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8.223663 - BARTOK: Piano Transcriptions

Béla Bartók (1881 - 1945)
Italian Keyboard Music of the 17th and 18th Centuries
transcribed by Béla Bartók

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 1889 led 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 Ern? 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 Saygün.

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 régime 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.

Although Bartók's own musical language may seem remote from that of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, he nevertheless not only had an interest in earlier music, but was influenced by it. In 1926 and 1927 he made piano transcriptions of music for cembalo or organ by a number of seventeenth and eighteenth century composers. These transcriptions followed his earlier editions of keyboard works by Couperin and sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti and a much more extensive series of editions of major works of piano repertoire which continued to provide basic material for Budapest Conservatory students. While the nature of the original music here transcribed by Bartók is of obvious relevance, further interest must be aroused not only by the transcriptions themselves but in the choice of music to be transcribed, which casts some light on the tastes and interests of one of the greatest composers of the twentieth century.

Michelangelo Rossi, also known as Michel Angelo del Violino, was born in Genoa in 1601 or 1602. For a time he assisted his uncle, organist of the cathedral of San Lorenzo there, moving in 1624 to Rome and entering the service of Cardinal Maurizio of Savoy and later of the Barberini family and other distinguished patrons. In Rome he became a pupil of Frescobaldi, whose influence is apparent, not least in the Toccatas. Although famous among his contemporaries as a violin virtuoso, Rossi remains among the most important Italian keyboard composers of the period. He died in Rome in 1656. His Toccatas continue the tradition of Frescobaldi and the seemingly improvised Neapolitan toccata. Rossi, like his teacher, starts with grandiose slow chords, leading to sections of passage-work and contrapuntal episodes. The Correntes follow the Italian form of the traditional dance.

The Sonata by Azzolino Bernardino della Ciaia opens with a Toccata, followed by a fugal Canzone. The third movement is of rapid passage-work, leading to a final gentle Siciliano. The composer was born in Siena in 1671 and moved to Pisa, where he became a member of the Knights of San Stefano, with whom he served at sea. He was responsible for the design of a massive five-manual organ in Pisa, the fifth manual controlling a harpsichord. He was ordained priest in 1734 and 1752 became prior of Urbino. His six sonatas for harpsichord, probably completed in 1727, are in the form of the Sonata here transcribed, with a Toccata that owes much to organ music, a Canzona and two binary form pieces.

Among keyboard composers of the early seventeenth century Girolamo Frescobaldi occupies an important position. Born in 1583 in Ferrara, the domain of the influential d'Este family, he moved to Rome at the beginning of the new century. With his patron Guido Bentivoglio he visited Brussels, an important centre of Northern European keyboard-playing, before in 1608 assuming the position of organist at St. Peter's in Rome, where he spent much of the rest of his career, apart from a period of six years in Florence in the service of the Medicis. A master of the keyboard Toccata. Frescobaldi's handling of the form is distinguished by relatively adventurous harmonies and a distinctly dramatic element that is even more apparent in piano transcription. His Fuga is an early example of a form derived from the canzona that would assume ever greater importance.

Domenico Zipoli was born in 1688 in Prato, and studied the organ in Florence, before briefly taking lessons from Alessandro Scarlatti in Naples, with Lavinio Felice Vannucci in Bologna and finally with Bernardo Pasquini in Rome, where he became organist of the Jesuit church. In 1716 he joined the Society of Jesus and was sent to the mission in Paraguay. He had his training in philosophy and theology at Córdoba, but died in 1726, before being ordained priest. His Pastorale, a Siciliano, with a central contrasting episode, is gently lyrical, testimony to the ability of Zipoli and to the depth of interest of the transcriber. This and other keyboard works by Zipoli were published in Rome in 1716.

The Marcello brothers in Venice, Alessandro and Benedetto, were both composers, members of a noble family with leisure to indulge in music and other artistic activities. Alessandro Marcello is remembered with gratitude by oboists for his concerto for the instrument, a work transcribed by Bach for harpsichord, while Benedetto Marcello has posterity in his debt for his satirical survey of contemporary operatic practices in his Teatro alia Moda. A younger contemporary of Vivaldi, the latter shows in his keyboard-writing some elements of a style that would be developed by his nearer contemporary Domenico Scarlatti in a Sonata that leads to a stately and grandiose conclusion, after a slow first movement in dotted rhythm, a fugal second and a livelier third, with its sequences of thirds and characteristic Scarlatti figuration.

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