Bartókiana - Abstracts
On the Persistence of an Iconic Misrepresentation:
Two Musical Examples by Béla Bartók
By Damjana Bratuž
The University of Western Ontario
To say that Hungarian composer Béla Bartók has not been ‘heard,’ yet, is to acknowledge that he remains one of the most misinterpreted among the giants of the 20th century.
His own piano recordings are inhabited by the vocal flexibility of the Hungarian language, by transparency of sound, and a rich variety of unfamiliar timbres; above all by a circularity of movement that is in obvious contrast to the relentless vertical pounding that has become attached to the performance of his piano music.
The middle movements from Bartók’s Sonatina (1915) and from his Sonata (1926) for piano present the interpreter/performer with the challenge of recreating, respectively, a fast dance music, and a lament, for both of which the notation and the indications are insufficiently precise.
Unless the performer is acquainted with the peasant-style references that Bartók stated were his model, with all the imagery, structure, text, gesture, and articulation implied in the notation, the rhythm and the dynamics selected will inevitably result in a performance that projects and superimposes onto the score completely alien iconic features.
Recordings of the brief Sonatina middle movement by Hungarian pianists, including the composer, are explored and examined, while an original lament collected and recorded by Bartók is juxtaposed to various mis-readings of his Sonata slow movement.