Bartókiana - Illustrated Lectures
Don Wright Faculty of Music
January 16, 2009
Von Kuster Hall
Sotto il segno dell’orso/Under the Sign of the bear:
From Indication to Interpretation
Professor Emeritus Damjana Bratuž
The middle movement from Bartók’s Sonatina for Piano (1915), the ‘Bear Dance,’ indicated to last only 32”, is the focus of this PowerPoint presentation. Five readings by Hungarian pianists, including the composer, are explored and examined.
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. Already in his time he was aware of the existence of a ‘pseudo-Bartókian’ style, since he is known to have jokingly admonished a piano student not to play his music “in such a Bartókian way.” His own piano recordings are inhabited by the vocal flexibility of the Hungarian language, 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, and prevents his musical world from being truly ‘heard.’
One obstacle, however, is the fact that the rhythmic patterns of the peasant music that Bartók articulates in such a free, flexible, way, could never be precisely notated. Indeed, Bartók wrote in his 1943 Serbo-Croatian Folk Songs:
“The only really true notations are the sound-tracks on the record itself.”
An invaluable website that provides a virtual exhibition on the composer, based on original material held in the Bartók Archives in Budapest is:
Other suggested sources:
Peter Bartók, My Father (2002).ISBN09641961-2-3. Bartók Records, PO Box 399 Homosassa, Florida 34487
Agatha Fassett Béla Bartók, The American Years [UWO Music Library] ML410.B27F3 1970
Google: The Last of the Dancing Bears [Several sources]
Transylvanian Dances (for orchestra, 1932) [Music Library] REC. 3. B37 ser. 1, v.2
Damjana Bratuž,: The Folk Element in the Piano Music of Béla Bartók, ML 410.B26B73 (2003 )
---------------------: “A Centenary Homage” and “On Bartók’s Improvisations” are available online in <Bartokiana>- damjanabratuz.ca
--------------------: “Sotto il segno dell’orso.” Proceedings of the 5th International Congress on Musical Signification, Between Rhetoric and Pragmatics. CLUEB Bologna, 1998 [Part III: Body-Expression-Interpretation, pp.223-230].
In 2006, Professor Emeritus Damjana Bratuž was appointed Adjunct Research Professor at UWO for her ongoing international activity as a lecturer and performer. An early version of ‘Sotto il segno dell’orso’ was presented at the University of Bologna in 1996 at the International Congress of Musical Signification. Dr.Bratuž has since participated in all of the subsequent biennial gathering of international musical semioticians – most recently last October in Vilnius, Lithuania., where she presented “Quando il suono diventa significato/On Sound Becoming Sense: Listening to Luciano Berio.” The titles of her other presentations, given in Rome, Paris, Helsinki, Chicago, Leuven, London, Oakland, N.Z, and other centres, are available (including the abstracts) under ‘Bartókiana’ on her website<damjanabratuz.ca >
She has been a guest professor at several European institutions: at the University of Helsinki she gave a series of doctoral seminars under the title “Musical Performance and the Dialogic Imagination.” At the prestigious Accademia Pianistica of Imola, Italy, she offered a seminar on Bartók interpretation.
Last November, at the national conference held by the Canadian Society for Traditional Music in Halifax, N.S., she gave a presentation on “Influence and Affinity: from Bartók’s Filiation to Umberto Eco’s affinità primitive.” She took the opportunity to remind the audience about the several contacts Bartók had with Canada, with composers, folklore researchers, and with the city of Montreal itself. He had shown interest in the folk music of the West Coast Indians, as he had in black music of the Southern U.S.
One of Dr.B.’s piano students, Wendy Wickwire, has become a distinguished researcher in West Coast Indian folklore. (Wendy Wickwire, ed. Living by Stories : a Journey of Landscape and Memory [UWO E99.O35R6 2005; and Write it on your heart : the Epic World of an Okanagan Storyteller [UWO E99.O35R63 1989] ).
At UWO, Dr.B. taught in an interdisciplinary manner long before the concept was approved of, and a system adopted. She encouraged her piano performance graduates to cultivate their other talents. One of them, David Stabler, has become a renowned music critic in the U.S.. He has been short-listed for a Pulitzer Prize for his 3-year project about a young American cello prodigy, Lost in the Music: http://www.oregonlive.com/special/lostinthemusic/