Dr. Damjana Bratuz
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Bla Bartk - A Centenary Homage

Damjana Bratuz

Bartók's desire to let his music speak for itself (1) appeared to convey his faith in the perception of the listener, or better, in the existence of such perception. Liszt had been more cautious when he appealed to those "with ears to hear" to recognize the symbolic elements in his Hungarian Rhapsodies. (2) Closer to us, Varèse placed no trust whatsoever in the ear of the audience, having concluded that people are only capable of listening with their memory. (3)

More than half a century has passed since Bartók's remark, but his music is not yet heard as he intended it to be, neither by the general public, nor even by the majority of performers who attempt to be its champions. Today, however, there exists a greater possibility to acquire that perception which is needed to appreciate not only the music, but the achievement of Bartók; to acquire that knowledge he deemed necessary in order to understand those "equivalences" between folksong and art music. There is, first of all, our access to such sources as Bartók's published folk collections and the Hungarian ethnomusicological research of the post-Bartók era, available in both written and recorded collections, as well as various individual studies. Secondly, there is access to the composer's own recorded performances from which to learn the nature of his language and to derive interpretative, technical, and stylistic clues. These performances also demonstrate the difference, even divergence, between his performances and those of his well-meaning "interpreters." (4) Thirdly, since Bartók's death, the Western world has had a much greater contact with the music of other cultures; the ear of the general public has grown more accustomed to alien musical patterns of distant lands. In academic life, ethnomusicology has found its rightful place, no longer being relegated to the general field of anthropology.

Above all, there is today a resonance to Bartók's words with regard to roots, to pure sources, rural life and folk culture, to brotherhood of nations; a resonance his words did not find during his lifetime. He has become a contemporary figure. It is as if Bartók's concepts, in their sensibility, imagination, and attitude to life, have spread and become alive at last. Perhaps the time has come also for his music to be truly heard.

In Bartók's overall aesthetic approach, his entire philosophical and ethical outlook and sensibility (what Hungarians call his "morale"), there appears, as a common thread, the idea of the "organic." Concepts such as authenticity, origin, natural force, soil, pure spring, and roots are used repeatedly in his writings, not only in connection with artistic aims and ethical purposes, but also with musical technicalities. By reading Bartók's articles on folk music and by studying the prefaces and examples in his collections, a non-Hungarian can gain literal insight and build those images and associations which compose a reader's mental notation. Only in this way can the musical notation of Bartók's scores be made to resonate. Aural recollection must give meaning and concreteness to the powers of the imagination. Therefore, remote as it will remain from Bartók's real experiences in the field, it is only the acquaintance with the sound of Bartók's source material that will illuminate his notational symbols, his process of transformation, and the whole measure and significance of his accomplishment. (5)

By pointing out a peasant tune as a natural product, by asking us to marvel at and learn from its structural features, Bartók parallels modern artists such as Brancusi, Klee, and Moore who have also considered the "miniature masterpieces" of nature to be not only sources of inspiration, but veritable models of construction. A peasant tune may serve an artist as much as does a plant, a seashell, a stone:

. . .with a profound insight into the fundamental principles of growth and form . . . And behind this conscious disciplined experience lie the fructifying powers of intuition and emotion, the product also of complex natural forces, which enter into and unite with the former to produce the miracle of personal expression in art. (6)

At the present time, it seems that Canada offers a most congenial climate in which Bartók's ideas and art can resonate, with his concerns and aesthetic aims finding a natural echo in such writings as those of Northrop Frye. One could also borrow George Woodcock's reference to Baudelaire's Correspondances in which he found an anchor for his claim for an "organic relationship" between the two worlds when examining contemporary Canadian paintings inspired by primitive Indian symbolism. (7)

It could be said of Bartók that he answered "the long echo"; that "in reading the hieroglyphs of another world" he created "his own calligraphy." Thus "by following . . . his experience and perception" of peasant music, he could create "a personal mythology as powerful as that which he has observed, and so throw back the resonance, which is perhaps our only way of communicating with those who are far from us in cultural space and time." (8) In the pages which follow, the origins of some of Bartók's compositional techniques will be examined in a discussion which co-ordinates and expands upon some initial investigations conducted by graduate students at the Faculty of Music, University of Western Ontario, under the author's supervision during the celebrations for the centenary of Béla Bartók's birth.

I. "The parlando style in Bartók's music." (9)

The essential departure from the traditional Western articulation, phrasing, and timbric construction started with his adoption of such elements as they existed in what he called his "mother tongue." By employing the parlando aspect of peasant music, Bartók not only resolved the question of expressing the primeval, but also achieved a synthesis of the four basic ideas which Bence Szabolcsi saw at the core of his overall philosophy: nature, man, freedom, and the world of instincts.(10)

The "natural" in Bartók's compositions, described as coming from the purest source, has by now become a kind of cliché even outside Hungary. (11) It is, however, a reflection of his view of folk music as being a natural phenomenon whose properties and proportions he regarded as a model of composition. The importance of this in regard to Bartók's music cannot be underestimated; nature was the fundamental basis of his entire human and moral outlook on life.

When Bartók and Kodály began their folk music collecting expeditions in 1905, they found that the music fell into two main categories: the old style, a specific Magyar cultural product, and the newer style, containing Western European influence. The former is estimated to be at least 1500 years old and can be divided into two tempo categories: a free-rhythm and declamatory performance in slow melodies--parlando-rubato; and measured, strict rhythms in quick melodies--tempo giusto. The naturalness and spontaneity that Bartók sought was best explored in the absolute rhythmic freedom of partando-rubato. This parlando music of the old style derives its rhythmic characteristics from the Hungarian language in which the vowels may be divided into short and long, the latter being approximately twice the length of the former. Each word has its accent on the first vowel since there is no anacrusis in the Hungarian language. As a result, there are two distinctive rhythms in Hungarian music: and The rhythm is the most important; according to Bartók, it "gives that well known rugged rhythm to many Hungarian piece." (12)

Few performers, unfortunately, are acquainted with the articulation of this particular style, as it is so tied to familiarity with the folk music and the language of Hungary. Therefore, most interpretations of Bartók's music are not consistent with the real idiom. Bartók's own recorded examples are, of course, the best lessons in the proper delivery of this speech-conditioned performance. Erich Leinsdorf, aware of the existence of the unwritten codes behind the music, describes how he attempted to convey the appropriate articulation to the principal violist of a renowned orchestra who was quite unable to grasp that the solo from Kodály's Háry János Suite could not be played in the classic solfège:

I went so far as to learn the Hungarian words of the song, imagining that if I pronounced them with the proper accent the player would perceive that his literal reading was inadequate. All was in vain. The solo in performance sounded exactly as it is written--that is, wooden and totally unidiomatic. (13)

The old style music is also characterized by a particular type of pentatonicism based on an anhemitonic scale: (14)

Pien notes may occur, resulting in the Aeolian, Dorian, or Phrygian mode, but the pentatonic character persists owing to the typical inflections, turns, and formulae of the melody. Melody lines do not lead to a tonic-dominant combination, with the result that four of the five degrees (the fundamental, third, fifth, and seventh) carry equal significance; the fourth degree generally appears as a passing tone. The melody is characterized by the frequent skip of a perfect fourth.

There are almost always four lines which create a heterogeneous strophe (i.e. ABCD). Musically, a "descending structure" is often evident in which the third and fourth lines occur as a transposition of the first and second lines a perfect fifth down (i.e. A 5B 5AB). The syllables in the strophe-lines are isometric, with six to twelve syllables in each line, eight or twelve being the most common. Parlando-rubato melodies are also characterized by rich ornamentation, chiefly at points of repose or on notes of long duration.

Bartók's belief that folk music should be experienced at its source is of crucial importance to the understanding of his artistic achievement, as well as to the perception of his entire world of sound and articulation. Such experience differentiates him aesthetically from other composers who borrowed or dealt with folk music by abstracting it from its source.

In his essay, "The influence of peasant music on modern music," Bartók categorized the ways in which a composer could compose with folk music. He could:

  1. emphasize a melody--whether an authentic "precious stone" or an imitation--in which the accompaniment and the introductory and concluding phrases are of secondary importance,
  2. use the melody as a "motto" wherein that is build around it is of real importance,
  3. employ music permeated with only the essence of folk music elements. (15)

In arranging folk melodies (or his own imitations), Bartók found that the pentatonic scale, besides its melodic impulses, gave him harmonic suggestions; in fact, the simpler the melody, the more complex and alien the harmonization and accompaniment he could write for it. The absence of tonic and dominant functions and the equality of the first, third, fifth, and seventh degrees made it natural to form a chord of these for notes (ex.1)

Ex. 1. Bartók, Twenty Hungarian Folksongs, No. 15, "Bordal," mm.10-15.

How Bartók's attitude toward folk music developed can be seen in his first vocal arrangements, the first ten of Twenty Hungarian Folk Songs (1906) and his Village Scenes, completed in 1924. Whereas only five of his 1906 arrangements are in the parlando style, four of the five in Village Scenes utilize it. A possible explanation for this may be that the Twenty Hungarian Folk Songs were arranged for the purpose of educating the public in folk music: a public unacquainted with this music would find songs in a more hearty, rigid, rhythmic style (tempo giusto) easier to comprehend. The accompaniments are clearly subordinate to the folk melody: they echo the melody and only tentatively add new harmonies, mostly through open thirds, fourths, and fifths. The accompaniment rhythms adhere strictly to the rhythm of the melody almost as if Bartók were not yet at ease with the rhythmic spontaneity of parlando.

The melodies of Village Scenes, by contrast, were chosen to form a cycle, bonded by their common portrayal of peasant life; they are entitled "Haymaking," "At the Bride's," "Wedding," "Lullaby," and "Lad's Dance." The songs are further bonded by repetition or imitations of accompanying motives as in the first and third songs, and by a staccato arpeggio in the third and fourth songs. The piano is not subordinate to the melody in Scenes: it is equally important, taking the underlying qualities of the melodies and developing them into art songs. Bartók employed freely-written introductory and concluding phrases as well as short interludes here which is not the case with the Twenty Hungarian Folk Songs.

The melodies of Scenes also demonstrate Bartók's later assimilation of the freedom of parlando style. Ornamentation is included much more freely, and the cry "Hej," occurring only once in one of the 1906 arrangements, appears several times in the Scenes. The 1906 songs seldom change meter, within the restrictions of 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4; in Scenes, changing, uneven meters are more the rule than the exception. Harmonies in the latter lean toward polytonality with an abundance of major and minor seconds, in addition to Bartók's usual stress on the use of fourths and fifths. Rhythmically, the accompaniments more often contrast with, rather than follow the melodies.

With Bartók's piano arrangements, a rough division may be made between vocal and instrumental parlando style. In the vocal parlando style, the music is either a folk-song arrangement, and the melodic line, while it is rhythmically free and ornamented, retains the characteristics of the original and is clearly in a vocal idiom: all ornamentation, melodic ranges, and rhythms are those which may be comfortably sung. In Bartók's instrumental parlando music, the melodic range is wider, ornamentation is more freely written and often extended, and rhythms and tonalities do not always adhere strictly to the original peasant-music style. Nevertheless, the music maintains the nuance of the Hungarian language, the rhythmic freedom, the communication--enough characteristics of the parlando style to be identified as such.

Bartók's initial parlando folk music arrangements for piano solo were the first two of Three Folksongs from the County of Csik (1907). These are based on shepherds' flute tunes and, understandably, are in a more instrumental than vocal idiom, though the style is definitely parlando. The meters change frequently (3/4, 2/4, 3/4, 3/8, 2/4 . . .) and the accompaniment rhythms show more rhythmic freedom than was displayed in the 1906 vocal arrangements. It appears that Bartók was no longer writing simple arrangements to educate a public, and that he no longer required the coordination of a singer and an accompanist in a free rhythmic style new to both; being a pianist, he was naturally more comfortable writing for his own medium.

In early 1908, Bartók composed his Fourteen Bagatelles Opus 6 for piano, two of which (numbers four and five) were obvious folk-song arrangements. Bartók saw many of them as experimental, however, and they contain many a turn or symbol extracted from folk music to function in a new form. The first, written in two keys simultaneously, shows aspects of parlando style; here, Bartók has begun to meet the instrumental problems of a vocal style with new and more complicated articulation markings:

Soon after completing the Bagatelles, Bartók completed Ten Easy Pieces, the fifth of which, "Evening in Transylvania," is his own synthesis of a folk song. Written in rondo form (ABABA), the themes alternate between an unornamented melody in a classic parlando style, and one in tempo giusto, with the distinctive rhythm. These two melodies are simply arranged, but slight rhythmic, articulate, and dynamic changes in each repetition gradually build the piece to a climax.

László Somfai's attempt to transcribe into current rhythmic notation the three versions Bartók recorded of "Evening in Transylvania" deserves to be better known. (16) The articulation and the inflection of an implied text possess the same freedom as that of a performer who "speaks" in the more familiar "mother tongue" of a Mozart. With such familiarity, the changes, variants, differences in the three versions are not only possible but understandable, be it the subtle modifications or actual divergences in rhythmic articulation. A study of Somfai's transcription offers the best opportunity to explore the significance of Bartók's notation of parlando style, as exemplified already in his For Children pieces. His meticulous instructions in regard to dashes, stresses, commas, and other breathing signs, are generally either disregarded, or misread. Again, without knowledge of the authentic style they refer to, of which they are but a symbol, they cannot be given meaning in performance. Bartók signifies parlando style by articulation signs even when he does not write specifically parlando, or parlando rubato at the beginning. "Evening in Transylvania" was later arranged for orchestra in Hungarian Sketches (1931) and demonstrates Bartók's easy transference of the parlando style from voice to piano to orchestra (parlando passages in this case are played by woodwinds).

By 1908-09, with the completion of For Children, (17) Bartók had achieved a more consistent style in the folk idiom: the first four of Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs for piano, written in 1918 and all in parlando style, show the transition from the folk song in a piano arrangement to the folk song as an art song. These four songs, all original peasant melodies, proceed as parts of one movement. Through detailed articulation and metronomic indications, together with accompaniments which utilize arpeggio chords with dissonant tones alien to the melody, Bartók added more personal expression to his parlando music.

The Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs Opus 20, written in 1920, represent the subordination of the folk melody to that which surrounds it--the tune as a "motto." The third and seventh melodies of the Improvisations are parlando, and here Bartók achieves even greater freedom in his expressive use of the style. As he perfected its use, it became the most "Bartókian" musical manifestation. In the third improvisation, he combined a parlando melody in the most ancient style with a "night music" accompaniment (see ex.2).

Ex. 2. Bartók, Improvisations, Opus 20, No. 3, mm. 4-10.

The first, second, fourth, fifth, and sixth string quartets each contain a single parlando theme inserted into the sonata-exposition and recapitulation of the third movement (see ex. 3). This theme is pentatonic and inserts the rhythm into an allegro-vivace movement containing the regular ostinato accompaniment of a swineherd's dance imitation. The first movement (moderato) of the second string quartet, completed in 1915-17, is closed by an idyllic, pentatonic folk-song imitation.

Ex. 3. Bartók, String Quartet No. 1, third movement, mm. 94-96.

By 1928, when the fourth string quartet was completed, Bartók was using the parlando style more as a compositional style than for the general effect of a parlando imitation folk song. The nucleus of this quartet is the third movement (non troppo lento) of which the main theme is a richly-ornamented, instrumental-style parlando melody. Although the theme is mostly chromatic, beginnings and endings of phrases often consist of perfect fourth or perfect fifth intervals. The modal ascending line F-G-A-B, later developed as a descending motive and the often-repeated and rhythms, remind us also of its folk-music origins.

In the first movement (allegro) of the fifth string quartet, completed in 1934, the parlando character of the theme resides in its stammering tone repetitions, separated by eighth rests. This is reminiscent of the words of the narrator in Cantata Profana (1931), whose words are interrupted by the exclamations of the choir:

. . . (Ai!)--But the largest stag gave answer-- (Ai!)--Of all the sons the dearest--(Ai!) called in answer to his father . . .

(See ex. 4)

Ex. 4. Batók, Cantata Profana, II, mm.38-41.

The sixth string quartet was completed in November 1940, just before Bartók emigrated to the United States. In this work, the parlando theme (mesto) opens the first movement, is heard in the third movement, and is developed throughout the fourth. This foreshadows a similar technique in the Concerto for Orchestra.

As early as 1905, the first year of his collecting tours, Bartók employed the orchestral parlando style in the Suite No. 2, Opus 4. Although the work was not completed until 1907, the first three movements were finished in November of 1905. The third movement is opened by a long bass clarinet solo which contains the rhythmic freedom and the rhythm of parlando, with the appropriate lack of anacrusis.

Bartók's only opera, Duke Bluebeard's Castle (1911) clearly shows the influence of Debussy who, in Pelléas et Mélisande, had reached back to the declamation of the ancient French language to incorporate the natural inflections, stresses, and cadences in his recitative. The natural Hungarian counterpart to this is the parlando style of peasant music adopted by Bartók. He also found in Debussy's music it "pentatonic phrases similar in character to those contained in our peasant music." (18)

Bartók chose to symbolize the ancient time and timelessness of the Bluebeard legend by opening the tale with an ancient, four-line pentatonic structure, the parlando character of the vocal lines being immediately apparent. Indeed, melodic lines throughout tend towards the pentatonic and modal scales. Each syllable of the text is sung to a single tone, creating a constant recitative, and the libretto, by Béla Balázs, follows the unvarying scheme of four metric units of two syllables each per line of verse--in perfect relation to the "ancient eight," so-called because of the common tendency of Hungarian music and poetry to follow this pattern. (19) Since the rhythm is generally written in long lines of quarter and eighth notes, an understanding of the parlando style of peasant music is essential to the recreation of the quantitative differences inherent in the language. (20)

As in so much of Bartók's parlando music, many examples of "nature" music may be found in Duke Bluebeard's Castle (for example, the " Lake of Tears" episode), again linking Bartók's two basic themes (nature and freedom) expressed through the freedom of parlando.

It was around 1930 that Bartók, in an extension of his concern for things "natural" began to react against the mechanization and greed of a civilization which seemed to be destroying the old and natural values and becoming alienated from nature. Against this background, he composed his major work for chorus and orchestra, the Cantata Profana, in which he stated explicitly his desire f or a return to nature, the "clean source." (21) The parlando style of this work is not particularly apparent until the sons, out hunting, are lost in the forest; with their transformation into stags, a simple unornamented parlando melody is suddenly heard. From this point onwards, the melodic lines, particularly the solo lines, become more parlando in character, climaxing in the tenor solo in which the best-loved son pleads with his father not to shoot his own children. For Bartók, determined to find the primeval world in the twentieth century, the sons' return to nature as stags was a return to freedom, and his use of the parlando style was his symbolic effort to return to an ancient world uncontaminated by the shams of civilization.

Although parlando style is used frequently in the Concerto for Orchestra (1943), the core of the work is in the slow third movement (the "Elegia"), the "lugubrious death-song" (22) as Bartók called it. Within this universal expression of lament, articulated in Hungarian parlando, one perceives the composer's personal lament for his home country.

This work brings together not only instrumental families and timbres in a sort of visionary "consort," as the title implies, but also many elements of his entire compositional world. Thus he achieves that all-encompassing synthesis he sought and spoke of, i.e. the compositional elements of Bach, Beethoven, and Debussy in their respective linear, rhythmic, and harmonic constructions, together with the peasant elements of East-Central Europe.

Such "reminiscences,"--a veritable migration from one work to another of either peasant or original elements, together with the incessant “variation,” mirroring the ways of Nature itself (which for Bartók represented the essence of music), make manifest the fundamental unity of his entire oeuvre: unity of idiom, aesthetics, techniques, and spiritual aim.

II. "Appearances of the dirge in Bartók's music." (23)

The most extreme form and the most enlightening source of delivery of this "mother tongue," parlando style is to be found in peasant dirges. Joseph Szigeti relates his experience with Bartók's recordings of such dirges:

When Bartók played for me some records he had made of improvised lamentation songs, or rather orations, it was a gripping revelation. Sorrowing peasant women who had lost some dear one--a child, or a grown-up son--had been induced somehow to face the (to them) terrifying recording machine, chant into it their names and ages, describe their grievous loss in unrhymed song (or rather Sprech- gesang); they would sometimes break down sobbing, in the middle of the record . . . (24)

Bartók points out that these dirges can be grouped with the general oeuvre of ceremonial songs. As such, they can tend to degenerate into frozen formulas, although originally an expression of spontaneous feelings. However, he claims that the "sobbing which inevitably goes with the performance of the mourning songs by the near female relatives is usually genuine." (25)

In vol. 2 of his Rumanian Folk Music, published as recently as 1967, Bartók gives a detailed description of the structure, text and significance of mourning songs. (26) He makes a clear differentiation between those of Rumanian and those of Hungarian origin, with particular reference to the elements of melody, mode, and text. Rumanian peasant dirges consist of improvised texts:

. . . using certain traditional patterns; the metrical structure is the well-known acatalectic or catalectic quaternary, with aa, bb rhymes.


On the whole, major thirds occur as frequently as minor in these mourning song melodies. These . . .and many other . . .examples prove that in Eastern European folk music, no standard connections exist between the use of minor scale and expression of sorrow on the one hand, and the use of major scale and expression of merriment or joy on the other. Such connections are purely Western European conceptions.

The four-section structure is frequently unstable, changing from stanza to stanza by way of alternating with three-section structure.

Very characteristic features include the ending of some of the sections in which the shortened final tones, produced with a break of the voice, give the effect of stylized sobs . . .

The well-known Hungarian mourning song melodies represent a completely different type. First of all, the texts are improvisations in prose: there are no rhymes and no metrical structure of the lines. Accordingly, the melodies have a rather free stanza structure--if one is allowed to call them stanzas at all. (24)

Ex. 5. Hungarian Dirge.

In ex. 5, from the recorded collection Hungarian Folk Music, (28) the notation (which attempts to convey the speech-like tones of the improvisations) follows the description of the signs given by Bartók himself in his "Introduction" to Rumanian Folk Music. (29)

The actual designation "dirge" first appears in the composition entitled Four Dirges which dates from 1910. The term can be applied to the last movement of the Suite, Opus14 of 1916. Yet, it is the second movement of the Piano Sonata of 1926 which provides what is perhaps the most easily recognized parallel with the peasant style of lamenting. The reiteration and intensification of single pitches, the flexibility of the articulation (signified by dashes), and the characteristic abrupt interruptions found in this movement can all be heard on the above-mentioned recordings and observed in the written collections.

Ex. 6. Bartók, Piano Sonata, second movement, mm.1-3.

The elements of such style can also be observed in the first and second string quartets. In the opening movement of the first quartet, marked lento, the viola, at m. 33, plays a rhapsodic passage in descending steps, described by Halsey Stevens as "Mannheim sighs," (30) over a pedal point in the 'cello. Also, in the first movement of the second string quartet, a repeated-note melody with a lament character appears in a slow sostenuto passage following a dynamic climax in the development section.

Pierre Boulez's statement that the opening movement of Music for Strings, Percussion. and Celesta contains no folk elements (3l) is contrary to its actual relation to peasant dirges. This relationship can be experienced by hearing, in sequence, recorded laments by peasant women, Bartók's performance of Suite, Opus 14, and the opening movement the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta. It is a truly gripping and an especially revealing coincidence that Solti's reading of the latter is in exactly the same mood and tempo as Bartók's playing of Opus 14.

The title "Elegia" in the Concerto for Orchestra (1934) seems to represent a return to, as well as a synthesis of the entire spectrum of articulation, mood, mode, and meaning of the lamenting style. It encompasses the ancient peasant style, the Lisztian "en mode hongrois," as well as being a memento of a disappearing peasant musical world and of Bartók's taking leave of it. Bartók's exploration of the dirge style--its static elements, slowness of movement, immobility within musical time, and insistence within the musical space of pitch and rhythm--remains the richest, most original and imaginative of all similar musical investigations.

Even though the compositional elements of Bartók's dirge, Arabian, Bulgarian, and Turkish styles are generally different, the intervallic construction (repeated tonal centres, reiteration, and narrow compass) of the dirge is common to all four of these styles. It is only the individual movement of these elements of intervallic construction within their musical orbits, their own time and space, which enables us to distinguish one from the other. While great attention and study is being spent on analysis of structure seldom is the "invisible geometry" of movement given consideration. The problem of rendering the invisible choreography inherent in the musical design either verbally or in notation makes a study of "gesture" a futile aim. And yet, as the word signifies, it is the gesture which carries the musical substance in time, giving it impulse, amplitude, and duration.

When we are confronted with Bartók's contradictory statements regarding the sources of his Dance Suite movements, which at one time he said to be of Arab derivation, while later he claimed them to be Hungarian, we are puzzled by the interchange of such disparate folk elements. But as the movement of the eye can assemble and reassemble, form, and compose completely different figures out of one and the same visual structure, so can the ear perceive and discriminate between various movements within similar musical structures. One is reminded of the ideas attributed to Leonardo, to the effect that it is movement which gives shape to form, while structure orders it.

No amount of abstract analysis of structure could supply such knowledge or reveal the similarities and differences of stylistic, national gestures, their echoes, correspondences and divergence. For the performer, the crucial knowledge is that of movement, which derives from an acquaintance with the living articulation and delivery of a certain style, it is this knowledge which enables the performer to interpret the Rumanian or the Arab character of one and the same piece.

III. "The Arabian influence in Bartók's music." (32)

Unlike the examples taken from Bartók's Hungarian and Rumanian collections, those from his Arabian collection are not available commercially. However, in the fall of 1975, the author was able to hear and study Arabian material at the Bartók Archives in Budapest. There are sixty-five recorded melodies of various types which Bartók notated in 1913 in the Biskra oasis in Northern Algeria, one of the main "doors" to the Sahara. (33) In order to illustrate the characteristics of Arabian music and to correlate them with Bartók's compositions, recorded examples taken from recent collections of North African folk music were also used.

As Kárpáti points out, Bartók's research, even if small, was important at the time. While the work of other eminent scholars such as Erich von Hornbostel was based solely on examples recorded by others, Bartók's belief in the necessity for the scholar himself to record the material in the field made his contribution truly unique. (34) He was the first to make a scientific distinction between the musical styles of town and village in North Africa and to use the methods of classification of what was then called comparative musicology; that is, he classified the material according to ambitus, melodic structure, and the length of motif. He hypothesized that a link might exist between the musical products of Algerian villages and analogous Ukrainian, Iraqi, Persian, and Rumanian examples, and about the possibility that such a link could be ascribed to an "origin of direct filiation" and not simply to coincidence or chance. (35)

In a report on this visit, Bartók stressed that his research concerned peasant rural music only. He pointed out two remarkable characteristics which are not found in European music.

Firstly, percussion instruments accompany almost every tempo giusto melody, and secondly, the intervals of the scale are only infrequently based on the diatonic or chromatic system. Furthermore, these intervals change according to locality, performer, and the instrument used. (36)

Bartók identified three types of melodies, classified according to their function. The Knéja, a secular type, was not confined to any special occasion and comprised unaccompanied tempo rubato songs and tempo giusto songs which were accompanied by percussion. The Qseida, of religious significance, was sung (by men only) in strict rhythm accompanied by the darbuka, with the voice and instrument alternating. Notation of the text was, however, impossible because of the linguistic difficulty. (37) Kárpáti points out that Bartók believed that in order to gain full comprehension of the melodies of a people it was necessary to understand the words.(38)

The third type of melody comprised the instrumental dances: dances and dance-like tunes which were used on special occasions without actual dancing. In these tunes, accompanied by percussion, Bartók noticed that different rhythmic formations resulted mainly from the different accentuation of equal metric units. Indeed, in exploiting the different possibilities of accentuation and the ordered division of strokes between the hands, he found that extremely varied rhythmic formulas were obtained even though the metric length of each pulse was identical. (39)

Bartók most extended and complex utilization of this feature of Arabian music occurs in his Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (first movement, mm.232-259) where a single motif is presented twenty-eight times in different guises. The subtlety of repetition can only be savoured if the imagination is able to recall the intricacy of the percussion instruments themselves, together with the complexity of performance involving dynamics, hand and finger strokes, rhythmic shifts, and positions. Bartók accompanies each repetition of the motif with a change of dynamics or context. If could be said that the manual "duality" of the folk music is expanded in Bartók's art to the duality of the pianists plus percussionists, each piano being used at times as one hand. This same idea of percussive duality is exemplified in miniature in "Bulgarian Rhythm," No.113 of Mikrokosmos, which, significantly, Bartók transcribed for two pianos.

Bartók found that the ambitus of the above-mentioned Arabian melodic types was extremely small--two or three notes. Sometimes the range was extended by trills, or other ornaments, and/or descending slides at the end of melodies. Trills can be found in Nos.37 and 41 of the Biskra collection, mordents in Nos. 24, 33, 35, 36, 38-40, and slides in Nos. 1, 3, and 19. Repetition of short motives characterizes the form: the highly developed rhythm features different types of syncopation and polymeters which never vary during a performance, thus functioning as ostinati.

As Kárpáti points out, Bartók never quotes directly from his Arabian collection; the influence is manifested in themes, motifs, special forms of accompaniment, as well as in the use of scales, melodic turns, and rhythmic formulas. (40) In the third movement of the Suite, Opus 14 (1916), a continuous eighth-note ostinato (see ex. 7) results in a motory [sic] rhythm [which] has much in common with the drum effects of Arab folk music." (41) The minor second is a predominant interval of the melody which uses only a total of four notes, the range spanning only a perfect fifth. The second theme (given as ex. 8) has a coiling effect.

Ex. 7. Bartók, Suite, Opus 14, third movement, m. 11.

Ex. 8. Bartók, Suite, Opus 14, third movement, mm. 61-63.

Arabian folk music is further evoked in the second movement of the second string quartet (1915-17) in both the drum-like accompaniment and the melodic figures of the theme. The entire movement is built on a relentless eighth-note figure imitating the beating of drums (see ex. 9). Kárpáti also makes a connection between No. 42 ("Arab Song") of the Forty-four Violin Duos (1931) and No. 15 of the Biskra collection. (42) These are given as ex. 10 and ex. 11.

Ex. 9. Bartók, String Quartet, No. 42, second movement, mm.12-24.

Ex. 10. Bartók, Forty-four Violin Duos, No. 42, "Arabian Dance." mm. 9-12.

Ex. 11. Biskra collection, No. 15.


Typical of many Arabian melodies is the serpentine movement of a melody around a central axis. Example 12 from The Miraculous Mandarin illustrates this characteristic. (43)

Ex. 12. Bartók, Miraculous Mandarin, mm. 66-69.

In 1931, Bartók wrote the following in reference to the Dance Suite for Orchestra (1923):

No. 1 has partly, while No. 4 entirely an oriental (Arabic) character. "Ritornelli" and No. 2 have a Hungarian one, [while] in No. 3, [the influences are] Hungarian [and] Rumanian. Moreover, Arabic influences alternate with each other. (44)

In the first movement, the bassoon theme, which is restricted to four notes, has an ambitus of a minor third, and produces the already-mentioned coiling effect. This theme is shown in ex. 13.

Ex. 13. Bartók, Dance Suite for Orchestra, first movement, mm1-5.

In citing the fourth string quartet (1928), Kárpáti remarks that "the drum imitation accompanying the Arab-like melody its asymmetrical emphasis as a result of the influence of...Arab metre..." (45)

The Arabian influence is especially significant in the music of Bartók because, as Kárpáti concludes, it affected his new musical language in general without specific "evocative" intents; for example, in the accompaniment rhythms, in ostinato principles, and in characteristic divisions of melody and the use of oriental scales. It is apparent that Bartók's 1913 encounter with Arabian music can indeed be compared in significance to his discovery of Hungarian peasant music seven years before. (46) He assimilated into his compositions the characteristic ornamentation, the centring around one note, the coiling effect, the predominance of the augmented second and minor third intervals, and the rhythmic ostinato effects.

IV. "Bulgarian rhythm and its manifestation in Bartók's compositions. (47)

Of the many cultural influences present in Bartók's compositions, one that is frequently made manifest is the enigmatic style of Bulgarian rhythm; enigmatic, since it occurs almost exclusively in Bulgaria. In fact, Bulgaria is the only European country where asymmetrical metric and rhythmic forms are an integral part of national art. The exact genealogy of this rhythmic form is relatively vague. Arabic and/or Greek roots are possibilities, but no conclusive evidence has been brought forth to clarify the situation. Examples of Bulgarian rhythm in Greek or Arabic music are extremely isolated.

In his essay "The So-Called Bulgarian Rhythm," Bartók defined this musical phenomenon as:

. . . that in which the quantities indicated in the irregular time signature are exceptionally ( = 300-400 MM.) short and in which these very short, basic quantities are not evenly--that is to say, not within the larger quantities. (48)

The basic temporal unit of Bulgarian rhythm is the sixteenth note, although Bartók advocates the use of the eighth note. For the most part, the time signature is an odd number, lending itself to the application of hemiola (the lengthening of a note value by half) which is an integral part of the Bulgarian rhythmic character. Bulgarian rhythms are obtained by the combination of ordinary time values with lengthened values in a hemiola-like relationship, producing an additive metrical structure within the confines of each bar. The speed of Bulgarian music causes the units to be grouped aurally, forming the ground plan for this additive construction. The most common manner of designating the time signature and units within them are as follows: 5/16 2+3 or 3+2, 7/16 2+2+3, 8/16 3+2+3, and 9/16 2+2+2+3. These groupings are the most prevalent, but individual patterns can be and are varied by manipulating the temporal units, as shown in ex.14. The most likely forum for Bulgarian rhythm is in the national dances of the country; for example, in the Ručenitza or handkerchief dance in 7/16 time and the Pajduška or limping dance in 5/16 time.

A question which comes to mind here is that of differentiation between Bulgarian rhythm and some other kind of rhythmic designation, especially when referring to Bartók's compositions: that is, what criteria can be established for the inclusion of a rhythm in a Bulgarian-influenced list. It is of primary importance to realize the salient characteristics of Bulgarian rhythm: a quick tempo, short temporal units, asymmetrical structures of individual bars, and consistency within a self-contained section. Further, when this kind of musical parameter is juxtaposed within a different context, it will usually undergo some kind of metamorphosis. In this regard, it must be remembered that the use of aboriginal source material in Bartók's music falls into three main categories: direct quotation, quotation and synthesis, and complete synthesis.

Ex.14. Variation of the temporal units.

These criteria would rule is out pieces such as Stravinsky's Le sacre du printemps and Jeu de cartes, for the asymmetrical gestures presented there are not consistent in the macrostructure, appearing contiguously with symmetrical measures. The manifestation of asymmetrical division in music is also a trait of other Eastern European music, although not to the extent found in Bulgarian music. Another reason for non-inclusion in this list is the fact that the use of Bulgarian rhythm by Stravinsky and others was probably not a conscious one. Bartók makes this point in his article, "The influence of peasant music on modern music." (49)

Difficulty is also encountered in determining the use of syncopation as a cause of asymmetrical structure. Syncopation is defined as a deliberate shift of the meter and rhythm, which in Bulgarian music is an isolated and rare phenomenon; the asymmetry created by irregular groupings within the bar is inherent within the Bulgarian musical tradition.

Bulgarian rhythm is present in many of Bartók's compositions where it appears as a synthesis and not as a literal quotation. His particular use of it coincides approximately with the time of composition of the Mikrokosmos (1926-1939). Nos. 113 and 115 (Book 4) and Nos. 148 to 153 (Book 6) are what could be termed lessons in Bulgarian rhythmic constructions, for the most common meters and asymmetrical delineations appear. Each of these pieces has the characteristic short temporal unit and fast tempo marking; the last six have additive time signatures. The selections from the Mikrokosmos, with the exception of No.115 which is Bulgarian in theme as well as rhythm, are syntheses of the original source material. Bartók explained them thus:

These are not Bulgarian folksongs, merely rhythms - the so-called Bulgarian rhythm. They are original compositions and contain no folk melodies . . . Incidentally, many of the pieces in Bulgarian rhythm are not of Bulgarian character and indeed some of their melodies are like the Hungarian grafted onto Bulgarian rhythm. (50)

The third movement of the fifth string quartet (1934) continues the practice of direct allusion to Bulgarian rhythm. This particular movement is titled "Alla bulgarese"; the time signature is additive and is written as such (9/8= 4+2+3). The scherzo is plays at a speed of = 414 MM. The trio is in a 3+2+2+3 pattern at the even faster tempo of = 120 MM. or = 600 MM.

Another very clear example and the final one in Bartók's output is contained in the work Contrasts, specifically the middle section of the third movement "Sebes." While the preceding and following sections are both in a regular meter, the Bulgarian rhythmic section is designated by a time signature of 8+5 which is further broken down 8 as (3+2+3) + (2+3). The tempo marking is = 330 MM. and is consistent throughout the section. The asymmetrical rhythmic structure, fast tempo, and additive meter distinctly portray the salient characteristics of Bulgarian rhythm.

Although Bartók was aware of Bulgarian music as early as 1912, his use of its characteristic rhythm as a compositional device did not occur until the publication of Vasil Stoin's Grundriss der Metrik und der Rhythmik der bulgarischen Volkmusik in 1927, coinciding, as previously mentioned, with the writing of the Mikrokosmos. Other pieces which exhibit this characteristic are: the Violin Duos, Nos. 22 and 35 (1931); the fifth movement of the fourth string quartet (1928); the fourth movement of the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta (1936); and the second theme of the first movement of the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (1937).

A significant aspect of Bartók's use of the Bulgarian element is its interplay and juxtaposition with the rhythmic scansion of tempo giusto. This results in a variety of dynamic scripts or successions of events which, by opposing and by exchanging their Bulgarian or giusto nature (their spirit and rhythmic design), create their own level of choreography and rhythmic expression. This can be studied in the third movement of the Piano Sonata, and in the Finale of the Concerto for Orchestra, in Contrasts, and in the third movement of the Third Piano Concerto.

V. "Béla Bartók: Rumanian Sources." (51)

Among all the folk sources from which Bartók drew, none is perhaps richer than the Rumanian one. It has drawn from so many other folk and national streams --the Persian, Turkish, Arab, Slavic, and Hungarian. But the amalgam so derived is quite unique, and is recognizably Rumanian.

Although Bartók devoted nine years (from 1909) to the actual collection of Rumanian music, his immense labour (1,440 vocal melodies, 1,115 instrumental tunes, and poetic texts) took thirty-seven years to complete. (52) Bartók's own introductions to his Rumanian Folk Music are all too often ignored by professional musicians and performers. This is most unfortunate since they afford the most enlightening and convincing experience of the significance, scope, and poignancy of the composer's endeavor. The dimensions touched are not only of ethnomusicological interest, scholarly example, and historical value, but above all, of poetic insight, artistic surprise, and human testimony.

Besides the simplicity and the exclusion of all non-essentials which represent a fundamental aspect of all folk music, Rumanian melody and rhythm are both characterized by augmentation and diminution. Augmentation becomes an extension in range of the theme in whatever scale or mode Bartók is using. Shifting rhythms, extra-structural repetition, and reference to parlando-rubato style are also characteristic.

The three main areas of focus in Rumanian folk music are vocal melodies, colinde, and instrumental tunes. All of these areas are further divided and subdivided. The hora lunga or doina, the most representative Rumanian song, can express any emotion or mood, depending upon the performer and the situation. The effect of this expression is present in a great deal of Bartók's music, but it cannot be analyzed specifically. "Buciumeana," No. 4 from the Rumanian Folk Dances for piano and the central section from the Rumanian Dance, Opus 8a, No. 1 may be cited as examples. The influence of the instrumental dance tunes, on the other hands, is readily apparent.

Most of these tunes stem from dance melodies that were originally sung with text, and may be divided into five main types. The first is from the Bihor region of Rumania and is related to the parlando-style melodies in that it uses the same scales, melodic twists, and three-section structure. Dances of this type include the maruntel and ardeleana, although they are rarely found in their original forms. The second group is described as “heroic" owing to the military rhythm which is characteristic. Whether in 2/4 or 6/8 time, the scales used are the same and the melodic intervals consist largely of minor thirds, augmented seconds, and altered sixths. Those in 6/8 time are less numerous and extremely varied. Examples of "heroic" dances are the de alungu, the de ciuit, and the hora, the Rumanian national dance, a whirling or circular dance of many variations, in which the musicians play in the Middle of the circle while the dancers sing, shout, and dance around them. The true ardeleana (the third type) is closely connected to the "heroic" dance melodies in 2/4 time, although it is much faster and has a more even rhythm. There is some speculation that the ardeleana may be related to the Hungarian verbunkos, derived from the shepherd dance which in turn may have its origins in the Ukrainian kolomyjka. The fourth category of dance melodies includes those based on a short motive, have no set form, and are an inherent part of bagpipe music. Bartók believed that they preceded a period of more complicated structural development. The fifth variety can be found in the Hunedoara region where there is no music for bagpipes or violin, only for the fluer or peasant flute. Aside from a few ceremonial pieces, these dance tunes have no consistency of form or melodic patterns.

Rumanian folk melodies are frequently formed on a lydian scale with the tritone featured. This is often coupled with a mixolydian scale characterized by its minor seventh. The basic melodic outline is coloured by rich ornamentation and improvisation, and sections are almost always eight syllables in length. These basic features form the fundamentals for Bartók's own melodic Rumanian style, as seen, for example, in Opus 8a. His harmonic style, labeled by him as "modal chromaticism," frequently employs the minor seventh as a consonant interval, builds chords of fourths, and uses the tritone freely, as in the Rumanian dance melodies.

As early as the Rumanian Dances, Opus 8a (1909) and No. 6 of Sketches, both for piano, Bartók was able to create completely original material which was entirely Rumanian in character. This Rumanian quality is also apparent in the third and fifth movements of the Dance Suite for Orchestra (1923) which is also constructed upon original material. Actual folk-tune arrangements are present in No. 5 of Sketches, the Rumanian Folk Dances, the Rumanian Colinde, and the Sonatina, all written for piano in 1915. The combination of folk melodies and original material is well exemplified in three works of 1928: the two Rhapsodies for Violin and Piano and the fifth movement of the fourth string quartet which incorporates the rhythmic ardeleana (see ex. 15). (53) The opening of the final movement of the Concerto for Orchestra (1943) has all the wild whirling motions of the hora. Erich Leinsdorf has cited the common misreading of Bartók's metronome marking (= 134-146) in this movement and has noted the unfortunate loss of character and clarity of articulation resulting from the excessive tempo usually adopted. (54)

Ex. 15. Batrók, String Quartet No. 4, Fifth movement, mm. 15-18.

Rumanian folk music had a considerable influence on Bartók's style. Consequently, there is a certain poignancy evoked by the image of the composer, near the end of his life, surrounded by slips of paper on which he was copying and correcting the tunes of his huge Rumanian collections, with no prospect at all for their publication, yet obeying the urge and the conviction that the labour was important, necessary, and not in vain. (55)

VI. "Aboriginal instruments and Bartók's sound spectrum." (56)

For the performer in general, the solution of a melodic idea comes, as Ralph Kirkpatrick advised, by singing it; of a rhythmic idea, by dancing it. (57) For the first, the proper articulation and phrasing of a melodic line, the knowledge of the particular accentuation of a language is necessary; for the second, the articulation of a rhythm, the knowledge of a dance movement, of its character, speed, its steps, its overall gesture, is crucial. To this awareness one may add the need for knowledge of a particular instrumental timbre; the performer who possesses it is able to recreate the sound spectrum, the required acoustical balance and combination that belong to a particular instrumental style. Jürgen Uhde's phrase Klangspektrum (sound spectrum) (58) describes the novel blend of sonorities, acoustical relationships, and investigations of previously untried timbric possibilities and techniques found in Bartók's music. This blend was nourished by the composer's familiarity with the neglected realm of peasant musical instruments.

Some instances of Bartók's unconventional use of conventional symphonic instruments, especially the string and percussion instruments, suggest influences beyond the traditional orchestral environment. In the fourth movement of the fourth string quartet, Bartók instructs the performers to pluck the string in mm. 48 to 51 in such a manner that it hits the finger board. This particular sound recalls the peasant musician's practice of plucking the strings of a cello-like instrument while striking it with a stick. (59)

Bartók was meticulous in his instructions to the percussionist He was concerned with producing several different timbres by striking the instruments in different areas; for example, the cymbal is to be played in the regular playing area as well as at the edge and the centre. The snare drum is to be played in the same manner, with the additional possibilities of engaged or disengaged snares. He also designates the use of specific beaters to create contrasting sounds; for instance, the percussionist is instructed to play the triangle with light, normal, and heavy beaters as well as wooden sticks. The suspended cymbal is to be played with yarn (soft) sticks, wooden sticks, and fingernails. Bartók also advises the percussionist to use specific parts of the stick, including the butt end, bead end, and shaft, for sound production. The above effects can be found in the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion.

In the Béla Bartók Essays, the composer's descriptions of peasant instruments, their music, and their performance have been grouped under the general title "The folklore instruments and their music in Eastern Europe."

Our interest, of course, is only in music performed on folk instruments, as originating from peasant hands. A general rule: folk instruments--as we designate them--are only those instruments produced in the villages by the peasants themselves, without imitating some artificial manufactured instrument (for instance, the peasant flute or violin), or which are the direct descendants of some instrument originally produced in the village (the Jew's harp is now produced in factories)--in contrast with the accordion, the clarinet, instruments of the "brass-band," and so forth. It is conceivable, however, that (as an exception) a peasant could play in a genuine peasant style on the clarinet or even on the piano. From the folklore viewpoint, such performance, although uncommon, would be of certain interest too. But when a peasant becomes civilized to the extent that he turns to the clarinet instead of the peasant flute, he is lost to folklore; he wants to play in a gentlemanly way on professional musical instruments--for example, in imitation of gipsy performance, etc. His imitations for the most part are worthless. Conversely, it sometimes happens that peasants imitate art style on their folk instruments. This too, of course, is of no value to us.

Thus far [1911] we have discovered the following folk instruments in Hungarian villages: bagpipe, peasant flute, the so-called hurdy-gurdy, natural horn....

As the listing discloses, we do not find any special Hungarian instrument. The bagpipe (Dudelsack, cornemuse) and the hurdy-gurdy (Leierkasten, vielle) were spread all over Europe and are more or less still in use today. In fact, in Eastern Europe, Italy, and even in Paris one can find old vielleurs'. The peasant flute is equally well-known everywhere.

Before we review the various instruments and the melodies recorded from them, we should mention a particular circumstance: we did not meet with any absolute (that is, without text) or otherwise special instrumental music among the Hungarians. The music performed on instruments is an ornamented performance of more or less well-known folk songs with text. (60)

Two elements should be considered in understanding how peasant instruments influenced Bartók's compositional style. The first deals with whether or not the instruments were used for melody, drone/harmony, accompaniment, or rhythm, while the second concerns the way in which instruments functioned in the peasant society.

Within the first category, certain instruments serve more than one function (such as the bagpipes), and must be included in more than one category. Melody instruments include the bagpipes, shepherd's flute, short (furulya) and long (hossú furulya) flutes, tárogató, violin, and to a lesser extent, the hurdy-gurdy. These instruments provide unrestricted melodic possibilities while others, such as the tilinkó, kanasztülok, and alphorn are more limited because they can produce only the notes of the natural harmonic series. The instruments of this second group are generally confined to melodic/rhythmic motives: for a tilinkó melody, see ex. 16. (61)

Ex. 16. Tilinkó melody.

Drone instruments include, in addition to the bagpipes, the hurdy-gurdy and the accompaniment violin. Because the lower strings of the hurdy-gurdy easily over-power its melody string, it is usually employed as a drone/accompaniment instrument. The transferring of drone patterns to the fiddle or violin is common to both folk music and the Viennese classical tradition. This drone instinct, so to speak, compels the peasant musician to add a sort of growl even as he blows on his long flute (for instance, in Bartók's collection on Folkways recordings). Bartók renders this effect through arpeggiated chords, such as those found in his piano transcriptions of peasant songs (ex. 17).

Ex. 17. Bartók, Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs, No. 1, mm. 10-12.

In the original application of peasant instruments, two distinct purposes can be recognized: dance music and personal music. The dance played a prominent role in the social life of the peasant, and almost all festive occasions, including wedding and religious ceremonies, incorporated it as an indispensable component. Personal music also played an important part in the peasant's daily life. Shepherds not only employed primitive instruments to communicate between themselves and to call their herds, but also used more advanced instruments to pass the time.

Transcriptions of original melodies for aboriginal instruments can be found in several of Bartók's compositions, most of which date from before 1915. Some examples include the bag-pipe melody of No. 15 from the Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs (1914-17, recorded with Bartók at the piano); the flute melody of No. 26 from vol. 2 of For Children (1908-09); the violin tunes from all the Rumanian Folk Dances from Hungary (1915) except for No. 4; and the flute melodies of the Three Hungarian Folk Songs from the County Csik (1907) (ex. 18).

Ex. 18. Bartók, Three Hungarian Folk Songs from the County Csik, No. 1, mm. 1-4.

During the years 1915 to 1935, Bartók continued to explore the sound potential of original peasant instruments, including their characteristic accompaniment possibilities--especially the drone effect and repeated eighth-note figures. Examples of this style include bagpipes in mm. 9 to 25 of the third movement of the Dance Suite (1923); the piano imitation of the cimbalom as from m. 1 in the Violin Sonata No. 1 (1921); and the tárogató in bars 6 to 17 of the third movement of Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta (1936).

This association with the tárogató in the above example is parallel with that of Halsey Stevens in the third movement of the Fourth Quartet. (62) In both examples, the improvisational character, the freely decorated melodic line, and above all, the melodic range and timbre, recall the "pastoral melancholy" of the old woodwind instrument. Both examples, however, as well as others with similar characteristics, may also be understood as a generic abstraction of the parlando style.

An interesting correlation between peasant instrumental sound and Bartók's use of the orchestra in The Concerto for Orchestra is offered in a recent article by Benjamin Suchoff. (63) Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta and the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion like-wise reveal the development and transfiguration of examples of the aboriginal sound spectrum and invite further exploration and study.

VII. "The 'night' music of Béla Bartók." (64)

Bartók's statement regarding the three ways of composing with folk material (see section I) can be related in general to the larger themes which pervade his oeuvre. We find in his music the transforming approach achieved by transcription; the abstracting approach in which authentic elements are played with, composed with, out of their total context; and the transcendent approach in what he called the sublimation of folklore. No-where is this third mode better exemplified than in his "nature" and "night" music, in which a vast musical landscape becomes his "mother tongue."

The particular aspect of "nature" and "night" in Bartók's music in a way summarizes many of the components of his musical idiom. It is tempting to associate this aspect with Bartók's indication "Religioso" (adopted only once, in his Third Piano Concerto), if one considers that the etymology of the word religare points to that "connectedness" which is implicit in the music and its structure.

The following works contain those compositional elements which determine the categories of "nature" and "night": Bagatelles, Opus 6 Nos. 3 and 12 (1908); Mikrokosmos Nos. 63 ("Buzzing"), 97 ("Notturno"), 102 ("Harmonics"), 107 ("Melody in the Mist"), 125 ("Boating"), 132 ("Major seconds together and broken"), 142 ("From the Diary of a Fly"), and 144 ("Minor seconds, major sevenths") (1926-39); Improvisations No. 3 (1920); Out of Doors No. 4 "The Night's Music"; String Quartet No. 4 (1928); Piano Concerto No. 2, second movement (1930-31); String Quartet No. 5, second movement (1934); Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, third movement (1936); Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, second movement (1937); Concerto for Orchestra, second movement (1943); Piano Concerto No. 3, second movement (1945); and Viola Concerto, second movement (1945).

The originality of Bartók's achievement lies above all in the structural use he made of his chosen elements: it is not limited to his investigation of particular elements, such as instrumental combinations, sound effects, rhythmic design, articulation, mood, character, and characterization. Beyond the analytical and theoretical description of the design and of the construction of temporal and timbric components, one can observe a common pattern which links all the above compositions psychologically as well as technically.

The arguments first proposed by Szabolcsi (65) and by Masimo Mila (66) are used here as a basis for illustration of Bartók's use of time, space, and timbre. The essay by Mila deserves to be better known in spite of the rhetorical bent which makes English rendition problematic. Even in its early version of 1951, the essay provided perhaps the most penetrating commentary on this dimension of Bartók's music outside of Hungarian sources. Ernö Lendvai's 1947 article on Bartók's "Night Music," which Mila refers to, appears in all bibliographies, but seems to remain impervious to translation into English. (67) Mila has borrowed Lendvai's analogy of Bartók's night symbolism to that of the Hungarian Romantic poet Vörösmarty as exemplified in the "Monologue" of the night from the play Csongor and Tünde (1830).

While Lendvai used this analogy in connection with the night aspect in Bartók's opera Duke Bluebeard's Castle, Mila suggests its application to all the "great, slow movements" of Bartók: these seem to belong to the category by virtue of their construction as well as their spiritual affinity. They all share an opening section which seems "like the beginning of things, the passage from Chaos to Cosmos" and a course of compositional procedure in which the musical material "is born as if in the presence of the listener, as substances combining with one another." This technique of "successive germination from an initial cell," which Mila defines as autointegratrice (self-integrating), obviously derives from Beethoven's late style, the comparison with the contrappunto germinale o autointegrativo of the C-sharp minor Quartet, Opus 131 being a familiar one and Beethoven's Adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo representing "the matrix for similar ways of connecting musical sound." Bartók's achievement and his greatness, however, are determined (according to Mila) by his having gone beyond stylistic borrowing and mere experimentation, toward an intuition of nature as a "secret nuclear reality," as a mystery to be deciphered. (68) To adopt a contemporary concept used by linguists, it appears that Bartók approached folksong, which he studied as a natural phenomenon, by viewing it as a point of arrival rather than as a point of departure: a microcosm which he considered a sort of miniature masterpiece. (69)

According to Mila, Bartók's intuition of nature as a mystery is manifested by his "continuous need for creation of sound," by his "passionate explorations at the threshold of noise." It is significant, says Mila, that Bartók satisfies this need of invention of sound by means of the instruments which are the most classical and, it would seem, the least congenial--strings and piano. Bartók's revelation of the laws which govern the life of matter is an unconscious one, continues Mila, which poets alone can achieve by a contact which is neither rational nor limited by normal senses. Spiritualization of matter is the real meaning of Bartók's germinal counter-point. (70) One could add to Mila's view that it is in this sense that the term "Religioso" applies to Bartók's night music.

One has to go back to very ancient intuitions of nature, Mila suggests, to find a conceptual equivalent, and he quotes Empedocles:

... non v'è nascita d'alcuna delle cose mortali, né termine di morte funesta; ma solo mescersi e dissolversi di sostanze ... (71)

He further compares the curved, rotating themes of Bartók to the atoms of Epicurus which had clinamen, that is, a tendency to deviate in their vertical fall, thus enabling the atoms to aggregate and to form the world. (72) A reading of the piece entitled "The Night's Music" from the Out of Doors Suite for piano best illustrates that passage from chaos to cosmos found also in Vörösmarty's "Monologue" (see ex. 19). (73) Consideration of this poem allows not just a facile comparison, but rather an insight into the very "movement" of Bartók's night music.

A similar analogy was formulated by André Schaeffner in regard to Debussy's first nocturne for orchestra, Nuages, between Debussy's music, which, in the composer's own words, reflects “...l'aspect immuable du ciel avec la marche lente et melancholique des nuages ... " (74) and Flaubert's opening pages of the Education sentimentale with their " ...images...motrices, exprimant des mouvements ... un choix judicieux des temps verbaux, des coupes de phrases et de la ponctuation." (75) Such correspondences in the compositional sense recall George Woodcock's parallel between the imagery of Canadian painter Jack Shadbolt--his perception of natural forms and Coast Indian symbolism and their transformation into the "symbolic forms" of his individual works--and Baudelaire's:

...long échos qui de loin se confonent Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité, Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté, ... (76)

Ex. 19. Selection (in translation) from Vörösmarty, "Monologue."

Shades reigned and Nothingness. And I was,
Desert, silent, uninhabited: the Night.
Woman, I begot the Cosmos, my only son.
And World was born, and the monstrous Whole.

Turned the stars and the moon, marvels of the sky . . .
A flux of motion and infinite activity
Populated the emptiness of space and time.

And the sky smiles from its depths.
Splendid, all dress-up with flowers
Earth celebrates her engagement.
Dust moves for the beast to appear
And then, the ardent grain of sand with a royal head
Man, shall propagate his race,
pious, and criminal, and vile, and glorious.

Shades reign and Nothingness. I am the Night
hiding from light in mourning
The soul of man, a stream of light
reflects the immensity of Cosmos
But soon he is no more, if he has ever been
But as long as he lives, burning with ardor,
He is set to plough, to think, to know, to act;
Doth he not proclaim his work to be immortal
Although mortal be his hands? And even gone,
with vanity and pride he marks his ashes.
All is reduced to Nothing. On its final ruins
World extinguishes with a sombre shiver.
His grave shall be the place of his genesis,
Shades and Nothingness. But I shall be,
Desert, silent, uninhabited: the Night.

Both the images and their order in Vörösmarty's "Monologue" are reflected and symbolically presented in "The Night's Music" of Bartók: out of a hypnotic drone emerge the flickering and the fragmentation which are progressively animated within the widest range of musical space and sonority. The equivalent to the poem's central "formation" of earth-its vegetable, animal, and human organisms--is, in Bartók's piece, the appearance of the ancient eight, the "classical" four-line tune of eight syllables (eight, if one considers to be melisma in parlando style). It can be only intuitively that Bartók "connected" this folk-hymn statement across the centuries with the thirteenth century "Mary's Lament," the first extant relic of Hungarian literature (ex. 20). (77)

Ex. 20a. "Marienklage" (Mary's Lament").

Ex. 20b. Bartók, Out of Doors, "The Night's Music," mm. 17-19.

This again recalls Woodcock's words of the many resonances vibrating in the works of a contemporary artist. The same vocal theme is later presented in its furulya version, that is, a human instrument's version. Further, both the vocal and instrumental versions are canonically superimposed before progressively dissolving again into nothingness. This piece embodies, in condensed form, the structure common to all of Bartók's movements in this style which Mila refers to as being night's music. The term “structure" is intended in Northrop Frye's sense of a central concept--a governing idea which determines the composer's choice of elements and of general scheme.

The common tonal centre hinges around E and F while in the case of the Out of Doors piece, E-sharp. This recalls the Romantic referral to F as being the most prevalent sound in nature. (78) Such centring of tone can be observed in the above list of Bartók's night pieces, in all of which the sequence of keys and tonal centres fluctuates between E-flat and F-sharp.

The clinamen idea Mila speaks of is fundamental to an understanding of Bartók's structuring of movement. Patterns of rotating--spiral, vortex-like, and circular design--are investigated in various degrees of intricacy, and display progressions of intensification common to expressionistic art. According to the nature of their movement, such patterns can be defined as being a development either of Arabian musical formations (Suite Opus 14, third movement) or of dirge style (Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, first movement) or of shepherd's pipe and bagpipe figuration (Second Piano Concerto, second movement) or of scordatura (Contrasts, third movement).

As it can be said that Liszt's Fountain at the Villa d'Este is the source from which all subsequent musical "fountains" flow, so it is from Bartók's The Night's Music that all our contemporary nocturnal explorations have descended. The legacy of Bartók's exploration in sound is most apparent in the works of the Polish composer Penderecky; the American, George Crumb; the Italian, Luciano Berio; the Greek, Yannis Xanakis; and the Canadian, Murray Schafer. Unlike Bartók, however, these composers have shifted in their creative strivings to new sources of sound.


  1. Q.v. Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály, eds., Corpus Musicae Popularis Hungaricae, 6 vols. (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1951-73)
  2. Franz Liszt, quoted in descriptive notes, Liszt: 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies, Louis Kentner, pianist (Vox SVBX 5452).
  3. Cf. Fernand Ouellette, Edgar Varèse, ed. Seghers, Paris, 1966, p. 67.
  4. Béla Bartók, The Hungarian Folk Song, ed. Benjamin Suchoff, trans. M. D. Calvocoressi, annotated Zoltan Kodály (Albany, New York: State University of New York, 1981);

    Béla Bartók, Béla Bartók Essays, sel. and ed. Benjamin Suchoff (London: Faber and Faber, 1976);

Béla Bartók, Rumanian Folk Music, ed. Benjamin Suchoff (The Hague: Marinus Jijhoff, 1967), vol. I (Instrumental Melodies), vol. 2 (Vocal Melodies), vol. 3 (Texts);

Corpus Musicae Popularis Hungaricae: A Magyar Nepzene Tára, ed. Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály ( Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó):

1. Children's Games (Gyermekjátekok), ed. Gy. Kerenyi, 1951;
2. Tunes of the Calendar Customs (Jeles Napok), ed. Gy. Kerenyi, 1953;
3. Wedding Songs (Lakodalom), ed. L. Kiss, 1955 (vol. 3 A.), 1956 (Vol. 3 B.); 4. Match-making (Parositok), ed. Gy. Kerenyi, 1959;
5. Laments (Siratok), ed. B. Rajeczky and L. Kiss, 1966;
6. Types of Folksongs (Nepdaltipusok I), ed. P. Jardanyi and I. Olsvai, 1973;

Vera Lampert, Source Catalogue of Bartók's Folksong Elaborations: Hungarian, Slovak, Rumanian, Ruthenian, Serbian, and Arabic Folk-songs and Dances (Budapest: Zenemükiadó, 1980);

Hungarian Folk Music , vols. I and 2 (in co-operation with UNESCO, from the collection of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Hungarian Ethnographic Museum), ed. Benjamin Rajeczky (Qualiton LPX 10095-98 and LPX 18001-04);

Folk Music of Hungary (recorded in Hungary under the supervision of Béla Bartók). Descriptive notes and transcriptions Peter Bartók, intro. Henry Cowell (Folkways Records FM 4000).

  1. Hungarian Folk Music (phonograph cylinders from Bartók's collection), ed. Balint Sarosi (Hungaroton LPX 18069).
  2. Michael Greenwood, "Foreword and acknowledgements," Henry Moore: Drawings, Bronzes, and Prints from the Feheley Collection February 7 to March 3, 1974, 4700 Keele Street Downsview, Ontario (Toronto: Art Gallery of York University, 1974), p. 9.
  3. George Woodcock, "The paintings of Jack Shadbolt" in A George Woodcock Reader, ed. and intro. Doug Fetherling ([ Ottawa]: Deneau and Greenberg, 1980), pp. 113-19.
  4. Ibid., p. 119
  5. From materials initially investigated by Linda Baupré.
  6. Bence Szabolczi, "Man and Nature in Bartók's world" in Bartók Studies, ed. Todd Crow (Detroit: Information Coordinators, 1976), pp. 63-75.
  7. "... this sort of symbol, made a fetish of, and torn out of its proper context, borders on the noxious ..." László Somfai, descriptive notes, Bartók Record Archives (Hungaroton LPX 12334-38) 1981, p. 25. Cf. the B.B.C.'s program "Only Let the Source be Clean: A Centenary Portrait of Béla Bartók in Words and Music," intro. Michael Oliver, March 22, 1981.
  8. Bartók, "Harvard lectures," Béla Bartók Essays, p. 384.
  9. Erich Leinsdorf, The Composer's Advocate: A Radical Orthodoxy for Musicians (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1981), p. 78.
  10. Bartók, The Hungarian Folk Song, p. 17.
  11. Bartók, "The influence of peasant music on modern music," Béla Bartók Essays, pp. 340-44.
  12. László Somfai, "Bartók's rubato performing style," in Magyar Zenetorteneti Tanulmanyok, ed. Ferenc Bonis (Budapest: Zenemukiado, 1973), pp.225-35.
  13. Eighty-five pieces for piano in four volumes, later revised to seventy-nine pieces in two volumes.
  14. Bartók, "Autobiography (1921)," Béla Bartók Essays, p. 410.
  15. George Jellinek, "First and Only," Opera News 39, no. 16 (1975): 12.
  16. Indeed, until recently, this opera could not be performed by non-Hungarian singers whose traditional opera repertoire is restricted to texts in languages of Indo-European origin. Familiarity with the general cadence of these Indo-European languages allows ease of movement among the related languages; this familiarity does not transfer to Hungarian, which is from a different language group.
  17. For an expanded view of the system of symbols in the legend of the stags, see János Kárpáti, descriptive notes, Cantata Profana (Hungaroton SLPX 11510), P. 9.
  18. Bartók, "Explanation to Concerto for Orchestra," Béla Bartók Essays, p. 431.
  19. From materials initially investigated by Victoria Mazur.
  20. Joseph Szigeti, With Strings Attached, 2nd ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967), p. 268.
  21. Rumanian Folk Music , vol. 3, P. xcvi.
  22. Rumanian Folk Music , vol. 2, p. 25.
  23. Rumanian Folk Music , vol. 2, p. 26-27.
  24. Hungarian Folk Music , vol. I (Qualiton LPX 10095-98), P. 59.
  25. Rumanian Folk Music , vol. 1, pp. 58-61; vol. 2, pp. 42-45.
  26. Halsey Stevens, The Life and Music of Béla Bartók, rev. ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1964), p. 174.
  27. Pierre Boulez, descriptive notes, trans. Felix Aprahamian, Boulez Conducts Stravinsky Firebird Suite, Bartók Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta ( Columbia Stereo MS 7206).
  28. From materials initially investigated by Anne Osborne.
  29. János Kárpáti, "Bartók et la musique arabe," Musique Hongroise, ed. L'Association France Hongroie ( Paris, 1962) P. 94.
  30. Bartók, "Why and how do we collect folk music," Béla Bartók Essays, pp. 9-24.
  31. Cited by Kárpáti, "La musique arabe," p. 99.
  32. Béla Bartók, "Die Volkmusik der Araber von Biskra und Umgebung," Zeitschrift für Musikwissenschaft 2, no. 9 (June 1920):489-522.
  33. Bartók, "Die Volksmusik der Araber," p. 494.
  34. Kárpáti, "La musique arabe, p. 93.
  35. Ibid., p. 94.
  36. Kárpáti, "La musique arabe," p. 101.
  37. János Kárpáti, Bartók's String Quartets (Budapest Franklin Printing House, 1975), P. 89.
  38. Kárpáti, "La musique arabe," p. 101.
  39. Ibid., p. 104
  40. Bartók to Octavian Beu, 10 January 1931, Béla Bartók Letters, ed. János Demény (London: Faber, 1971), p. 202.
  41. Kárpáti, Bartók's String Quartets, p. 79.
  42. Kárpáti, "La musique arabe," p. 105.
  43. From materials prepared and presented by Silvester Vičič.
  44. Bartók, "The so-called Bulgarian rhythm," Béla Bartók Essays, p. 44.
  45. Bartók, "The influence of peasant music on modern music," Béla Bartók Essays, p. 343.
  46. János Breuer, descriptive notes trans. R. Prokl, Mikrokosmos (Hungaroton LPX 11405-7, series 2, vols. 9- 11), p. 13.
  47. From materials initially investigated by Debra Chandler.
  48. Rumanian Folk Music , vol. 1, P. xxv.
  49. Earlier discussion (section III) indicated that Kárpáti views the rhythmic character and the drum-beat accompaniment of the fourth string quartet as "pointing unambiguously" to an Arab derivation. See Kárpáti, Bartók's String Quartets, p. 223. Here one is reminded of the contradictory statements made by Bartók himself in regard to his Dance Suite. See Florence Ann McLean, Bartók's Dance Suite: A Comparison of the Orchestral and Piano Versions," M.Mus. document, University of Western Ontario, 1980, p. 4.
  50. Leinsdorf, The Composer's Advocate, p. 128.
  51. Agatha Fassett, Béla Bartók: The American Years, 2nd ed. (New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1970), pp. 120-21.
  52. From materials initially investigated by D'Arcy Gray.
  53. Ralph Kirkpatrick, "Preface" in Domenico Scarlatti, Sixty Sonatas, (N.Y.: Schirmer, [1953]), vol. 1, p. xi.
  54. Jürgen Uhde, Béla Bartók, Kopfe der Jahrhunderts (Berlin: Colloquium Verlag, 1959), p. 95.
  55. Hungarian Folk Music , Vol. 1 (Qualiton LPX 10095-98).
  56. Bartók, "The folklore of instruments and their music in Eastern Europe," Béla Bartók Essays, pp. 239-84.
  57. Ibid., p. 269. (Tilinkó: a long peasant flute.)
  58. Stevens, The Life and Music of Béla Bartók, p. 174.
  59. Suchoff, Béla Bartók: A Celebration (Camp Hill, Pennsylvania: Book of the Month Records, 1981.)
  60. From materials initially investigated by Tannis Fast.
  61. Szabolcsi, "Man and Nature in Bartók's world," pp. 63- 75.
  62. Masimo Mila, "La natura e il mistero nell 'arte di Béla Bartók," Chigiana 22 (1965): 147-68.
  63. Ernö Lendvai, "La musica della notte di Bartók," Zenei Szemle (1947), pp. 216-19. (cited by Mila, "La natura e il mistero," p. 165.)
  64. Mila "La natura e il mistero," pp. 151-64, passim.
  65. Barók, The Hungarian Folk Song, p. 3.
  66. Mila, "La natura e il mistero," pp. 152-60, passim.
  67. ". . . there is no birth of mortal things, nor end; only mixing and dissolving of substances. . . " (author's translation). Empedocle, trans. Mila in "La natura e il mistero," p. 151.
  68. Mila, "La natura e il mistero," pp. 151-52.
  69. This English translation of a portion of Vörösmarty's "Monologue" is taken from Damiana Bratuz, "The Folk Elements in the Piano Music of Béla Bartók" (Doctoral document, Indiana University, 1966), p. 174. French trans., see Ladislas Gara, ed., Anthologie de la poésie hongroise duX11e siècle à nos jours, (Paris Editions du seuil, 1962).
  70. "... the immutable appearance of the sky, with the slow and melancholic passage of the clouds. . ." (author's translation). Claude Debussy as cited in André Schaeffner, "Debussy et ses rapports avec la peinture," in Debussy et l'evolution de la musique au XXe siecle, ed. Edith Weber (Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1965), pp. 151-166.
  71. ". . . motor . . . images expressing movements . . . well chosen verbal beats, phrase cuts, and punctuation." (author's translation). Flaubert as cited in André Schaeffner, "Debussy et ses rapports avec la peinture," pp. 151-66.
  72. "...the long echoes which fuse from afar in a dark and profound oneness vast as the night and the daylight..." (author's translation). Baudelaire cited in Woodcock, "The Paintings of Jack Shadbolt," p. 115.
  73. Bence Szabolcsi, Geschichte der Ungarischen Musik (Budapest: Corvina Verlag, 1964), p. 108. W
  74. . Gardiner, The Music of Nature (Boston: Wilkins and Carter, 1841), P. 245; R. Murray Schafer, The Tuning of the World ( Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977, p. 99. Here, in the chapter "The Electronic Revolution," Schafer describes the result of a soundscape study as centring around G-sharp.



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