Eugene Zádor, Master of Music

by Nicolas Slonimsky

Mastery of music is in decline among composers; it is being replaced by the pursuit of novelty. No longer are concert-goers and music critics impressed by the art of putting together musical sounds and written symbols in a logical sequence, which is the essence of the admired Kunst of the Baroque. Eugene Zádor was the last of twentieth-century Künstler. He was a Renaissance man, equally capable of producing varied kinds of music. Musicus sum: musicali nil a me alienum puto, he could have said paraphrasing the Roman humanist Terence: “I am a musician and nothing musical is alien to me.” Eugene Zádor was a classicist; he was a romantic; he was a modernist. There is no contradiction in these three categories: in Zádor’s music there breathed the air of romantic lyricism within the framework of classical forms; and there were ingenious modernistic innovations in his elegant scores. This unity in variety was the secret of the universal appeal that Zádor’s music so fortunately inspired. His works were performed because they gave immediate pleasure to the ear, while professional musicians could savor the fine points of technique; just from listening and from intelligent analysis they could obtain the equivalent of a conservatory course in composition.

Zádor was democratic in the application of his art. Coming to the United States after a series of notable successes as a composer in Europe, he settled in Hollywood and accepted commissions to orchestrate for the movies; he produced more than one hundred such arrangements, often not even acknowledged in the screen credits. He also gave lessons in orchestration to many talented musicians who were eager to achieve a mastery comparable to Zádor’s own.

Zádor’s catalogue of works, lovingly compiled after his death by his son Leslie, contains operas, symphonies, orchestral suites, chamber music, and choral pieces. The most popular among these works were his compositions derived in musical essence from the folk tunes of his native Hungary; they enjoyed hundreds of performances and are still played in Europe and America. The Zeitgeist between the two great wars impelled Zádor to write a piece of “machine music,” as the genre was described at the time, Sinfonia Technica, illustrating in four classical movements the operating forces of the industrial age – the bridge, the telegraph poles, the waterworks, the factory. About the same time, he completed a comic opera, The Inspector General, to Gogol’s comedy, which he reorchestrated many years later, and which was finally brought to a performance in Los Angeles in 1971. The work is one of Zádor’s most enchanting creations, full of melodious arias and witty ensembles. Why is it not performed more often?

Zádor continued to work to the end of his life. He died at the age of eight-two after a long exhausting illness, but one could not guess either his age or his bodily sufferings from his last works, which still kept the brightness and wit and brilliance of his vital genius. Is it only a coincidence that the word “Zádor” in Russian means “Aufschwung” in German and “élan” in French?

Nicolas Slonimsky was a conductor, professor, composer, pianist, author and musicologist. His descriptions of Zádor’s major works appear in Music Since 1900 and Bakers Biographical Dictionary of Musicians.