About this Recording
9.70180 - BARTÓK, B.: For Children, Vols. 3 and 4 / Romanian Christmas Songs (L. Kertész)

Béla Bartók (1881–1945)
Piano Music • 3


The Hungarian composer Béla Bartók was born in 1881 in a region 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 returned to work as a teacher, eventually making her home in Pozsony, the modern Bratislava, where Bartók passed his early adolescence, counting among his school-fellows the composer Ernő 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 with the Turkish composer Adnan Saygun.

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 holding teaching positions 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.

Bartók’s For Children originally consisted of 85 short pieces in four volumes, the first two volumes based on Hungarian folk-songs and the third and fourth on Slovakian melodies. These were written in 1908–09 and represent something of the result of Bartók’s investigations into folk-song. In 1943 he revised the work, writing thirteen new pieces. The revised work was published in 1945 with 79 pieces in two volumes. In collecting folk-music Bartók had soon found that traditional songs and dances very often had a particular social function. These are partly reflected in some of the titles of the pieces included in For Children. The second volume of the revised edition, based on Slovakian folk-tunes, includes a set of three variations on a theme (No 5) and a Canon (No 29), two bagpipe pieces (Nos 15 and 30) and a Peasant’s Flute (No 26). Rhapsody (Nos 36–37), with its two contrasting elements, moves briefly into a few bars with five sharps, and another additional demand on a young player is made in the Rhapsody when chords involving the stretch of an octave are included, but arpeggiated, before being shared by both hands, while No 33 includes arpeggiated chords of a tenth. Otherwise there are the expected syncopated rhythms, varied modes and moods, and accompaniments and arrangements that bring out the interest of a melody, without denying its true character. The direction attacca is added at the end of some of the pieces, making it possible to play them in connected groups for concert purposes. The volume ends with a Dirge and a final Mourning Song, fading, like the first volume, to the softest conclusion.

Bartók’s Romanian Christmas Carols date from 1915 and were later revised. The arrangements are again intended for children and for each hand lie within the interval of an octave. His research into surviving folk-music had taken him into neighbouring regions, of which Romania proved particularly fruitful. The carols, based on the traditional Colinda, were heard sung by village children at Christmas and the melodies were collected by Bartók at that season, when the performers were willing to sing them, a demonstration of the close connection between music and folk-custom. The publication of the Romanian Carols by Universal in 1918 included the original songs and texts, before Bartók’s characteristic arrangements, in which he reproduces the quirks of typically uneven Romanian folk-rhythms.

Keith Anderson

For Children Vols 3 & 4:
Recording Venue: The Rottenbiller Street Studio of Hungaroton Recording Date: 27 to 30  June 2009
Balance Engineer: István Berényi
Recording producer and digital editing: Péter Aczél
Sponsored by: MVM Group

Wenckheim Krisztina Városfejlesztési, Kulturális és Környezetvédelmi Közalapítvány / Krisztina Wenckheim Foundation
István Kassai pianist

Romanian Christmas Carols:
Recording Venue: The Rottenbiller Street Studio of Hungaroton
Recording Date: 6 to 9 June 2011
Balance engineer: János Győri
Recording producer and digital editing: Péter Aczél
Sponsored by the majors of Gyula, Keszthely and Hévíz

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