FARKAS, FERENC (1905-2000)

Ferenc Farkas was born at Nagykanizsa, Hungary, on December 15th, 1905 and died in Budapest on October 10, 2000. Ferenc Farkas studied composition with Leó Weiner and Albert Siklós at the Budapest Academy of Music (1922- 1927), then with Ottorino Respighi at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome (1929-1931). Between 1932 and 1936, he lived in Vienna and in Copenhagen where he composed film music for the producer Pál Fejős. After his return to Hungary he started teaching and directing in Budapest, Kolozsvár (Cluj) and Székesfehérvár. From 1949 until his retirement in 1975, he was professor of composition at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. Many of his pupils, who have attained international status in their own right, have paid tribute to his great skill as teacher, i.e. composers such as György Ligeti, György Kurtag, Emil Petrovics, Zsolt Durkó, Sándor Szokolay, Attila Bozay, Zoltán Jeney.
The work of Ferenc Farkas (more than 700 titles) has its origin in the Hungarian and Italian musical tradition as well as in the dodecaphony and includes a wide variety of different genres: operas, musicals, ballets, incidental and film music, orchestral works, concerti, chamber music, masses, oratorios, cantatas, choruses and Lieder. A gift for melodic invention, a sense of rhythm, lively and spontaneous, a total command to write in all styles and for all instruments, a cosmopolitan culture and a constant desire to reconcile tradition and modernity are the compo- nents of the original, uniform, individual, national and international idiom of Ferenc Farkas. His work bestowed on Hungarian music a whole new dimension.
The stature of Ferenc Farkas was recognized by more than one country when he was presented with some of the greatest cultural awards including:
• Kossuth Prize (1950 and 1991)
• Gottfried von Herder Prize (1979)
• Cavaliere dell'Ordine della Repubblica Italiana (1984)
His Life —
Born into a musical family (his father, who was an officer in the imperial army, played the cimbalom and his mother played the piano). Ferenc began his musical studies in Budapest, at the Protestant Gymnasium (Grammar School) and later attended the Music Academy, where he studied composition with Leó Weiner and Albert Siklós. After his graduation in 1927, he worked as a répétiteur and conductor at the Municipal Theatre of Budapest and collaborated with the Diaghilev Ballet. From 1929 to 1931, he attended Ottorino Respighi's masterclass at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. The years he spent in Rome had a decisive influence on him. He became acquainted with Italian and Mediterranean culture to which he felt a deep attraction. About this he said:
"My principal aim has always been to attain for myself a latin clarity and proportion."
Farkas returned to Budapest in the autumn of 1931. As he could not find any other assignments, he played the piano in various theatre orchestras. In 1932 he met the director Pál Fejős for whom he composed several film scores, first in Hungary, then in Vienna and Copenhagen. This collaboration was to be for Farkas the beginning of an impressive series of “applied” music (music for around 75 films and 44 theatre and radio plays).
In the spring of 1934 he conducted research of his own into traditional Hungarian music by collecting folk songs in Somogy County. From 1935 he taught at the Budapest City Music School. From 1941 to 1944 he was professor of composition and director at the Conservatory of Kolozsvár (today Cluj-Napoca in Romania) and he conducted the city's Opera Chorus. At the end of 1944, because of the war, he had to go back to Hungary. During the siege of Budapest, he worked as the deputy conductor of the Opera Chorus. In 1946, he was sent to Székesfehérvár where he founded and managed the Conservatory. He was nominated professor of composition at the Franz Liszt Music Academy of Budapest in 1949, a post he held until his retirement in 1975. As a professor he was to have his greatest influence in the second half of the century. Among his students were: György Kurtág, György Ligeti, Emil Petrovics Attila Bozay Zsolt Durko, Zoltán Jeney, Miklós Kocsár, Sándor Szokolay and Lajos Vass.
His Musical Language—
The three components of Farkas's very personal musical language are Italian neoclassicism, Hungarian folk music and twelve-tone serialism. His style is characterized by melodic invention, clear forms, a sense of colour and proportion, and lively and spontaneous rhythm. He said about his compositional style: “Sándor Jemnitz, the only Hungarian pupil of Schoenberg, wrote about one of my concerts: '... It is as if the lure of resistance aroused his creative instinct. His versatile mastery recalls the proficiency and skill that the artists of yesteryear put to the service of their high ranking commissioners, complying faithfully with their imposed requirements of genre and style.'" So what is the true face of Farkas's music? In his youth, he chose Respighi as his master. That was not a coincidence but certainly the result of a particular attraction. Probably the gracious and ethereal charm of Latin music corresponded to his profound sensitivity. "These lines reflect rightly my attraction to Latin elegance. But my major objective is more wide-ranging: my principal aim has always tried to attain for myself a Latin clarity and proportion. I could make this other quotation, taken from Hemingway, my own: ‘...I never put a sentence down on paper until I believe I have so expressed it that it will be clear to anyone...’ And then there comes the search for something which actually already exists and which just has to be discovered. Like the sculptor who just pulls out of the mass of marble the sculp- ture it already contains, I try, from the motif, to bring out the most obvious and natural melody line. I seek the form in which the material feels at its best.”
Official website: www.ferencfarkas.org