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The František Báleš ensemble releases an album celebrating the greats of Slovak poetry

Written by on January 21, 2023

After the release of the award-winning album Sonety (Radioheads award), a group of jazz musicians and literary enthusiasts centred around František Báleš comes with their second original work combining the beauty of Slovak poetry and music. The leader of the ensemble is known in artistic circles not only as a jazz musician, but also as an admirer and promoter of classical poetry. Inspired by works that are known to the wider public mainly from school days, he decided to popularise this literature with his own musical creations, influenced by jazz and classical music.

František Báleš ensemble

“The Musical Poems are a musical reflection of my imagination taking a light step down the path of poetic stories. Perfect melodies, harmonies and rhythms have already been created before me by Hviezdoslav, Dilong, Smrek, Kostra, Kráľ and Rúfus. My desire was only to transfer them sensitively into songs. With a feeling of undying fascination and immense gratitude I bow before the mastery of these greats,” says František Báleš, the author of the music and arrangements.

The opening track of the album “Básne Múzické” is an ode to Hviezdoslav called “Tisíc atmosfér” (A Thousand Atmospheres), which the author of the music also created lyrically, as a poetic confession of his relationship to the greatest Slovak poet. The song is also an introduction to Hviezdoslav’s “Krvavé Sonety” (Blood Sonnets) from 1914, which dominate the album’s dramaturgy. Unlike the so-called Star Sonnets from 1886, which the ensemble presented on its first album, the “bloody” message of the later work of our greatest poet is strongly relevant in today’s times – marked by the Ukrainian war conflict.

“Well, man, are you the master of nature?
You have the right to decide over it?…?”
(excerpt from P. O. Hviezdoslav’s tenth Bloody Sonnet)

The music composer, inspired by the dramatic work denouncing the events of the war, reached for his excellent translations from the pen of the British writer John Minahane (The Bloody Sonnets, LIC, 2018) and, musically, opted for the confluence of his jazz ensemble with a saxophone quartet.

“It is an honour and a great pleasure to collaborate with the great artists of the Pressburg Saxophone Quartet under the direction of Ladislav Fančovič. Their classical style of saxophone playing is close to my contemporary aesthetic, and the result of the collaboration of our two ensembles is music that has fulfilled my vision of Hviezdoslav’s Blood Sonnets in John Minahane’s translation,” brought closer the collaboration with the quartet F. Báleš.

František Báleš

Rudolf Dilong is another of the great Slovak poets whose poetry inspired the musical works of František Báleš. Two works by the author of the so-called Catholic modernism, “Dráma na počiatku” (Drama at the Beginning, from the collection Stars and Sorrow, 1934) and Lodičky a lode“ (Boats and Ships, from the collection Honolulu, the Song of the Swan, 1939) are a poetic image of the longing for eternal beauty, which is musically illustrated on the album by Ondrej Juraši’s flugelhorn (a type of trumpet).

The poem by Janek Kráľ entitled “Moja pieseň“ (My Song, collection Ponášky, 1874) was set to music on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the birth of the well-known poet-rebel (around the Ľudovít Štúr group of poets). Composed for cello (Katarína Baarová), double bass (Vladimír Máčaj) and the vocal sextet WAF band led by Matúš Uhliarik, it is close to classical music of the 19th century and thus creates a contrast to most of the jazz-sounding compositions on the album.

The author drew inspiration from the chamber music of Erik Satie or Francis Poulenc when setting a poem by Milan Rúfus called “Báseň o básni“ (Poem about a Poem, collection Ako stopy v snehu, 2008).

Perhaps the greatest contrast to the Blood Sonnets is created by the lyrical poem “Vzdych” (Sigh) by Ján Kostra (from the collection Presila smútku, 1946) and especially the joyful poetry of Ján Smrek in his poem “Dnes milujem svoj deň“ (Today I Love My Day, from the collection Condemned to Eternal Thirst, 1922).

The album’s last record is from the collection of Blood Sonnets, “Nuž iďte zbohom, piesne krvavé!…“ (Now God be with you, bloody songs! – goodbye), sounding against a background of music in the style of a modern passacaglia. The vocals in English (Matúš Uhliarik) accompanied by saxophones, combined with Vladimír Jedľovský’s artistic rendition in the original Slovak language, create a dramatic yet solemn ending to the album.

Not only the musical setting itself, but also a thorough analysis of the poems were part of the preparation of the album. The protagonists of the album were also assisted by expert advisors in uncovering a multitude of poetic images, deciphering metaphors and exploring the historical events behind the creation of the literary works. The album is a reflection of the mutual symbiosis of the ensemble members and reflects their shared aesthetics, thinking and views on music and literature. According to the author, the existence of the ensemble is mainly based on the support and mutual understanding of its members, who are the singer Matúš Uhliarik, the double bassist Vladimír Máčaj and the drummer Juraj Šušaník. He considers their artistic and especially human input to be an inseparable part of the collective work on the latest album.

“Many thanks to my closest colleagues from the ensemble, to all the guest artists as well as to my close friends and acquaintances who in any way participated in the creation of this work (Igor Baar, Braňo Gotthardt, Kristína Majorošová, Peter Beňo, Beáta Uhliariková, Anna Očkajová, Joe Tarantino, Ján Sudzina and many others.) Special thanks to our friend Gabriel,” concludes F. Báleš.

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