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


“The More Rigid Framework”



Bartók's first composer's evening in Budapest featuring the First String Quartet, performed by the Waldbauer-Kerpely Quartet, and most of the Fourteen Bagatelles for piano, March 17, 1910


...I had the opportunity of studying the piano Bagatelles (op. 6), and I must confess that I was somewhat disconcerted by the surprising liberty of their idiom. ...from the Second Quartet to the Music for Strings and Percussion, my admiration has steadily grown. Soon after its publication, the quartet was performed by Yvonne Giraud, Delgrange, Darius Milhaud and myself, not without faults, for the work is quite difficult.

Arthur Honegger, “Preface,” in Serge Moreux, Béla Bartók (London, 1953), 9

It was [at the Eschig music store] that I purchased Bartók’s First Quartet. With my mates from the Conservatoire, I played quartets regularly at my place and we were enthusiastic about this work full of life and truly individual lyricism.

Darius Milhaud, “Hommage à Bartók,” Béla Bartók. L’Homme et l’Oeuvre, special issue of La Revue Musicale, no. 224 (1955), 16


                                        Bartók and Kodály with the members of the Waldbauer-Kerpely Quartet, March 1910




3rd movement. In this movement I tried to use the so-called “Bulgarian” rhythms, partly also in imitation and counterpoint. “Bulgarian” rhythm comes about when very quick rhythmic values (MM 300–400 or more) are grouped asymmetrically thus, e.g. such as 4+2+3 (and not 3+3+3!). I don’t know whether you are familiar with this kind of rhythm. If not, then preparatory exercises are useful that can be done also without the violin...

Bartók on his Fifth Quartet to violinist Rudolf Kolisch, October 23, 1934

3rd movement. We worked on this movement the most as it is the most difficult and we hope that we are now quite familiar with the Bulgarian rhythm. The stretto in the recapitulation is certainly one of the most difficult passages in the literature; it is all the more pleasant to master it.

Rudolf Kolisch to Bartók, March 14, 1935, German original in Documenta Bartókiana 3, ed. Denijs Dille (Budapest, 1968), 173




  Bartók's autograph analysis of his Fifth String Quartet (1934) written in French for Gaston Verhuyck-Coulon, impressario of the Pro Arte Quartet, 1935
Bartók's autograph analysis of his Second Piano Concerto (1930/31) written in French, 1939







Dille: Do you think, dear Maestro, that there was some kind of a difference in trend or technique between your “pure musical” works—the famous quartets and piano concertos, and the three stage works we know—on the one hand, and your freer works: the Dance Suite and the Rhapsody for violin and orchestra on the other?
Bartók: The difference is merely superficial; it relates, perhaps, to the task and the subject-matter. As you will have noticed, the technique is identical, the pure musical forms serve as a basis for freer musical formulae, which, in turn, have provided melodic and rhythmic models. However, clearly one does not use folk melodies when writing in pure musical forms, at least not without difficulty, because they are generally unsuitable in their original forms for the treatment they have to undergo. The melodies of my string quartets, etc. do not essentially differ from folk melodies; the framework is more rigid, that’s all. By the way, you know that I like technical elaboration very much, that I never present the same musical thought twice in the same way, and that I never repeat one part identically—which shows my great love for variation and the transformation of themes. The idea at the end of my Second Piano Concerto, where the first subject comes back in retrograde, is not at all a playful idea: this extreme diversity which is characteristic of our national music, is part of my nature.

An interview with Bartók by Denijs Dille, Brussels, February 2, 1937, in Dille, Béla Bartók. Regard sur le passé (Louvain-la-Neuve, 1990), 28


                                  With Hans Rosbaud, conductor of the première of the Second Piano Concerto in Frankfurt, January 23, 1933                 



Movement I, in A. On certain principles fairly strictly executed form of a fugue, that is, the 2nd entry appears a fifth higher; the 4th again a fifth higher than the 2nd; the 6th, 8th, and so on, again a fifth higher than the preceding one. The 3rd, 5th, 7th, and so on, on the other hand, each enter a fifth lower. After the remotest key—E flat—has been reached the climax of the movement) the following entries render the theme in contrary motion until the fundamental key—A—is again reached, after which a short coda follows. N.B.—(1) several secondary entries appear in a stretto. (2) Some entries show the theme incompletely, that is in fragments.

Movement II, in C. Sonata form (secondary theme in G). In the execution the theme of Movement I also appears, however, in altered form, and so does an allusion to the main theme of Movement IV.
            The recapitulation changes the 2/4 rhythm of the exposition into a 3/8 rhythm.

Movement III, in F sharp. “Bridge form” [arch form]: A, B, C, B, A. Between each section a part of the theme of Movement I appears.

Movement IV, in A. Formula: A+B+A, C+D+E+D+F, G, A. The G part (measures 203–234) shows the main theme of Movement I which is extended, however, by diatonic expansion of the original chromatic form.

Bartók, “Structure of Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta” (1937), in Béla Bartók Essays, ed. Benjamin Suchoff (London, 1976), 416



  With Conrad Beck (left) and Paul Sacher (right) in Basel, January 1937



The transformation of the first movement's chromatic main theme into the “diatonic” (or “acoustic”) extended version in the fourth movement of Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta as shown in Felix Meyer's introduction to a facsimile edition of the compositional manuscript (Mainz, 2000), 40

“An unprecedented march of triumph throughout the world of music,” brochure distributed by Universal Edition, 1938   A Budapest concert conducted by Ernest Ansermet featuring Bartók's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, October 31, 1938  

With his wife Ditta and Ernest Ansermet, October 31, 1938


Even the most abstract works, as for instance my string quartets, where no such imitations appear, reveal a certain indescribable, unexplainable spirit—a certain je ne sais pas quoi—which will give to anyone who listens, and who knows the rural backgrounds the feeling: “This could not have been written by any but an Eastern European musician.”

Bartók, “Hungarian Music” (1944), in Béla Bartók Essays, ed. Benjamin Suchoff (London, 1976), 396




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