The Life and Music of Bela Bartok

The Life and Music of Bela Bartok

The Life and Music of Bela Bartok

The Life and Music of Bela Bartok

Synopsis

First published in 1953, Halsey Stevens's The Life and Music of Bela Bartok was hailed as a triumph of musicology and quickly established itself as the classic text. Stevens combined an authoritiative, balanced account of the Hungarian composer's life with candid insightful analyses of hisnumerous works. To Stevens, the high point of Bartok's genius was the chamber music, which he assessed was of a quality unrivalled by any other composer of the early twentieth century. But he evaluated Bartok's entire output with mastery, picking out the composer's strengths and weaknesses andconveying the essence of his compositional techniques. Stevens's views have greatly influenced the study of Bartok and Hungarian music over the last four decades. Issued in a revised edition in 1964, Stevens's work now appears in a third edition, prepared by the Bartok scholar, Malcolm Gillies. A comprehensive chronological list of works is added, together with a select bibliography and discography. Minor revisions to the text are suggested in a new Introduction, and the text is enhanced by eight pages of photgraphs, some of them little known.

Excerpt

Most fields have their classic texts, those intellectual highways down which generations of readers travel for sheer beauty of the view or to progress quickly toward the frontiers of knowledge. In Bartók studies the classic is Halsey Stevens's. Originally published in 1953, this study of the life and music of Béla Bartók was a truly pioneering enterprise. Although several books about Bartók already existed--Nüll, Haraszti, Dille, Moreux--none approached their subject with the same depth and consistency of purpose as did Stevens. None had tackled the recently closed œuvre with such personal honesty in musical evaluation and such lack of partisanship. The Life and Music of Béla Bartók was rightly hailed as a triumph of American musicology and few writers about Bartók since have picked up their pens without first testing their opinions against his.

At heart, however, Stevens was not a musicologist or biographer, but a composer and teacher. Certainly, his opening 'biographical study' is well balanced and a mine of interesting information, but his work was primarily concerned with elucidating the music in a way that the nonspecialist could understand and the specialist savor. This he often did by putting forward a personal view of the piece and then concisely surveying its chief features as supporting evidence for that view. Although interested in what Bartók or his compatriots might have said about a work, he refused to take their word as law, preferring to write about what he heard and saw rather than attempting any justification of 'authentic', inherited opinion. (He heard, for instance, much bitonality in Bartók's music and so wrote about it, even though Bartók himself frowned upon such interpretations.) Stevens was also a master of pedagogic comparisons; he frequently conveyed the essence of a technique or strategy by invoking a parallel case better known, by placing a phenomenon securely in the context of an appropriate genre or period, or by referring to a particular line of compositional paternity (such as Bartók's succession of 'night music' pieces).

Stevens's volume is most to be treasured for its bold and well-justified . . .

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