I was introduced to the music of Sándor Balassa when I was twelve years old, and a student at the Bartók Secondary School of Music, where I was invited to join the audience award jury at the Hungarian Radio’s 1971 showcase of contemporary recordings.
The 81-year-old composer kindly put his trust in me: he asked me to record all of his piano works. As I was present at the outstanding concert premiere of his opera, Földindulás (‘Landslide’), I would have said yes right away if I had not been so cautious, because I had not played contemporary music since my early youth. I asked for the scores and for time to think it over, as a matter of formality. I found an even more surprising and pleasant diversity in them than I expected, which made me want to play the music even more. Balassa’s lyrical compositional style and his sophisticated application of tone and timbre (he taught orchestration at the Budapest Academy of Music) lends a unique style to all his works, from the earliest opuses of his formative period to the neo-Classicism of his latest works. The difficulty of the pieces—from Ládafia (‘From an Old Chest’) to Fantázia (‘Fantasia’)—is quite diverse, and do not give the impression that they were not written by a professional pianist. The opera composers’ devotion to form presents itself in the arrangement of the short children’s pieces into cycles. These miniatures could easily claim their rightful place in the curriculum of music schools, as some of them are already gaining popularity in music education.
Apart from the piano works, the composer also gave me the score of his solo piece for harp, Északi ajándék (‘A Gift from the North’), which I liked so much that it became the first piece by the composer that I performed in front of an audience. I also asked for the score of his other harp piece and his works for cimbalom. They all turned out to be very enjoyable pieces to play on the piano, their somewhat unusual textures making for a decidedly interesting soundscape.
– István Kassai