In 1977, the distinguished Israeli composer, André Hajdu, completed a rather
surprising orchestral score entitled "Stories about Mischievous Children.
" It took both the orchestra (the Israel Chamber Orchestra which had commissioned the work)
and the audience by surprise. Its blunt affinity with the symphonic gestures
of Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss, and the introspective focus on childhood
in a work for adults, were aesthetically and sociologically quite unprecedented
in Israeli concert music.
For Hajdu, looking back into the 19th century was a reflection of his seeking
his own personal past, allowing it to float up and partake in the creative process.
"Stories about Mischievous Children" shows how Hajdu the child had his personal
memories; however, as a musician, his musical memories are no less intimate and
dear. Writing about André Hajdu does not just acknowledge his immense musical
contribution to the repertoire of Israeli music: it also acknowledges his unique
contribution to an important cultural and spiritual evolution taking place in Israel.
In early Israeli culture - the still new society armed with ideology - childhood was
not a particularly welcome focal point. Israeli poetry, which was geared towards
ideas and ideals, did not nurture any "I," not even with great poets like Uri
Zvi Greenberg or Nathan Alterman. Poets such as Rachel and later Leah Goldberg,
did focus on the "I" but then they could afford to, they were women after all...
Men were to build a new reality in the old-new land and could not afford
childhood to blur the vision with tears. It took a while for a younger
generation of poets, from Natan Zach to Yona Wallach, to acknowledge the "I."
The "I" in Israeli music is now gaining increasing presence as a kind of
post-modernist response to the "I" in poetry. Hajdu was the one who planted
some of these seeds in the two Rubin music academies in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv
where he taught. Later, he stopped teaching there and has been focusing on his
work with composers at Bar-Ilan University and at the High School for Arts
and Sciences in Jerusalem. However, his impact on the younger generation of
composers and performers goes far beyond those who attended his classes over
the last 28 years.
Hajdu is so uniquely ordinary that one may justifiably suspect he is hiding a huge
enigma. He detests any kind of uniform and will not easily surrender to any dress
code, be it elegant or casual. His kippa (skullcap) is of the knitted type, very
popular in nationalist religious circles. Its position on his skull, just above his
forehead, makes this trivia very special. Professor David Flusser, an expert on
early Christianity and a close friend, once remarked that with this particular
positioning of his kippa, Hajdu reminds him of a mediaeval saint. Some 40 years
ago, Hajdu was destined to become a national Hungarian composer when his gypsy
cantata won an international prize in Warsaw. Instead he left for the west,
graduated from the Paris Conservatory, and immigrated to Israel in 1966.
As a young and promising student of Zóltan Kodály at the Franz Liszt Academy
in Budapest, he followed in the footsteps of the two giants, Bartók and Kodály.
Armed with notepaper, pencil and romantic fervour, he made trips to remote villages
in search of treasures he later discovered in his own heritage as well. These
adventures turned out to be very significant in his development. Theodore Adorno
points out in his writing on Mahler that the use of Chinese elements in Mahler's
work tends to a sublimation of Jewish identity. The psychologically safe
exploration of the musical childhood of the gypsies, as well as other
ethnic groups, was a preparation for a more difficult and demanding exploration
of the childhood of his own Jewish people. It is important to realize that the
Bartokian and Kodalian interest in ethnomusicological research was not just
an extension of national trends in Europe but also a recognition of the crucial
importance of childhood in the psychology of the individual and the community.
In 1970, already in Israel, Hajdu tried to integrate ethnomusicological and
psychological awareness in his compositions. Testimonium, a musical festival
dedicated to the Jewish heritage staged his Ludus Pascalis, a miniature opera for men
and boys' choirs, soloists and instruments, featuring texts from the Talmud,
the Psalms, mediaeval Passover games and a variety of musical sources ranging
from Christian hymns to Talmud study chants. No musical stage in Israel had
yet experienced an artistic confrontation with history and identity to such
an extent. The use of children on stage gave a psychological impact without
precedent. Budapest was the womb from which Hajdu emerged and is the centre
of his pendulum occillation from west to east. The orient-occident dialectic
so typical of Budapest is a central feature in his cultural make-up. In a way,
Budapest always remained part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and a centre of
its heritage. Yet it also contained the Magyar Asian elements which appealed
so much to creative minds like Bartók and Kodály. This dialectical relationship
was also reflected in the divergent backgrounds of Hajdu's parents, and,
needless to say, this duality had a strong impact on his personality and development.
Andreas, known to all as André, was born in Budapest in 1932. His mother
belonged to the upper-middle class Jewish community. Anything western was
idolized and German was the spoken language at home. His father, on the
other hand, came from the Debreçen area of the eastern Hungarian steppes,
which is much less European than the rest of the country. His parents
separated when André was a child and he was raised mainly by his mother.
When he was 12, his mother, herself a piano player, sent him for piano lessons.
These, however, were soon interrupted by the Nazi invasion of Hungary.
André and his mother found shelter in a house which was protected by the
Red Cross. After more than once miraculously escaping deportation to a
concentration camp, they were sent to a ghetto just ten days before the Red
Army entered Budapest and rescued its inhabitants from impending starvation.
In Budapest, André enrolled in the piano class of Mme. Kadosa at the Franz
Liszt Academy. Kadosa was a very conventional and rather rigid piano teacher,
not exactly compatible with Hajdu's effervescent personality. Fortunately, his
rebellion took a positive turn and he developed a profound interest in
improvisation and composition. This led him in 1949 to the composition department
of the Academy.
The intellectual and artistic climate was very favourable and Hajdu befriended
the painter Tibor Csernus and the architect Miklós Erdely who later became a
leading avant-garde artist in Hungary and had a lasting influence on him.
As the pendulum of Hajdu's life swings, we find two other important cities.
Paris to the west and Tunis to the east. In 1956, Hajdu fled Hungary in the
hope of getting to London, but the lines at the British consulate in Vienna
"were so long" that he settled for Paris instead. This typically offhand
anecdote as Hajdu himself told it to me, expresses a childlike, impatient,
nonchalant attitude towards reality. The impulsive choice turned out to be
of great significance for him in terms of his cultural and intellectual development.
For Hajdu, who was raised in an atmosphere which glorified the occident, Paris
was the ultimate west: literature, theatre, opera, film and the Parisian cafés
with their high intellectual voltage. One could sit for hours, think or argue,
even if that meant less time for composition.
Indeed, a look at Hajdu's Parisian oeuvre shows no more than ten works over
a period of ten years, yet nearly every one marks an approach, a mode of thinking
which was unique and which was developed later on. Babeliana (1964) anticipated
Mishnayoth (1971-72) in its stylistic diversity; Petit Enfer (1959) anticipated
"On Light and Death" (1983-84) and Continuum. A guitar piece, Microcosmos (1965)
anticipated five volumes for piano entitled "The Milky Way" and the Piano études
(1975-86) and the "Book of Challenges" (1994). All of these works have in common
the notion of the child and the pendulum, and they truly acknowledge either the
child in the composer or the composer in the child.
At the Paris conservatory, Hajdu studied under Darius Milhaud and Oliver
Messiaen. Among his class mates were Gilbert Amy, William Bolcom, Philip
Corner and Paul Mefano, to name just a few. In Paris he met a variety of
stimulating people from the playwright Samuel Beckett to Prof.
Israel Adler of the Hebrew University, who brought him on his first
visit to Israel in 1966. Though neither Milhaud nor Messiaen taught
composition in the strict sense of the word, both made a lasting impression
on him. Milhaud's nonchalant imperturbability, his personality as a composer
whose work is brilliant and skillful but never pathetic, echoed and reinforced
Hajdu's own leanings. This attitude allowed Hajdu to develop a stylistic diversity
that contrasted strongly with the contemporary striving for "a new language" as
a supreme value. Messiaen, a devout Catholic, attributed great cosmic significance
to every sound and devised a theosophical theory of musical composition.
The relationship with Messiaen was complicated. His qualities and knowledge
were of great inspiration yet the hermetic system of metaphysical application
in his music was quite unacceptable to Hajdu who wanted to maintain the swing
of the pendulum.
During the Paris period, Hajdu visited London, Darmstadt, Vienna and Biarritz.
The eastward swing of the pendulum in the direction of Tunis was a result of
job-seeking; however it turned out to be a critical step in the preparation for
Jerusalem a few years later. The Music Conservatory in Tunis offered him the
job that Paris had not. It also offered him an opportunity to live in a place
free of dense western intellectualism and projections. Form no longer mattered
that much. There was a meditative improvisando state to replace it. In 1969 in
Tunis, he composed the "Diary from Sidi Bo-Said" for piano solo. Another
achievement was discovering a yet unknown type of Jew: not the cosmopolitan
Hungarian Jew or the assimilated French Jew, not even idealistic Zionists
or the religiously observant; but just "ethnic" Jews, clearly part of a "people.
" Upon his return to Paris in 1961, a heightened interest in Jewish studies started
to develop, while on a job as a film composer in Rome working on a Canadian feature
which was being filmed in Greece. The editor was a bright and scholarly observant
Jew who brought the work to a halt every Sabbath eve. One Sabbath afternoon he
introduced Hajdu for the first time in his life to the Talmud. Upon his return
to Paris, he started attending a beginners' class in Talmud.
In Jerusalem, Hajdu met the composer Joseph Tal who was thrilled with the score
of Petit Enfer and immediately contacted Prof. Oeden Partos, the director of
the Rubin Academy in Tel Aviv. A job offer at the academy ensued and Hajdu
settled permanently in Israel. For almost two years Hajdu indulged in a
very intense but private study period of the Mishna
(Jewish oral law codified in 200 ce), not in the traditional study hall,
but at his piano at home. The result was the cycle, "The Floating Tower,
" 56 settings of mishnaic texts for voice with piano, chamber music
combinations and orchestra, as well as choral settings. The stylistic
versatility ranges between Renaissance and 20th century music.
Hajdu introduced "childhood" into Israeli music and musicology. He wrote
music using recollections of music from the past and he began composing
"new" music that young pianists wanted to play. He introduced improvisation,
outside the jazz genre, into the curriculum at the Rubin Academy. He
spent days and nights researching hassidic music at a time when only "oriental"
Jewish music was considered a politically "correct" topic. Finally,
he introduced texts from the mishna into the repertoire of Israeli choral ensembles.
Israeli culture woke up one morning and to its amazement found its
socialist-inclined irreligious kibbutz members singing texts from
sources that were still considered culturally "dangerous." At the
same time, Dan Almagor wrote a show of hassidic songs and stories
presented by young Israelis in jeans and playing guitars. East European
Jewish folklore was "rehabilitated." Next was to come the awakening of
"ethnic" expression of sephardic Jews as a legitimate expression of
Israeli society. The childhood of Jews as a collective as well as
individuals started a revolution which ignited a powerful interest
in the religious childhood of the Jewish people.
For Hajdu, all history, whether personal or national, is a kind of childhood.
This becomes clear when we realize that for Hajdu music has its own childhood
and perhaps its own nightmares. The tick of the metronome, marking passing
time in our western linear minds, is not permitted to take over. The child
with his fantastic perception of events must stay along, and his voice must
be heard regardless of adult perplexity or embarrassment.
No mistake should be made, Hajdu is not naive, as neither Mahler nor
Chaplin were. Childhood as a focal point, overt or hidden, is not
necessarily an indication of naivété but may also serve as a
sophisticated method of manipulating the defense mechanisms of both
the speaker and the listener, the composer and the audience.
In Hajdu's idiomatic world, the theatrical function of the
child appears again and again. It is a boy soprano who sings
a mishnaic text about women dying in labour in "The Floating
Tower." At the end of that mishna, the orchestra bursts out
in a typical Mahlerian sigh, while the boy singer abandons
words and concludes with syllables. The effect is irresistible
and the audience is left to choose between a smile, a tear,
The Christian children in Ludus Pascalis come back, 20 years later,
in his cantata "Dreams of Spain" (1991). This semi-staged cantata
deals with one of the most cataclysmic events in Jewish history, the
expulsion from Spain of 1492. The mature Hajdu now chose an almost
operatic grand gesture which clearly marked a new level in his development.
This successful attempt paved the way for his next great work, an oratorio,
"Job and his Comforters" (1992).
Utilizing Jewish themes, whether textual, conceptual or purely musical,
is part of one unified quest which constitutes a dialectical search for
both the personal and the communal childhood. Looking into the past was
always a dignified and cautious objective of Israeli literature and music.
But for years, Israeli artists and musicians were very anxious to be
considered serious and were reluctant to dive into childhood, a step
that carries the risk of having unwanted childhood traumas come to the
surface. To conclude on a more universal tone, I would like to suggest
that one can understand through Hajdu's idiom of "Child and Pendulum"
the tragedy of much of contemporary western music, an art which in the
last few decades has systematically locked itself away from its childhood.
By reducing the power of musical memory, nostalgia and recollection and
through the use of theoretical models and systems, both technical and aesthetic,
in the process of eradicating childhood from the agenda of the contemporary
composer, the music lover has found himself as a deserted child in an unknown
land not having any tools to engage in a dialogue with his environment.
It is possible that Hajdu's obsession with childhood in his composition
and teaching is his response to the alienation he felt visiting
Darmstadt's avant garde festivals in the 1950s. This alienation is
shared by many music lovers today and perhaps we need a sensitive
child to detect it and cry out.
Perhaps André Hajdu is that child?
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