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8.550771 - BARTOK: Piano Concertos Nos. 1, 2 and 3
Béla Bartók (1881 - 1945)
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 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 Admirai 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 1940to 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 Vehudi Menuhin and, in the year before he left Hungary, Contrasts, for Szigeti and Benny Goodman.
Bartók's compositions for piano and orchestra include, in addition to the three concertos, a Rhapsody and a Scherzo. The first of the piano concertos was written in the summer and autumn of 1926 in Budapest and first performed at the ISCM Festival in Frankfurt the following July, with the composer as soloist and the conductor Wilhelm Furtwángler. The style of piano-writing is generally percussive and there is a frequent use of dissonant intervals, leading a contemporary American critic to castigate the work as one of "unmitigated ugliness". This is hardly a judgement that would be echoed now, when the music of Bartók is better understood. Described by the composer as in E minor, the concerto may certainly be taken as centring on this tonality. The first movement is in broadly classical sonata-allegro form, with a first and second subject group forming the exposition, a central development section, beginning with the re-appearance of the principal theme, which is also heard transposed in the recapitulation section, which presents much of the material already used, but now modified. The movement moves forward to an exciting conclusion, propelled by the insistent motor rhythm inherent in the thematic material In the slow movement the composer gives meticulous instructions to the three percussion-players, manning timpani, bassdrum, snare drum, side drum without snare, triangle, suspended cymbals, to be placed immediately behind the piano. The structure of the movement is tripartite, the third section a much modified return of the first. A rapider interlude leads to the finale, its first theme heard over the continuing impetus of an ostinato, as the movement, which includes rhythmic and thematic elements derived from the first movement, is impelled forward
The Second Piano Concerto was written between October 1930 and the autumn of 1931. It was first performed in Frankfurt in January 1933. The Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Han. Rosbaud, with the composer as soloist. There followed performances at the ISCM Festival in Amsterdam, in London, Strasbourg, Stockholm, Vienna, Winterthur and Zürich, with a performance in Budapest in which Louis Kentner was the soloist. Of even more compelling energy than the earlier concerto, the new work is again in three movements, the third of which uses material from the first Bartók claimed that the concerto was in contrast to the fast with orchestral writing that was less demanding and with thematic material of more obvious attraction. The opening movement, without strings, has two broad subject groups, a central development and a recapitulation, including a piano cadenza It is tightly constructed, with sequential formations that suggest the Baroque concerto form. The second movement contains in itself both a slow movement and a scherzo. It is in ternary form, with a rapid central section, with the Adagio in the mood of night music that is so often a feature of Bartók's writing. Here the piano, accompanied by percussion, offers a form of meditative recitative, interrupted by a central bout of hyperactivity. Material from the first movement, rhythmically modified, with a new principal theme framing rondo episodes derived from the first movement.
The Third Piano Concerto was left unfinished at the time of Bartók's death in 1945 In his last weeks he worked simultaneously on the Viola Concerto commissioned by William Primrose and the Piano Concerto. The former work, he claimed, needed only to be written out in score, although a more complex task in fact remained for his friend and compatriot Tibor Serly, who reconstructed the Viola Concerto and completed the last seventeen bars of the Piano Concerto. The latter was first performed in February 1946 with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy and the pianist György Sáandor. It differs in many ways from the two earlier concertos, lacking much of that percussive writing and generally presenting music that is clearer in its appeal, with the piano very much more of a melodic than percussive instrument. The first movement has a first subject of Hungarian or Romanian flavour. The nature of the thematic material is revealed in the central development. The second movement marked Adagio religioso, opens with a chorale-like theme and there is an evocative central night-music section, with answering bird-calls, before the woodwind bring back the chorale, to which the piano has its own additions to make. The last movement is broadly in rondo form, its characteristic principal theme re-appearing to frame contrasting episodes of continued contrapuntal ingenuity, now in the musical language of great clarity that characterizes the Concerto for Orchestra.
Budapest symphony Orchestra
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