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(c) Copyright Bartók Archives of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Institute for Musicology, 2004-2005 

 

“Imaginary Folk Music”

 

Out of [folk music], he developed themes in the course of his works, mixing peasant music and art music, even inventing
new motives of the same value, which Serge Moreux so rightly calls “imaginary folk music.”

Louis Durey, “Hommage à Béla Bartók,” in Béla Bartók, L’Homme et l’Oeuvre, special issue of La Revue Musicale, no. 224 (1955), 10.

  

Title page of the first pocket score edition of Bartók's Dance Suite (1923); © Copyright 1924 by Universal Edition, Copyright renewed 1951 by Boosey & Hawkes Inc., New York  

My Dance Suite on the program is one of my most recent works; I composed it during the summer. It comprises of five parts that follow one another attacca, without a rest. All the five dances has original, folk-like, but not real folksong, themes, and between each dance I employed a brief ritornello, an orchestral interlude, instead of a rest. ... The fifth movement or dance is followed, again attacca, by some kind of a finale in which all the themes previously heard recur.

Bartók, “Tánc-suite” (Dance Suite, 1923), in Bartók Béla Írásai (Béla Bartók’s writings) 1, ed. Tibor Tallián (Budapest, 1989), 66

 
The aim of the whole work was to put together a kind of idealized peasant music—you could say an invented peasant music—in such a way that the individual movements of the work should introduce particular types of music.— Peasant music of all nationalities served as a model: Magyar, Wallachian [= Romanian], Slovak, and even Arabic. In fact, here and there is even a hybrid from these species. Thus, for example, the melody of the first subject of the first movement is reminiscent of primitive Arabic peasant music, whereas its rhythm is of East European folk music ... The ritornello theme is such a faithful imitation of a certain kind of Hungarian folk melodies, that its derivation might puzzle even the most knowledgeable musical folklorist...

Bartók about the Dance Suite (from a deleted passage of Bartók’s “Budapest” lecture of 1931);
 translation in Tibor Tallián, Béla Bartók. The Man and His Work (Budapest, 1988), 133

 
  First page of a brochure, advertising the Dance Suite, bearing the motto: “The greatest success of the 1925 Prague Music Festival”; Bartók estate, © 2005, Gábor Vásárhelyi
  

  

  Excerpts from reviews of the Dance Suite on the second page of the brochure
  

  

  Adorno's review of the Dance Suite published in Pult und Taktstock 2, no. 6 (1925), 105-107; Bartók estate, © 2005, Gábor Vásárhelyi       Adorno's review of the Dance Suite published in Pult und Taktstock 2, no. 6 (1925), 105-107; Bartók estate, © 2005, Gábor Vásárhelyi       Adorno's review of the Dance Suite published in Pult und Taktstock 2, no. 6 (1925), 105-107; Bartók estate, © 2005, Gábor Vásárhelyi

Bill of the Prague concert featuring the Dance Suite, May 19, 1925; Bartók estate, © 2005, Gábor Vásárhelyi
 

     

Bartók with his peasant style furniture in his Budapest home, 1908

  

  

Bartók with his peasant style furniture in his Budapest home, 1908

  

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

The question is, what are the ways in which peasant music is taken over and becomes transmuted into modern music?
            We may, for instance, take over a peasant melody unchanged or only slightly varied, write an accompaniment to it and possibly some opening and concluding phrases. This kind of work would show a certain analogy with Bach’s treatment of chorales. ...
            Another method... is the following: the composer does not make use of a real peasant melody but invents his own imitation of such melodies. There is no true difference between this method and the one described above. ...
            There is yet a third way... Neither peasant melodies nor imitations of peasant melodies can be found in his music, but it is pervaded by the atmosphere of peasant music. In this case we may say, he has completely absorbed the idiom of peasant music which has become his musical mother tongue.

Bartók, “The Influence of Peasant Music on Modern Music” (1931), in Béla Bartók Essays, ed. Benjamin Suchoff (London, 1976), 341–44

 

Basil Maine's review of the Prague Festival in The Music Bulletin; Bartók estate, © 2005, Gábor Vásárhelyi  

The good credit of the Festival was to a great extent saved by the very last work performed. This was Béla Bartók’s “Suite de Danses,” a work written two years ago for the festivities held in honour of the reunion of Buda and Pest. It is difficult to imagine that Bartók will ever write music which is not in the highest degree calculated for fine and immediate effect. His thoughts are full of minute complexities, which in conveyance take their appointed places with disarming discipline. There are complexities of rhythm, of colour, and of accent — yet how single and full of light is the controlling mind! In this suite there are occasional dark sayings; of set purpose they are darkened, it seems, for quickly there comes a flash to illumine every remote corner of the score. The theme of the ritournelle is whimsically used to establish continuity, and at the end there is a letting loose of all the elemental barbaric force which, au fond, is the source of Bartók’s inspiration. Where will you find among contemporary musicians a mind so swift, so fiercely bright?

Basil Maine, “The Prague Festival,” The Music Bulletin 7, no. 6 (1925), 157

 

...Finally, the concert ends with a real masterpiece, Béla Bartók’s Tanzsuite, music full of imagination, rich in colours just like some wonderful Magyar embroidery, music of formidable technical skill but also of both sophisticated and genuine dreamlike poesy. In recent years, I have rarely experienced beauty of such strength and spiritual as well as technical perfection.

Alfredo Casella, “Lettera da Praga,” Il Pianoforte 6, no. 5 (1925), 195

 

 

 

 

 

  Alfredo Casella's review of the Prague Festival in the Italian Il Pianoforte; Bartók estate, © 2005, Gábor Vásárhelyi
 
   

  

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