Bartok's Chamber Music

Bartok's Chamber Music

Bartok's Chamber Music

Bartok's Chamber Music

Excerpt

At first sight, a work devoted to Bartók's chamber music looks as though it were simply concerned with a genre division, attempting an exposition of no more than a single aspect of the whole oeuvre. But in Bartók's case the chamber music is not simply a matter of grouping according to genre: it is really the framework for his whole oeuvre. This applies especially to the string quartets, which accompany Bartók through his creative life from the very earliest youthful efforts to the last and unfulfilled plan of his life, the "seventh" String Quartet (Szabolcsi 1961:120).

We shall, therefore, be chiefly concerned with the string quartets, since they occupy a central position in Bartók's oeuvre. It would, nevertheless, be a great mistake to cut off these works from their connections with the other chamber works. For these, like shrubs, stand around the towering trees of the string quartets; among them there are characteristic "accompanying" or supplementary works, and there are others which rise to equal the level of the string quartets themselves, and can almost be considered along with this imposing series of six works.

When the string quartet originated as a genre, in Haydn's period, six compositions were required to be considered a work--an opus. This unwritten law of European music's golden age bears witness to true richness: these works appearing by the dozen or by the half- dozen were not at all the result of "mass production," at least not with the great masters. The opuses of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, consisting of groups of six string quartets, are the greatest masterpieces of the literature within the genre. This creative method was a legacy from the preceding period, when it was only by being arranged into groups like this that sonatas and concertos would be published. Publication practice does, however, reveal much in connection with the . . .

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