String Quartet No.3 Sz.85

Composer: Béla Bartók (b. 1881 - d. 1945)
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Composer: Béla Bartók (b. 1881 - d. 1945)

Performance date: 01/07/2012

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1927

Duration: 00:15:50

Recording Engineer: Anton Timoney, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Signum Quartet (Kerstin Dill, Annette Walther [violins], Xandi van Dijk [viola], and Thomas Schmitz [cello]) - [quartet]

String Quartet No.3 Sz.85

The size and musical significance of the
string quartet has changed radically ever since the 18th century
when Haydn’s quartets were pre-eminent and quartets were generally published in
sets of six. Then in Beethoven’s lifetime cycles of even two or three quartets
became rarer, and this trend culminated in his late string quartets, just one
of which could stand alone and carry the same weight as a symphony. Bartók’s
six string quartets, which he wrote between 1908 and 1939, continued the
transformation of the character and function of composition in general, and the
string quartet in particular, and his quartets occupy a central position, both
in his output and in 20th century music.


Bartók wrote his Third String Quartet in
September 1927, by which time his style had become much more personal. So the
work is a distillation of his most distinctive stylistic traits, including his
fascination with the characteristics of the music of the many ethnic minorities
in the Hungarian section of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which included Slovak,
Romanian, Ruthenian, Serbian, Bulgarian and Transylvanian communities. He had
collected peasant music with Kodály in the early years of the century and
believed that the music of the rural peasants was a natural phenomenon, which
had the potential to reform both the nation’s musical life and his own musical
approach. In his quartets he relied on short motifs and so the peasant music
particularly appealed to him because of its small-scale completeness.


His Third Quartet is renowned for the
extreme concentration and violence of its language. The prima parte, after a mysterious 5-bar introduction, takes the form
of a triptych whose central episode metamorphoses into strange and rarified
nocturnal music punctuated by growls and cries. Moments of aggression are
tempered by unexpected glimpses of lyricism, swiftly forgotten. The  strongly contrasted seconda parte features Hungarian folk dance elements especially a
driving rhythmic energy. His language is
harsh, using pitilessly dissonant intervals and a veritable dictionairy of
sound effects, which drive the expressive tension to a peak. Mastering this
music is a huge test of a Quartet’s resolve and technical ability.  The Ricapitulazione
sets out to concentrate even further the already highly compressed prima parte, giving the listener brief
reminiscences of a half-forgotten dream before a virtuoso summary of the seconda parte drives to an explosive