Zoltán Kodály – Psalmus Hungaricus Op. 13

Psalmus Hungaricus, Op. 13, is a choral work for tenor, chorus and orchestra by Zoltán Kodály, composed in 1923. The Psalmus was commissioned to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the unification of Buda, Pest and Óbuda for a gala performance on 19 November 1923 along with the Dance Suite by Béla Bartók, and the Festival Overture by Ernő Dohnányi, who conducted the concert. The work’s first performance outside Hungary took place under Volkmar Andreae in Zürich on 18 June 1926. This marked a turning point in the international recognition of Kodály as a composer, beyond his renown as an ethnomusicologist and music educator.
The text is based on the gloss of Psalm 55, “Give ear to my prayer, oh God”, by 16th-century poet, preacher, and translator Mihály Vég [hu]. Uncommonly, Kodály chose a sacred text to mark a secular occasion; the libretto’s passages of despair and call to God provide opportunities for the composer to address Hungary’s tragic past and disastrous post-Trianon Treaty predicament, when it lost over 70% of its national territory. The music reflects the nation’s crisis during and after World War I (the partition of the historical Hungary), and the text draws a parallel between the sorrows of King David and the suffering of the Magyars in Ottoman Hungary. Thus, the Psalmus Hungaricus encompasses two and a half millennia of political distress.

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