A Resu­mé of the 20th Century – 2000 Back to the Future

Béla Bartók Composers and Opuses

Born March 25, 1881, in Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary Died September 26, 1945, in New York, USA

Béla Bartók’s interest in folk music is well known; in the time between 1905 and 1918, he traveled with his friend and fellow composer, Zoltán Kodály, through Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, collecting, documenting and painstakingly transcribing their folk songs and dances. The results of this activity were manifold. First, the two great musicians were able to present this treasure including thousands of melodies as a nucleus for further studies to the field of ethnomusicology. Secondly, it was through these endeavors that the two composers arrived at the creation of a new patriotic genre of Hungarian concert music as they fused the folk elements encountered in their research with their individual compositional aesthetics. Their works - and especially Bartók’s - absorbed the rhythmic values, melodic elements and harmonic feeling of these naïve and basic folk songs in a more refined way through intellectual understanding. 

Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano (1923) Written in 1923, during the composer’s period of greatest freedom with respect to tonality and treatment of dissonance, the Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano is a good example of how Bartók makes use of folk elements in his works. Although the themes are all of Bartók’s own devising, they are inspired by folk melodies and the rhythmic patterns are unmistakably Hungarian in character. Moreover, the overall form of the work belongs to an ancient Hungarian tradition, as the sonata is cast in the characteristic two-movement dance form of the verbunkos: a slow introductory movement (lassu) followed by a vigorous and rhythmic movement (friss). 

The mainly lyrical and reflective opening movement is extremely complex in its construction and organization. It breaks down into nine discrete sections. The first four sections (ABCD) are mirrored, yet varied, in the second four sections (A’B’C’D’). Of these latter sections, B’ and C’ combine to form a larger section that provides the developmental high point of the movement. The single ninth section at the end recapitulates and again provides variation of material heard at the beginning of the movement. 

The rhythmic and dance-like second movement is again sectional in form. Here, elements from the first movement are freely treated and varied, as the new motifs and rhythms are developed alongside. The two movements together form an extremely satisfying whole, and the overall work demonstrates once more Bartók’s genius for integrating folk elements into complex larger forms. 

Courtesy of Columbia Artists Management Inc.

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