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8.550886 - BARTOK: Rhapsodies Nos. 1 and 2 / Piano Quintet
Béla Bartók (1881-1945)First Rhapsody (Folk Dances)
Second Rhapsody (Folk Dances)
Piano Quintet (1903-4)
The Hungarian composer Béla Bartók was born in 1881 in an area that now forms part of Romania. His father, director of an agricultural college, was a keen amateur musician, while it was from his mother that he received his early piano lessons. The death of his father in 18891ed to a less settled existence, as his mother resumed work as a teacher, eventually settling in the Slovak capital of Bratislava (the Hungarian Pozsony), where Bartók passed his early adolescence, counting among his school-fellows the composer Erno Dohnányi. Offered the chance of musical training in Vienna, like Dohnányi he chose instead Budapest, where he won a considerable reputation as a pianist, being appointed to the teaching staff of the Academy of Music in 1907. At the same time he developed a deep interest, shared with his compatriot Zoltán Kodály, in the folk-music of his own and adjacent countries, later extended as far as Anatolia, where he collaborated in research with the Turkish composer Adnan Saygán.
As a composer Bartók found acceptance much more difficult, particularly in his own country, which was, in any case, beset by political troubles, when the brief post-war left-wing government of Béla Kun was replaced by the reactionary regime of Admiral Horthy. Meanwhile his reputation abroad grew, particularly among those with an interest in contemporary music, and his success both as a pianist and as a composer, coupled with dissatisfaction at the growing association between the Horthy government and National Socialist Germany, led him in 1940 to emigrate to the United States of America.
In his last years, after briefly held teaching appointments at Columbia and Harvard, Bartók suffered from increasing ill-health, and from poverty which the conditions of exile in war-time could do nothing to alleviate. He died in straitened circumstances in 1945, leaving a new Viola Concerto incomplete and a Third Piano Concerto more nearly finished. The years in America, whatever difficulties they brought, also gave rise to other important compositions, including the Concerto for Orchestra, commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation, a Sonata for Solo Violin for Yehudi Menuhin and, in the year before he left Hungary, Contrasts, for Szigeti and Benny Goodman.
The two Rhapsodies, originally for violin and piano, were both written in 1928, the year of Bartók's Fourth Quartet. Both Rhapsodies appeared in versions for solo violin and orchestra, possibly the composer's final intention, and in versions for violin, viola and cello, with the first also in a version in which the solo cello replaces the solo violin. The orchestral version of the First Rhapsody, modestly scored, includes a cimbalom, for the first and only time in his compositions. Both works are in two movements, lassú followed by friss, as in the standard Hungarian dances, the verbunkos, or recruiting-dance, and the csárdás.
The lassú of the First Rhapsody starts with a melody that is initially based on the ascending scale in the Lydian mode. A second section is dominated by the characteristic short-long rhythm also familiar in traditional Scottish music. The movement ends with the return of the first material and a closing reference to the second. The friss, after a brief introduction, turns to a melody that may seem all too familiar to American listeners. The second section, with its variations of speed, moves on to music of greater excitement, finally slowing to a reminiscence of the lassú and a brief cadenza. The work is dedicated to Joseph Szigeti.
Both Rhapsodies were subject to much revision by the composer, the Second Rhapsody notably in 1945. Dedicated to Zoltcln Szekely, the opening lassú starts with a characteristic melody in D minor that re-appears twice, first in a higher register, with harmonically contradictory accompaniment, and finally in conjunction with another theme that had appeared in the second episode of what is in fact a rondo. Characteristic rhythmic accompaniment opens the friss, introducing the modal first melody. A second section, marked Molto moderato, pesante, leads to the increasing excitement expected of the dance, before an Allegro non troppo and music that continues to use varied and innovative technical, harmonic and rhythmic devices.
The Andante of 1902 and the Piano Quintet written in 1903 and 1904 are works of a very different kind. In the first of these the influence of Richard Strauss can be detected. Bartók had heard in 1902 the first Budapest performance of Also Sprach Zarathustra, a work that had a profound effect on him and led him to the study of other Strauss scores and to the transcription for piano of Ein Heldenleben. The Quintet was completed in Gerlicepuszta in the Gomor district in July 1904. The following month Bartók travelled to Bayreuth to hear Parsifal. In October he gave the first performance of the Quintet in Vienna with the Frill Quartet and the following year took it with him to Paris for the Prix Rubinstein. There, however, the work was not heard, while the Violin Sonata of 1903 and the piano Rhapsody, Opus 1, failed to impress a generally conservative jury, which included the violinist Leopold Auer from St Petersburg. The Quintet, its movements thematically linked in a way that suggests the influence of Liszt, follows the example of Dohnányi and is romantic in tone, with suggestions of Brahms and Richard Strauss in the writing. The last two movements in particular have a distinctly Hungarian flavour, a counterpart of the traditional lassú and friss. Bartók did not publish the work but played it on later occasions and took it with him to the United States. It remains of more than historical interest and marks, as the composer seems to have seen it, the end of his apprenticeship as a composer. In November 1904 he completed his piano Rhapsody, numbered Opus 1.
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