Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

The Béla Bartók Thematic Catalog in Progress1

Academic journal article Studia Musicologica

The Béla Bartók Thematic Catalog in Progress1

Article excerpt

Catalog as a temporary substitute for the standard "Life and Works"

In spite of the obvious difficulties resulting from the multi-language composite of past and present Bartókiana, even without an annotated bibliography2 it can be stated that the scholarly literature on Béla Bartók in many areas is extensive and of good quality Excellent bibliography appropriately detailed entries in the two major music dictionaries, informative medium-sized monographs, "Bartók Companion"-like volumes, several types of analytical books and major studies, studies on his compositional process, on the ethnomusicological oeuvre and its impact on his style, on Bartok reception in the past and present are available, even an excellent survey of the compositions of the childhood and youth of Bartók.3 The editions of the majority of his writings and folk-music studies and collections, although there are a few missing links, are reliable. However, a basic edition of collected correspondence is missing, and a comprehensive "big book" on Bartók's life and works is not even among the projects in progress.

Due to these conditions, primarily to the lack of a comprehensive monograph, the forthcoming thematic catalog of Bartók's music will serve for a longer period as the chief source of critically selected information about his oeuvre, and about the individual compositions. This fact must be considered when we select data and write comments for the big volume (the Bartok Catalog is planned as a large-sized but still one-volume book). It is my belief that the essential information must be available in this volume. As the sample work entry, the temporary text of BB 83 Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs op. 20 in the Appendix shows,4 the information on the original title, composition, and early performances includes significant unpublished texts with appropriate interpretation. In case of the Improvisations alone the facts about the gradually matured title and its language variants point to interesting aspects: impromptus, or improvisations, or simply piano pieces, based either on peasant songs or folk songs. Incidentally neither the English nor the Hungarian full (today official) title was authorized by the composer. The history of the compositional work with the growing number of pieces (actually planned as a considerably longer series) includes a crucial statement by Bartok about why Improvisations, although based on peasant songs, was worth to an opus number while e.g. Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs were not. And the list of movements on the leaflet of the first com- plete performance with mostly different tempo and character indications which in all probability Bartok himself, without the score at hand, gave to the program editor is a surprising complementary source not only for the performer but for those who study Bartók's style as regards to his understanding of the meaning of traditional Italian instructions of the tempo and/or character (Andante vs. Molto moderato, Allegro molto vs. Vivace, Sostenuto vs. Lento, etc.). It belongs to the goals of the Catalog that widespread mistakes in the Bartok literature (even if the information came from Bartok himself) should be pointed out and explained;5 contradictory statements about Bartók's supposed inspirations and sources need to be discussed;6 well-founded hypotheses about crucial matters could justly be presented.7

Coming to problematic issues and decisions, as to languages, my concept of the Catalog had to be revised recently. According to the original plan in this basic Bartók book, even if the running text is English, the only sensible decision today, beyond Hungarian (rarely Romanian, etc.) which must be translated, quotations from Bartók's non-English letters and writings in world languages (mostly German, occasionally French) either do not need translation at all or the original-plus-translation in bracket is the scholarly fair publication policy. However, expert editors at G. …

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