by Erzsébet Gaál
Ferenc Farkas was born in Nagykanizsa, Hungary, in December 1905. He studied composition with Albert Sikós and Leó Weiner at the Budapest Academy of Music and continued his studies with Ottorino Respighi at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome. Ferenc Farkas was Professor of Composition at the Conservatory of Kolozsvár from 1941 to 1944 and also served as its director during his last year there. In 1949 Farkas was appointed Professor of Composition at the Budapest Academy of Music, a post which he held until his retirement in 1975. His pupils included Attila Bozay, Axolt Durkó, György Kurtág, György Ligeti, Emil Petrovics, Sándor Szokolay and many other prominent Hungarian composers.
In 1950, Ferenc Farkas was awarded the highest Hungarian government decoration for artistic merit, the Kossuth Prize. In 1979, he was given the Herder Prize by the F.V.Stiftung in Hamburg.
This interview was conducted in the spring of 1991.
Gaál: First of all, I would like to congratulate you on your 85th birthday which you celebrated last December and wish you continuing good health and happiness. When did you first begin to compose for harp?
Farkas: In my early compositions for orchestra, I always gave the harp part an important role. My first composition for harp solo, however, was Concertino, written in 1937 for the Budapest Municipal Orchestra and Mrs. Anna Molnár.
Gaál: Was Concertino performed outside of Hungary?
Farkas: Soon after the first performance in Budapest, a second performance was given by Mireille Flour in Brussels, followed by performances in London by Maria Korchinska, in Rome by Ada Sassoli, and in Frankfurt by Rosa Stein. Later in Hungary, the work was performed again by Liana Pasquali. Concertino was recorded in Germany by Rosa Stein and in Belgium by Mireille Flour.
Gaál: What are your feelings about writing for the harp?
Farkas: In 1937 I tried to utilize what I felt was the most generally neglected characteristic of the harp - the melodic line. I avoided the arpeggio and glissando as much as possible. In 1956, however, with the help of Professor Miklós Rékai at the Budapest Conservatory, I rewrote Concertino. I wrote what I consider to be a more "successful" role for the harp and included the previously "avoided" glissandi and arpeggi, added cadenzas, and thinned out the orchestral background in the first and third movements. The new version was then played in Hungary by Hédy Lubik and several times in Germany by Gyula Dalló.
Gaál: Being a Hungarian harpist, I am very grateful that you have written some wonderful solo pieces for harp. They are unique compositions in the harp literature because they are based on different sources of Hungarian music history such as folk songs, popular dances or melodies from earlier centuries. Will you speak about these pieces?
Farkas: Old Hungarian Melodies (ca.1950) was originally written for harp and played often by Nicanor Zabaleta. My Hungarian Dances from the XVII Century for piano (1943) was transcribed for harp solo by Liana Pasquali. Sonata for Harp (1956) contains authentic folk songs from Moldavia which are integrated into the sonata form in three short movements.
Gaál: It was my pleasure to introduce your solo harp compositions and some transcriptions of your other music to Hungarian audiences and also to perform them in the United States and the Netherlands. Do you agree that many of your works for other instruments adapt well to the harp?
Farkas: Yes. I have made transcriptions for the harp of Four Preludes (1987, dedicated to Erzsébet Gaál) which were originally written for the guitar. After hearing you play them, I am very pleased with the result and feel they sound as good on the harp as the guitar - if not better.
Gaál: Which of your symphonic works have significant harp parts?
Farkas: In my cantatas The Well of St. John (1945) and Cantus Pannonicus (1959), I have given the harp a very important role. In Cantus Pannonicus, I used the harp with cembalo, guitar and mandoline as a soloistic group. Also, the harp has a very important part in my oratorio, Vita Poetae (1976).
Gaál: Your beautiful chamber music also contains possibilities for the harp. Is that correct?
Farkas: Yes. I could recommend some of my songs for voice and harp such as Five French Troubadour Songs (1947), Come Away, Death from Twelfth Night by Shakespeare (1954) or Sonnet VII de Louise Labé (1944). The latter work is for flute, harp, and voice.
Also, Folk Dances (1953) from the country of Bihar which is published for violin or viola, flute or clarinet and piano adapts very well tot he harp and has been successfully performed in The Netherlands with harp and flute. This music is published by Editio Musica Budapest.
Gaál: Thank you very much for this interview. I would also like to thank you for the special attention you have given to the harp in your compositions during your long and very productive life.
Copyright 1991, World Harp Congress Review Printed originally in the Spring issue of World Harp Congress Review. Used by permission.