Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1965) · Display of lights (1971)
Improvisations (1959) · Frost flowers (1977)
Tomas Dratva, piano
Paul Goodwin, conductor
János Tamás was born in 1936 in Budapest
but lived in Switzerland from 1956 on. He studied
composition with Sándor Veress in Bern. His oeuvre
contains 120 works from nearly all musical genres.
Tamás died in 1995 in Aarau. The Association for the
Promotion of János Tamás has dedicated itself to preserving
the composer’s works.
Tamás’ piano concerto from 1965 is written in the
tradition of Béla Bartók. The highly virtuosic piano part
is contrasted by a full orchestra playing in tightly woven
counterpoint. The work was never performed during
Tamás’ life; the concerto was not heard until February;
a live recording of its premiere is found on this CD.
The concerto is complemented by some of the
composer’s early compositions for solo piano. The
A Hungarian composer in Switzerland:
piano works by János Tamás
pieces from the Eisblumen cycle (Frost flowers) are
often played today, not in the least because they are
required pieces by the Swiss Youth Music Competition.
Piano Concerto & Early Music for Piano
János Tamás wrote his Piano Concerto
shortly after completing composition studies
with Sándor Veress in Bern, Switzerland.
He wrote the work of his own accord; he had
not received a commission and no performance
was in sight. János Tamás soon gave the
manuscript to Swiss pianist Karl Engel and
asked him to premiere it if possible. Engel
seemed enthusiastic about the work but reported
that he was unable to perform it for
the time being (“I have your Piano Concerto
here and have looked through it thoroughly. It
is a highly interesting work, extremely energetic,
a very tough piece! I would be happy to play it
but do not know when and where. Next season
I have to premiere a concerto by Schibler (…).
It is difficult to perform new works, e.g. I have
two concertos by Busoni that have never been
performed and that I have recommended for
three years, but until now, no one has wanted
to have them.” K. Engel in a letter to J. Tamás
from 12/16/1967). In the following years,
János Tamás’s correspondence makes no
more mention of the work. In 1973, Karl
returned the manuscript to him with
an apology – he had never been able to perform
it. In the meantime, however, János
Tamás was involved in many other projects:
compositions, conducting and teaching activities.
The Piano Concerto from 1965 remained
only a manuscript in a drawer. It was
never performed during his life. In 2007, Tomas
Dratva took on the manuscript, finally
premiering the work on February 9, 2009 as
part of the Boswil Meisterkonzerte concert
series, accompanied by the Basel chamber
orchestra under the direction of Paul Goodwin.
Stylistically, János Tamás’s Piano Concerto
is oriented to the music of Béla Bartók – an
obvious reference for a Hungarian musician.
During the 1960s, Bartók’s own three piano
concertos were considered modern classics.
János Tamás, also a pianist, succeeded in
writing a virtuosic piano part. Many contrapuntal
elements alternate between orchestra
and piano, but in all three movements,
rhythm dominates the musical character.
The orchestra displays a wealth of tonal color
with its many wind and brass instruments.
I. Allegro moderato. The first movement is
relatively short, acting as a compact “Introit”.
It immediately gets to the point; the piano
and orchestra begin together. The exposition
is characterized by dense, accented orchestral
interjections and a lively two-part 16th-note
run in the piano that ends with energetic
syncopated octaves. During these octave
cascades, a second, triplet-dominated theme
with an almost grotesquely dancelike character
sneaks into the piano part and quickly
gets out of hand. The orchestra chases the
piano and its increasingly wild figures, before
release comes in the form of a very contrapuntal
II. Adagio, molto tranquillo. This slow,
lyrical movement is characterized by three
themes. It begins with a declamatory, syncopated
song-like melody in the piano that is
taken over by a calm refrain in the manner of
a chorale. The third theme is a fugato rich with
variation, which begins in the strings and is
then continued by the piano and woodwinds.
The movement gains its symmetry from two
climaxes and the refrain that allows the music
to return to a state of serenity.
III. Allegro con fuoco. After short, loud
wind fanfares, the dotted main theme is
launched in the piano in a fiery, 7/4 tempo.
A fast round dance between the piano and
orchestra follows, during which the theme is
constantly varied. But the music repeatedly
has its slower “meno mosso” sections, which
feature pianissimo tympani ostinati. In formal
terms, the movement could be termed a
nearly “classical” final rondo form.
The five Improvisations (1959) constitute
János Tamás’s earliest published cycle for solo
piano. They can be considered as stylistic
studies in which the composer spontaneously
explores pianistic sound-worlds. Pieces
I, III and IV are primarily characterized by
their melodies, while rhythmic pithiness, a
sonorous and large piano sound and virtuosic
ascending runs are especially noteworthy in
piece II and the finale. What all pieces have
in common is their search for a personal pianistic
language, a search that the Piano Concerto
– written six years later – would fulfill.
The short piece Lichtspiel (“Display of
lights”, 1971) was written during a vacation
and compositional retreat in the Bernese
Oberland. It is inspired by the lights in a
modern villa in Wengen, where János Tamás
composed the work. In this trill and tremolo
study, Tamás develops his own logical notation
techniques. With the exception of the last
two tones, the piece moves solely in the upper
register of the piano keyboard; a very bright
basic color dominates the sound throughout.
Eisblumen (“Frost flowers”, 1977) is still
an extremely popular work and very well
known by the younger generation of Swiss
pianists, for whom it is often a required piece
at Swiss musical competitions for youth. The
14 miniatures can be seen as part of the important
tradition of didactic piano compositions
that is especially evident in Hungary.
The composer wrote about his works:
The 14 Miniatures for piano are aphoristic mood
studies for articulation. Didactically, their goals
are to promote [the development of] free musicmaking
by means of highly sensitive expressiveness,
the revelation of tonal colors and the use of
The atmospheric, the meditative, the rubato,
the poetry and magic of sound are first
and foremost in these works, but are also meant
to elicit imagination and intuition. Performers
and listeners will hopefully enjoy the quiet
melancholy and the discovery of what is indirect
and has only been alluded to.
“Eisblumen”: bizarre, crystalline, very delicate
depictions of quiet.
(© Hug&Co. Musikverlag, Zürich)
Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler
János Tamás was born in Budapest, Hungary
in 1936 and died in Aarau, Switzerland
in 1995. He was a major figure in Swiss
musical life from the 1960s on. Although his
musical activities ranged from teaching to
conducting to piano performance, composing
became increasingly central to his life.
His compositional legacy consists of some
120 works from nearly all musical genres.
Before emigrating to Switzerland in 1956,
Tamás had attended the Franz Liszt Academy
of Music in Budapest, studying piano as well
as composition (with Ferenc Farkas). He
concluded his studies at the conservatory in
Bern, Switzerland, taking composition with
He was then appointed solo accompanist at
the Zurich Opera and Director of Studies at
the American “Corbett Foundation” opera
studio in Zurich. Beginning in the 1960s,
Tamás often conducted the Biel-Solothurn
Städtebund Theater, the Swiss “Guest Performance”
opera and the Aarau Orchestra.
He was the primary piano teacher at the
Aarau canton school as well.
In addition to the two oratorios Noah’s
Daughter and Voices of the Earth, János
Tamás’s compositional oeuvre includes vocal
and choral music, orchestral works as well
as a great deal of chamber and piano music.
Among other things, he wrote commissioned
works for Paul Sacher, for the Swiss Cultural
Foundation Pro Helvetia, for the Aargau
Board of Trustees and for the canton of Solothurn.
“Maybe music is something timeless that
is always in us and is only waiting to be composed.
My ideal would be to write timeless, universal,
simple and easily understandable music,
and I wish to give new meaning to the term
‘beauty’. For me, music is like an underground
ocean from which the composer draws. I never
ask myself what I should compose, but rather:
what music wishes to be composed through me!”
A detailed list of the composer’s works can be
found at www.janostamas.ch
Tomas Dratva – Pianist
Swiss pianist Tomas Dratva, who currently
lives in Basel, appears as a soloist and chamber
musician in many European countries as
well as in the USA and South America. Performances
in festivals and concert series have
taken him to Lisbon, Buenos Aires, London,
Bratislava, Washington D.C., Prague, Stockholm,
Barcelona, New York City, San Francisco,
Bad Kissingen, Dallas, Berlin, Bayreuth,
Minsk, Krakow, Budapest, Dresden, Paris,
Milan and Florence; he has performed as a soloist
with orchestras that include the Tonhalle
Orchester Zurich, Basel Symphony Orchestra,
Slovakian Philharmonic Košice, Kremerata
Baltica, Kammerorchester Basel, Prague Sinfonietta,
Slovakian Sinfonietta, RSO Bratislava
and Lucerne Symphony Orchestra.
Tomas Dratva regularly releases CDs and
has recorded over 70 works for many European
radio broadcasting institutions. He supplements
his wealth of solo repertoire with
many-sided chamber music activities. One
of his most important ensembles is the Trio
Animæ, which he co-founded.
Performance of 20th century and contemporary
music is an artistic challenge that Tomas
Dratva finds one of his most important
tasks. He regularly participates in premieres
and collaborates with numerous composers.
For a number of years, Tomas Dratva has also
championed the compositions of Swiss-Hungarian
composer János Tamás. With the premiere
and recording of Tamás’s Piano Concerto,
Tomas Dratva has posthumously brought one of
the composer’s most important works to light.
The pianist has also entered new territory
with his highly celebrated reconstruction,
first recording and performances of lost piano
concertos of the Bohemian Mozart-contemporary
Paul Goodwin has become one of Britain’s
most versatile conductors, renowned for
his historically informed interpretations of baroque,
classical and romantic music, while also
being a great advocate of contemporary music.
Paul has a close and fruitful relationship
with the kammerorchesterbasel, with whom
he performs both on modern and period instruments
in a wide range of repertoire from
Bach and Handel to Stravinsky and contemporary
Swiss composers. He is also a regular
guest conductor with the Deutsche Radio
Philharmonie Saarbrucken Kaiserslautern.
Paul was the Principal Guest Conductor of
the English Chamber Orchestra for six years,
as well as Associate Conductor of the Academy
of Ancient Music for over 10 years.
From 2011 he will be taking up the position
of Music Director and Conductor of the
Carmel Bach Festival in California.
Paul has a wide symphonic repertoire,
conducting orchestras including the BBC
Philharmonic, the Hallé Orchestra, the City
of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and
Scottish Chamber Orchestra. In the US he
has conducted the Minnesota Orchestra, the
National Symphony Orchestra Washington,
St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the Philadelphia
Orchestra. In Europe, the Belgium
and Spanish National Orchestras, Helsinki
and Royal Stockholm Philharmonics and the
Bayerisches, Hessisches, MDR Leipzig and
NDR Hannover Rundfunkorchester and the
Paul Goodwin was awarded the Handel
Honorary Prize of the City of Halle in 2007
in recognition of his extraordinary services to
performances of works by George Frederic
The Basel Chamber Orchestra (BCO) was
founded in 1984 by graduates of several
Swiss Academies of Music. Since then it has
become one of Europe’s most renowned and
popular chamber ensembles.
With programs that combine both early
and modern music, the BCO continues a tradition that its musical patron and conductor
Paul Sacher of Basel established with extraordinary
Numerous invitations and awards reflect
the group’s development into one of the city
of Basel’s most enthusiastic cultural emissaries.
Most recently, the BCO received the
Sponsorship Award of the Ernst von Siemens
Foundation (2006) and the ‘Young Ears’
First Prize for the Windrose (compass card)
project, a musical education project done in
cooperation with the Basel region (2007).
In recent years, the BCO has received
international recognition at many music festivals.
It regularly performs in renowned concert
halls in London, Amsterdam, Cologne,
Berlin, Zurich, Munich, Vienna, Valencia
The ensemble often works with conductors
Giovanni Antonini, David Stern, Paul
McCreesh, Kristjan Järvi and Paul Goodwin.
Credit Suisse has been the BCO’s main
sponsor and partner since July 2007.
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