Composer: Béla Bartók (b. 1881 - d. 1945)
Performance date: 08/07/2017
Venue: Bantry Library
Composition Year: 1934
Recording Engineer: Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category:String Quartet
Pavel Haas Quartet (Veronika Jarušková, Marek Zwiebel [violins], Radim Sedmidubský [viola], Peter Jarušek [cello]) -
paradoxes appeared during the years separating Bartók’s Fourth
String Quartet composed in 1928 and his Fifth from 1934. One of these
was the increasing resolve exhibited in his music, in contrast with
the despair he felt for the times in which he lived. This political
scene was distressing both at home – the authoritarian, right-wing
regime of Miklós Horthy – and more widely in Europe with the rise of
Fascism. Bartók protested in 1931 when Toscanini was physically
assaulted by Italian fascists for refusing to conduct their marching
anthem, the Giovinezza.
In the same year, Bartók became a cultural diplomat to the ill-fated
and ineffectual League of Nations where the urgent humanitarian
nature of his contributions replaced his former, nationalist
concerns. From 1933, after giving the premiere of his Second Piano
Concerto in Frankfurt, Bartók refused to perform in Germany and
never returned there in his lifetime.
his pessimism over the future of Europe was not manifest in any
further inward constriction of his compositional style – in fact, the
opposite. The major works of this period – such as the Cantata
Profana (1930) and
the Second Piano Concerto – display an outgoing transparency and
mature assurance which evolved from the unflinching experimentation
of the 1920s.
there was a paradox between his virtual withdrawal from public life
in Budapest and an increased openness in his music. The Horthy
regime’s antipathy meant that little of Bartók’s music was performed
in Budapest. He became alienated within his own country where he now
felt reluctant to play his own music. After the Fourth String Quartet
in 1928, none of his works was premiered in Hungary. Likewise, from
that time, the only commissions he received were from outside
Hungary, the Fifth Quartet being commissioned by the American
patroness of contemporary music, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. The
increasing openness in his music is exemplified in the Fifth String
Quartet, the wider intervals of whose long, diatonic melodic lines
are in sharp contrast with the terse, semi-tone-stepped motivic
material which so intensified the first two movements of the Fourth.
satisfaction with the Fourth’s symmetrical, four-movement arch
structure led him to use the same form in the Second Piano Concerto
(slightly disguised) and again in the Fifth Quartet. But where the
Fourth’s cornerstone was a slow movement, in the Fifth it is the
third movement Scherzo – itself in symmetrical ABA form but based on
asymmetrical Bulgarian rhythms – flanked on both sides by slow
movements which in turn are flanked by interrelated outer movements.
the two slow movements, the melancholy Adagio
molto works three
ideas: exchanges of gentle trill figures; a chorale figure
accompanied by a melodic line in the violin; and sighing, two-note
motifs. Then, on the far side of the central Scherzo, these same
three ideas are each presented as variations in the Andante
which also introduces one further idea into the mix.
lively outer movements reveal Bartók renewing his interest in
classical forms with the opening Allegro
in sonata form and the Finale a rondo. Here there is much
contrapuntal activity, including an intricate preoccupation with
mirror forms and correspondences are strengthened when the Finale
eventually reprises material from the first movement, and
additionally – non-symmetrically – recalls other movements: an
example, surely, of genius retaining sovereignty over its creation.
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