Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

Bartók's Late Adventures with Kontrapunkt

Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

Bartók's Late Adventures with Kontrapunkt

Article excerpt

In the spring and early summer of 1931, Bartók was, uncharacteristically, occupied with composing. For almost a decade then, he had been used to restricting composition to the summermonths. This time, however, he was busy composing a completely new series of pedagogical works, the eventual Fourty-Four Duos for Two Violins. When he completed a bunch of pieces he dutifully dispatched them to the commissioner of the series, young German music pedagogue Erich Doflein. Doflein had first invited Bartók to participate in his collection of modernistic pedagogical works by providing violin transcriptions of selected piano pieces from the For Children series composed in 1908/09. Bartók chose to compose a completely new set. After receiving the first instalment, Doflein gave his reaction to the new pieces.

First of all, allow me to say how much I like the pieces. At first, I was surprised by them but after a more thorough study I was filled with an increasing satisfaction on the recognition of how the changes that your way of writing has undergone since you wrote your earlier easy piano pieces also make their effect on these new easy folk song arrangements. And what inner necessity justifies every harsh sound, every clash of melody. In any case, the pieces demand a very fine ear.1

Arandom comparison of almost any two pieces from the two series could easily show the change of style sharply pointed out by Doflein. We are, however, fortunate enough to have an exceptional case of a folk melody, "Hess páva, hess páva" (Go peacock, go away), having been arranged in both For Children and the Forty-Four Duos. The original folk tune was known to Bartók from Béla Vikár's collection. Apart from the original phonograph recording of 1904, recently published in the second edition of Vera Lampert's source catalogue of Bartók's folksong arrangements, the song also survives in more than one version and transcription by Bartók (see Facsimile 1).2

An important characteristic of the melody is its rhythm: the fascinating constant change of 3/8+3/8+2/8 time can clearly be heard on the old recording, even if there are a few points where the singer takes a short added rest at the end of a line making the shorter bars nearly equal the longer ones.

Bartók's arrangement, no. 26 in the For Children series, at least in the form it was recorded when the composer played selections from the series in a 1945 radio broadcast3 and which was posthumously published in the Boosey and Hawkes edition in 1947, sticks logically to the asymmetric rhythm (see Example 1b). This is of course the now generally known revised form of the piece.4 However, it was exactly this piece that underwent the most profound and consistent revision in the whole series.5 The first version, completed in 1908/09 was significantly different both metrically and harmonically (see Example 1a). Although Bartók only made very careful changes, they add up to a profound revision of the music. Most notably, the rhythmic presentation of the folk melody is different in the two versions. While the revised form happily employs changing time, the first version uses an even 3/8 rhythm. Bartók may have decided to use an even 3/8 metre instead of the changing time for pedagogical reasons but it is also possible that he did not realize at the time the underlying asymmetric rhythm. It is very regrettable that what we have of Bartók's transcriptions of Vikár's phonograph recordings are of later date. It is further regrettable that he himself did not collect the tune and so no notation of it can be found in his field-books. Still it is not unlikely that Bartók's early transcription may have been in constant 3/8 time.6 The correct transcription was first published in the volume Transylvanian Hungarian Folksongs (1923), a joint publication by Bartók and Zoltán Kodály.7

The arrangement is throughout homophonic. While the later revised form is harmonically much more colourful, which makes the whole fabric of the accompaniment more vivid, more vibrant, the basic homophonic character is still undeniable. …

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