Dr. Damjana Bratuz
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Bartókiana - Abstracts

ICMS-8: Eighth International Congress on Musical Signification:
Gestures, Forms and Signifying Processes in Music, and the Semiotics of the Interrelations of Arts

Paris / Sorbonne, 3-8 October 2004

“Gestures of Lament: the ‘Sostenuto e pesante’ Movement in Bartók’s Piano Sonata”

By Damjana Bratuž

In program notes and commentaries on the II Movement of Bartók’s Piano Sonata (1926), one often finds a reference to a dirge style of writing. No detailed correlation is ever made, however, to the existing documentation on the performance of this style. Theoretical analyses of the music have ignored altogether the significance of this connection, while most performers continue to present a relentlessly vertical, pounding, (mis)reading of this movement.

This presentation explores the significance of Bartók’s indications sostenuto and pesante according to his own recorded articulation of such patterns ( the recorded segments of the Concerto No.2 for Piano and Orchestra), the Suite op.14/IV, and in the Sonatina/II). Accordingly, this presentation clarifies both the sostenuto indication as belonging to the parlando style whose flexible articulation is determined by the implied length of the vowels (Bartók 1943), and the pesante indication as not being synonymous with ‘loud.’

Further, this presentation correlates the three principal compositional patterns of the Sonata (i.e., the repeated single pitch, the spiral formation within a narrow compass, the sudden wide skips of register) to the same patterns found in the Hungarian and Romanian peasant laments collected by Bartók and/or his collaborators; it demonstrates the original manner of articulation of these patterns, which is available on the recorded versions of the peasant collections.

To explore such a correlation permits one connect the construction of this Movement to Bartók’a both second and third way of composing with folk material: as he explained in 1931, the one entails using the original or invented folk pattern as a ‘Motto’ around which the composer weaves a totally contemporary idiom (as in the Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs (1920); the other entails using “the atmosphere of peasant music” when the mastery of its idiom has been “completely absorbed” and it becomes the composer’s “musical mother tongue.”

Power Point presentation. Equipment needed: Computer, large screen, piano



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