 7221
    1995 Dynamic 26
    1995 Globe 5089
    1995 Praga 250065
    1995 EMI Classics 724356848528
    1995 Tall Poppies 017
    1995 GM Recordings 2031
    1995 Harmonia Mundi HMC90 1560
    1995 Harmonia Mundi HMA190 1325
    1994 BIS 25
    1992 Nimbus 5275
    1988 Chandos CHAN8427
    1988 Delos DE1015
    1988 Hungaroton 31046
    Harmonic Records 8823
    Bonton 710541
    Resort Classic 3003
    Ducale 018
    Nonesuch 79074