The Legacy of Zoltán Kocsis

The Legacy of Zoltán Kocsis

Zoltán Kocsis (1952–2016) was not just a phenomenal pianist: He was also regarded as a musical 'polymath' whose genius embraced the activities of a composer, conductor, editor, instrumentalist, and arranger. In the last capacity, he added some 150 works to symphonic, chamber, song, and piano repertoire. Five years after his death, UMP Editio Musica Budapest – with the support of the Hungarian National Cultural Fund – has renewed and further enriched the offer of Zoltán Kocsis' original compositions and arrangements in their catalog.

From the 1970s onwards, Kocsis was continuously in transferring orchestral masterpieces of the 19th and 20th century to his own instrument, the piano, or two pianos. It was at this time that his arrangements were made from details by Berlioz (Queen Mab), Wagner (Walkyrie, Tristan and Isolde, Parsifal) and works by Ravel (La Valse) and Bartók (Two Images). Furthermore, he made several Debussy and Rachmaninoff transcriptions for his regular chamber partners, clarinetist Kálmán Berkes and cellist Miklós Perényi.

As a composer, Kocsis was mainly influenced by his poet friend, János Pilinszky, and György Kurtág, as well as by his peers, the experimental composers of the New Music Studio. In addition to chamber works, his most significant composition was Chernobyl ’86 – Memento for large orchestra, written in the aftermath of the shock of the 1986 nuclear disaster, which made a great impression at the time with its choice of subject. 

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Kocsis was the head of the National Philharmonic Orchestra for almost twenty years from 1997, during which time he composed a series of orchestrations of Liszt’s and Bartók’s piano works, which he also played frequently.

The seven Liszt arrangements are a selection of both popular and lesser-known piano pieces. The purpose of the orchestrations is not necessarily to be faithful to the times, but rather to project a specific interpretation available on the piano to the variety of orchestral tones:

1. Goethe-Festmarsch, S. 227
2. Valse oubliée No. 2, S. 215/2
3. Orage, S: 160/5
4. Vallée d’Obermann, S. 160/6
5. Ave Maria, S. 182
6. Valse oubliée No. 3, S. 215/3
7. Mazurka brillant, S. 221

Among the piano works of Bartók, the composer who stood closest to him, Kocsis was mostly interested in arranging early pieces before 1911. A real specialty is the arrangement of two of the Four piano pieces that are rarely played even on the piano, which offer a reinterpretation of the 19th century Hungarian style (Fantasy No. 2) and one of the earliest manifestations of the grotesque tone so characteristic of the composer (Scherzo):

1. Burlesque No. 3, op. 8/c
2. Dirge No. 1, op. 9/a
3. Quarrel (Burlesque No. 1), op. 8/c
4. Dirge No. 3, op. 9/a
5. Fantasy No. 2, DD 71
6. Dirge No. 4, op. 9/a
7. Scherzo, DD 71

Photo: Andrea Felvégi