Path of life and work
"Certainly composers who keep the same style through their whole lives have an easier standing. But is it the right way? We all develop. I never resolved "how" to compose, only "what"! - It was the nature of the ideas that led to the "how". A man like me, who spent nearly his whole life travelling, quite naturally assimilated the impressions from all the places, where he lived. Egypt, the Philippines, Japan, China: These countries communicated ideas reflected in my work. Anyway, I never would immolate a good idea - be it old-fashioned or avant-garde-like - to a certain style. I consider the basic message most important. And each thought, each single work asks for its specific technique and its own stylistic means to be realized."
These notes by Jenö Takács from 1976 (quoted after Wolfgang Suppan: Jenö Takács. Dokumente, Analysen, Kommentare. Burgenländisches Landesarchiv, Eisenstadt 1977) describe the most eye-catching attribute in his oeuvre - stylistic plurality - as well as other most important aspects. There are clearly separate periods in which we can find strikingly different characteristics: His earliest works are full of impressionistic colours and the influences of Hungarian folkmusic, e. g. Sonatina for piano, op. 2 (1920/23). In the composition class of Joseph Marx Takács was taught strict contrapuntal and thematical work. His acquaintance with Bartók intensified the Hungarian influences (theme construction, rhythm, bitonality).
Research in Egyptian-Arab and later in Philippine folk music also left its mark on Takács's compositions, e. g. in Suite Arabe for two pianos, op. 15 (1929), or in Goumbri for violin and piano, op.20 (1931). His research in international folk music also resulted in his popular piano cycle for children Von fremden Ländern und Menschen [From Far Away Places], op. 37 (1936). The main work of this compositional period is the virtuoso Tarantella for piano and orchestra, op. 39 (1937). During his Hungarian years in the 1940s we can find e. g. Suite altungarischer Tänze [Suite of Old Hungarian Dances] for orchestra, op. 42 (1946), and Antiqua Hungarica for orchestra, op. 47 (1941). In those works, he went back to old traditional Hungarian songs and dances which he skilfully arranged for modern instruments without any drastic alterations in the melodic, rhythmic or harmonic substance. Around 1949 Takács turned to classical forms, composing numerous partitas and toccatas. Teaching in the United States also aroused a special interest in the technique of the Second Viennese School: Partita for piano solo, op. 58 (1954), is his only strict dodecaphonic piece. In the Passacaglia for string orchestra, op. 73 (1960), the composer experimented with serial techniques. In the mid-1960s Takács turned further away from traditional tonality and displayed a more pronounced interest in methods of the then avant-garde: Dialogues for violin and guitar, op. 77 (1963), include sound effects and non-musical expression marks; Essays in Sound for clarinet and piano, op. 84 (1967), contains clusters and indeterminate elements. At the same time, as stylistic contrast, Takács again composed arrangements of folk and old popular music, e. g. Serenade on Old Graz Contredanses for orchestra, op. 83 (1966, also other arrangements), and pedagogical workes. The music of the 1980s and 1990s brings a synthesis of elements from earlier periods. In these years Takács also shows his affinity for lively stylizations in the spirit of composers from the baroque or classic, e. g. Joseph Haydn in the Sinfonia breve for orchestra, op. 108 (1981), or Henry Purcell in the Purcelliana Suite (1993/94).
Christian Heindl, transl. Eugene Hartzell/Christian Heindl