Bartok’s assessment of Zoltán Kodály’s music as “the most perfect embodiment of the Hungarian spirit” will strike a chord with those familiar with the suite from his opera Háry János, the Dances of Galanta or indeed the works for cello which moved the instrument on from the Romantic idiom of Brahms, and at the same time looked backwards to the dancing elegance of Bach’s solo Suites. He had taught himself to play the cello to a reasonable standard (also the violin and viola) and while, as he freely admitted, not a natural virtuoso, he had a feeling for the instrument which is obvious in his writing. The Adagio was his first published work, dating from 1905 and originally written for violin and piano: still broadly Romantic in idiom, and unaffected as yet by his work in collecting folk songs from the countries of south-eastern Europe which would decisively influence his mature idiom.
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