Bla Bartk - A Centenary Homage
Bartók's desire to let his music speak for
itself (1) appeared to convey his faith in the perception
of the listener, or better, in the existence of such
perception. Liszt had been more cautious when he appealed
to those "with ears to hear" to recognize
the symbolic elements in his Hungarian Rhapsodies.
(2) Closer to us, Varèse placed no trust whatsoever
in the ear of the audience, having concluded that people
are only capable of listening with their memory. (3)
More than half a century has passed since Bartók's
remark, but his music is not yet heard as he intended
it to be, neither by the general public, nor even by
the majority of performers who attempt to be its champions.
Today, however, there exists a greater possibility
to acquire that perception which is needed to appreciate
not only the music, but the achievement of Bartók;
to acquire that knowledge he deemed necessary in order
to understand those "equivalences" between
folksong and art music. There is, first of all, our
access to such sources as Bartók's published
folk collections and the Hungarian ethnomusicological
research of the post-Bartók era, available in
both written and recorded collections, as well as various
individual studies. Secondly, there is access to the
composer's own recorded performances from which to
learn the nature of his language and to derive interpretative,
technical, and stylistic clues. These performances
also demonstrate the difference, even divergence, between
his performances and those of his well-meaning "interpreters." (4)
Thirdly, since Bartók's death, the Western world
has had a much greater contact with the music of other
cultures; the ear of the general public has grown more
accustomed to alien musical patterns of distant lands.
In academic life, ethnomusicology has found its rightful
place, no longer being relegated to the general field
Above all, there is today a resonance to Bartók's
words with regard to roots, to pure sources, rural
life and folk culture, to brotherhood of nations; a
resonance his words did not find during his lifetime.
He has become a contemporary figure. It is as if Bartók's
concepts, in their sensibility, imagination, and attitude
to life, have spread and become alive at last. Perhaps
the time has come also for his music to be truly heard.
In Bartók's overall aesthetic approach, his
entire philosophical and ethical outlook and sensibility
(what Hungarians call his "morale"), there
appears, as a common thread, the idea of the "organic." Concepts
such as authenticity, origin, natural force, soil,
pure spring, and roots are used repeatedly in his writings,
not only in connection with artistic aims and ethical
purposes, but also with musical technicalities. By
reading Bartók's articles on folk music and
by studying the prefaces and examples in his collections,
a non-Hungarian can gain literal insight and build
those images and associations which compose a reader's
mental notation. Only in this way can the musical notation
of Bartók's scores be made to resonate. Aural
recollection must give meaning and concreteness to
the powers of the imagination. Therefore, remote as
it will remain from Bartók's real experiences
in the field, it is only the acquaintance with the sound of
Bartók's source material that will illuminate
his notational symbols, his process of transformation,
and the whole measure and significance of his accomplishment.
By pointing out a peasant tune as a natural product,
by asking us to marvel at and learn from its structural
features, Bartók parallels modern artists such
as Brancusi, Klee, and Moore who have also considered
the "miniature masterpieces" of nature to
be not only sources of inspiration, but veritable models
of construction. A peasant tune may serve an artist
as much as does a plant, a seashell, a stone:
. . .with a profound insight into the fundamental
principles of growth and form . . . And behind this
conscious disciplined experience lie the fructifying
powers of intuition and emotion, the product also of complex natural forces,
which enter into and unite with the former to produce the miracle of personal
expression in art. (6)
At the present time, it seems that Canada offers
a most congenial climate in which Bartók's ideas
and art can resonate, with his concerns and aesthetic
aims finding a natural echo in such writings as those
of Northrop Frye. One could also borrow George Woodcock's
reference to Baudelaire's Correspondances in
which he found an anchor for his claim for an "organic
relationship" between the two worlds when examining
contemporary Canadian paintings inspired by primitive
Indian symbolism. (7)
It could be said of Bartók that he answered "the
long echo"; that "in reading the hieroglyphs
of another world" he created "his own calligraphy." Thus "by
following . . . his experience and perception" of
peasant music, he could create "a personal mythology
as powerful as that which he has observed, and so throw
back the resonance, which is perhaps our only way of
communicating with those who are far from us in cultural
space and time." (8) In the pages which follow,
the origins of some of Bartók's compositional
techniques will be examined in a discussion which co-ordinates
and expands upon some initial investigations conducted
by graduate students at the Faculty of Music, University
of Western Ontario, under the author's supervision
during the celebrations for the centenary of Béla
I. "The parlando style in Bartók's
The essential departure from the traditional Western
articulation, phrasing, and timbric construction started
with his adoption of such elements as they existed
in what he called his "mother tongue." By
employing the parlando aspect of peasant music,
Bartók not only resolved the question of expressing
the primeval, but also achieved a synthesis of the
four basic ideas which Bence Szabolcsi saw at the core
of his overall philosophy: nature, man, freedom, and
the world of instincts.(10)
The "natural" in Bartók's compositions,
described as coming from the purest source, has by
now become a kind of cliché even outside Hungary.
(11) It is, however, a reflection of his view of folk
music as being a natural phenomenon whose properties
and proportions he regarded as a model of composition.
The importance of this in regard to Bartók's
music cannot be underestimated; nature was the fundamental
basis of his entire human and moral outlook on life.
When Bartók and Kodály began their
folk music collecting expeditions in 1905, they found
that the music fell into two main categories: the old
style, a specific Magyar cultural product, and the
newer style, containing Western European influence.
The former is estimated to be at least 1500 years old
and can be divided into two tempo categories: a free-rhythm
and declamatory performance in slow melodies--parlando-rubato;
and measured, strict rhythms in quick melodies--tempo
giusto. The naturalness and spontaneity that Bartók
sought was best explored in the absolute rhythmic freedom
of partando-rubato. This parlando music
of the old style derives its rhythmic characteristics
from the Hungarian language in which the vowels may
be divided into short and long, the latter being approximately
twice the length of the former. Each word has its accent
on the first vowel since there is no anacrusis in the
Hungarian language. As a result, there are two distinctive
rhythms in Hungarian music:
is the most important; according to Bartók, it
"gives that well known rugged rhythm to many Hungarian
Few performers, unfortunately, are acquainted with
the articulation of this particular style, as it is
so tied to familiarity with the folk music and the
language of Hungary. Therefore, most interpretations
of Bartók's music are not consistent with the
real idiom. Bartók's own recorded examples are,
of course, the best lessons in the proper delivery
of this speech-conditioned performance. Erich Leinsdorf,
aware of the existence of the unwritten codes behind
the music, describes how he attempted to convey the
appropriate articulation to the principal violist of
a renowned orchestra who was quite unable to grasp
that the solo from Kodály's Háry
János Suite could not be played in the
I went so far as to learn the Hungarian words of
the song, imagining that if I pronounced them with
the proper accent the player would perceive that his
literal reading was inadequate. All was in vain. The
solo in performance sounded exactly as it is written--that
is, wooden and totally unidiomatic. (13)
The old style music is also characterized by a particular
type of pentatonicism based on an anhemitonic scale:
Pien notes may occur, resulting in the Aeolian,
Dorian, or Phrygian mode, but the pentatonic character
persists owing to the typical inflections, turns, and
formulae of the melody. Melody lines do not lead to
a tonic-dominant combination, with the result that
four of the five degrees (the fundamental, third, fifth,
and seventh) carry equal significance; the fourth degree
generally appears as a passing tone. The melody is
characterized by the frequent skip of a perfect fourth.
There are almost always four lines which create a
heterogeneous strophe (i.e. ABCD). Musically, a "descending
structure" is often evident in which the third
and fourth lines occur as a transposition of the first
and second lines a perfect fifth down (i.e. A 5B 5AB).
The syllables in the strophe-lines are isometric, with
six to twelve syllables in each line, eight or twelve
being the most common. Parlando-rubato melodies
are also characterized by rich ornamentation, chiefly
at points of repose or on notes of long duration.
Bartók's belief that folk music should be
experienced at its source is of crucial importance
to the understanding of his artistic achievement, as
well as to the perception of his entire world of sound
and articulation. Such experience differentiates him
aesthetically from other composers who borrowed or
dealt with folk music by abstracting it from its source.
In his essay, "The influence of peasant music
on modern music," Bartók categorized the
ways in which a composer could compose with folk music.
- emphasize a melody--whether an authentic "precious
stone" or an imitation--in which the accompaniment
and the introductory and concluding phrases are of
- use the melody as a "motto" wherein that
is build around it is of real importance,
- employ music permeated with only the essence of
folk music elements. (15)
In arranging folk melodies (or his own imitations),
Bartók found that the pentatonic scale, besides
its melodic impulses, gave him harmonic suggestions;
in fact, the simpler the melody, the more complex and
alien the harmonization and accompaniment he could
write for it. The absence of tonic and dominant functions
and the equality of the first, third, fifth, and seventh
degrees made it natural to form a chord of these for
Ex. 1. Bartók, Twenty Hungarian Folksongs,
No. 15, "Bordal," mm.10-15.
How Bartók's attitude toward folk music developed
can be seen in his first vocal arrangements, the first
ten of Twenty Hungarian Folk Songs (1906)
and his Village Scenes, completed in 1924.
Whereas only five of his 1906 arrangements are in the parlando style,
four of the five in Village Scenes utilize
it. A possible explanation for this may be that the Twenty
Hungarian Folk Songs were arranged for the purpose
of educating the public in folk music: a public unacquainted
with this music would find songs in a more hearty,
rigid, rhythmic style (tempo giusto) easier
to comprehend. The accompaniments are clearly subordinate
to the folk melody: they echo the melody and only tentatively
add new harmonies, mostly through open thirds, fourths,
and fifths. The accompaniment rhythms adhere strictly
to the rhythm of the melody almost as if Bartók
were not yet at ease with the rhythmic spontaneity
The melodies of Village Scenes, by contrast,
were chosen to form a cycle, bonded by their common
portrayal of peasant life; they are entitled "Haymaking," "At
the Bride's," "Wedding," "Lullaby," and "Lad's
Dance." The songs are further bonded by repetition
or imitations of accompanying motives as in the first
and third songs, and by a staccato arpeggio in the
third and fourth songs. The piano is not subordinate
to the melody in Scenes: it is equally important,
taking the underlying qualities of the melodies and
developing them into art songs. Bartók employed
freely-written introductory and concluding phrases
as well as short interludes here which is not the case
with the Twenty Hungarian Folk Songs.
The melodies of Scenes also demonstrate
Bartók's later assimilation of the freedom of parlando style.
Ornamentation is included much more freely, and the
cry "Hej," occurring only once in one of
the 1906 arrangements, appears several times in the Scenes.
The 1906 songs seldom change meter, within the restrictions
of 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4; in Scenes, changing,
uneven meters are more the rule than the exception.
Harmonies in the latter lean toward polytonality with
an abundance of major and minor seconds, in addition
to Bartók's usual stress on the use of fourths
and fifths. Rhythmically, the accompaniments more often
contrast with, rather than follow the melodies.
With Bartók's piano arrangements, a rough
division may be made between vocal and instrumental parlando style.
In the vocal parlando style, the music is
either a folk-song arrangement, and the melodic line,
while it is rhythmically free and ornamented, retains
the characteristics of the original and is clearly
in a vocal idiom: all ornamentation, melodic ranges,
and rhythms are those which may be comfortably sung.
In Bartók's instrumental parlando music,
the melodic range is wider, ornamentation is more freely
written and often extended, and rhythms and tonalities
do not always adhere strictly to the original peasant-music
style. Nevertheless, the music maintains the nuance
of the Hungarian language, the rhythmic freedom, the
communication--enough characteristics of the parlando style
to be identified as such.
Bartók's initial parlando folk music
arrangements for piano solo were the first two of Three
Folksongs from the County of Csik (1907). These
are based on shepherds' flute tunes and, understandably,
are in a more instrumental than vocal idiom, though
the style is definitely parlando. The meters
change frequently (3/4, 2/4, 3/4, 3/8, 2/4 . . .) and
the accompaniment rhythms show more rhythmic freedom
than was displayed in the 1906 vocal arrangements.
It appears that Bartók was no longer writing
simple arrangements to educate a public, and that he
no longer required the coordination of a singer and
an accompanist in a free rhythmic style new to both;
being a pianist, he was naturally more comfortable
writing for his own medium.
In early 1908, Bartók composed his Fourteen
Bagatelles Opus 6 for piano, two of which (numbers
four and five) were obvious folk-song arrangements.
Bartók saw many of them as experimental, however,
and they contain many a turn or symbol extracted
from folk music to function in a new form. The first,
written in two keys simultaneously, shows aspects
of parlando style; here, Bartók has
begun to meet the instrumental problems of a vocal
style with new and more complicated articulation
Soon after completing the Bagatelles, Bartók completed Ten
Easy Pieces, the fifth of which, "Evening in Transylvania," is
his own synthesis of a folk song. Written in rondo form (ABABA), the themes alternate
between an unornamented melody in a classic parlando style, and one
in tempo giusto, with the distinctive
rhythm. These two melodies are simply arranged, but
slight rhythmic, articulate, and dynamic changes in
each repetition gradually build the piece to a climax.
László Somfai's attempt to transcribe
into current rhythmic notation the three versions Bartók
recorded of "Evening in Transylvania" deserves
to be better known. (16) The articulation and the inflection
of an implied text possess the same freedom as that
of a performer who "speaks" in the more familiar "mother
tongue" of a Mozart. With such familiarity, the
changes, variants, differences in the three versions
are not only possible but understandable, be it the
subtle modifications or actual divergences in rhythmic
articulation. A study of Somfai's transcription offers
the best opportunity to explore the significance of
Bartók's notation of parlando style,
as exemplified already in his For Children pieces.
His meticulous instructions in regard to dashes, stresses,
commas, and other breathing signs, are generally either
disregarded, or misread. Again, without knowledge of
the authentic style they refer to, of which they are
but a symbol, they cannot be given meaning in performance.
Bartók signifies parlando style by
articulation signs even when he does not write specifically parlando,
or parlando rubato at the beginning. "Evening
in Transylvania" was later arranged for orchestra
in Hungarian Sketches (1931) and demonstrates
Bartók's easy transference of the parlando style
from voice to piano to orchestra (parlando passages
in this case are played by woodwinds).
By 1908-09, with the completion of For Children,
(17) Bartók had achieved a more consistent style
in the folk idiom: the first four of Fifteen Hungarian
Peasant Songs for piano, written in 1918 and all
in parlando style, show the transition from
the folk song in a piano arrangement to the folk song
as an art song. These four songs, all original peasant
melodies, proceed as parts of one movement. Through
detailed articulation and metronomic indications, together
with accompaniments which utilize arpeggio chords with
dissonant tones alien to the melody, Bartók
added more personal expression to his parlando music.
The Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs
Opus 20, written in 1920, represent the subordination
of the folk melody to that which surrounds it--the
tune as a "motto." The third and seventh
melodies of the Improvisations are parlando,
and here Bartók achieves even greater freedom
in his expressive use of the style. As he perfected
its use, it became the most "Bartókian" musical
manifestation. In the third improvisation, he combined
a parlando melody in the most ancient style
with a "night music" accompaniment (see
Ex. 2. Bartók, Improvisations, Opus
20, No. 3, mm. 4-10.
The first, second, fourth, fifth, and sixth string
quartets each contain a single parlando theme
inserted into the sonata-exposition and recapitulation
of the third movement (see ex. 3). This theme is pentatonic
and inserts the rhythm
into an allegro-vivace movement containing the
regular ostinato accompaniment
of a swineherd's dance imitation. The first movement
(moderato) of the second string quartet, completed
in 1915-17, is closed by an idyllic, pentatonic folk-song
Ex. 3. Bartók, String Quartet
No. 1, third movement, mm. 94-96.
By 1928, when the fourth string quartet was completed,
Bartók was using the parlando style
more as a compositional style than for the general
effect of a parlando imitation folk song.
The nucleus of this quartet is the third movement (non
troppo lento) of which the main theme is a richly-ornamented,
instrumental-style parlando melody. Although
the theme is mostly chromatic, beginnings and endings
of phrases often consist of perfect fourth or perfect
fifth intervals. The modal ascending line F-G-A-B,
later developed as a descending motive and the often-repeated
rhythms, remind us also of its folk-music origins.
In the first movement (allegro) of the fifth
string quartet, completed in 1934, the parlando character
of the theme resides in its stammering tone repetitions,
separated by eighth rests. This is reminiscent of the
words of the narrator in Cantata Profana (1931),
whose words are interrupted by the exclamations of
. . . (Ai!)--But the largest stag gave answer-- (Ai!)--Of
all the sons the dearest--(Ai!) called in answer to
his father . . .
(See ex. 4)
Ex. 4. Batók, Cantata Profana,
The sixth string quartet was completed in November
1940, just before Bartók emigrated to the United
States. In this work, the parlando theme (mesto)
opens the first movement, is heard in the third movement,
and is developed throughout the fourth. This foreshadows
a similar technique in the Concerto for Orchestra.
As early as 1905, the first year of his collecting
tours, Bartók employed the orchestral parlando style
in the Suite No. 2, Opus 4. Although the work
was not completed until 1907, the first three movements
were finished in November of 1905. The third movement
is opened by a long bass clarinet solo which contains
the rhythmic freedom and the rhythm of parlando,
with the appropriate lack of anacrusis.
Bartók's only opera, Duke Bluebeard's
Castle (1911) clearly shows the influence of
Debussy who, in Pelléas et Mélisande,
had reached back to the declamation of the ancient
French language to incorporate the natural inflections,
stresses, and cadences in his recitative. The natural
Hungarian counterpart to this is the parlando style
of peasant music adopted by Bartók. He also
found in Debussy's music it "pentatonic phrases
similar in character to those contained in our peasant
Bartók chose to symbolize the ancient time
and timelessness of the Bluebeard legend by opening
the tale with an ancient, four-line pentatonic structure,
the parlando character of the vocal lines
being immediately apparent. Indeed, melodic lines throughout
tend towards the pentatonic and modal scales. Each
syllable of the text is sung to a single tone, creating
a constant recitative, and the libretto, by Béla
Balázs, follows the unvarying scheme of four
metric units of two syllables each per line of verse--in
perfect relation to the "ancient eight," so-called
because of the common tendency of Hungarian music and
poetry to follow this pattern. (19) Since the rhythm
is generally written in long lines of quarter and eighth
notes, an understanding of the parlando style
of peasant music is essential to the recreation of
the quantitative differences inherent in the language.
As in so much of Bartók's parlando music,
many examples of "nature" music may be found
in Duke Bluebeard's Castle (for example, the " Lake
of Tears" episode), again linking Bartók's
two basic themes (nature and freedom) expressed through
the freedom of parlando.
It was around 1930 that Bartók, in an extension
of his concern for things "natural" began
to react against the mechanization and greed of a civilization
which seemed to be destroying the old and natural values
and becoming alienated from nature. Against this background,
he composed his major work for chorus and orchestra,
the Cantata Profana, in which he stated explicitly
his desire f or a return to nature, the "clean
source." (21) The parlando style of this
work is not particularly apparent until the sons, out
hunting, are lost in the forest; with their transformation
into stags, a simple unornamented parlando melody
is suddenly heard. From this point onwards, the melodic
lines, particularly the solo lines, become more parlando in
character, climaxing in the tenor solo in which the
best-loved son pleads with his father not to shoot
his own children. For Bartók, determined to
find the primeval world in the twentieth century, the
sons' return to nature as stags was a return to freedom,
and his use of the parlando style was his
symbolic effort to return to an ancient world uncontaminated
by the shams of civilization.
Although parlando style is used frequently
in the Concerto for Orchestra (1943), the
core of the work is in the slow third movement (the "Elegia"),
the "lugubrious death-song" (22) as Bartók
called it. Within this universal expression of lament,
articulated in Hungarian parlando, one perceives
the composer's personal lament for his home country.
This work brings together not only instrumental families
and timbres in a sort of visionary "consort," as
the title implies, but also many elements of his entire
compositional world. Thus he achieves that all-encompassing
synthesis he sought and spoke of, i.e. the compositional
elements of Bach, Beethoven, and Debussy in their respective
linear, rhythmic, and harmonic constructions, together
with the peasant elements of East-Central Europe.
Such "reminiscences,"--a veritable migration
from one work to another of either peasant or original
elements, together with the incessant “variation,” mirroring
the ways of Nature itself (which for Bartók
represented the essence of music), make manifest the
fundamental unity of his entire oeuvre: unity
of idiom, aesthetics, techniques, and spiritual aim.
II. "Appearances of the dirge in Bartók's
The most extreme form and the most enlightening source
of delivery of this "mother tongue," parlando style
is to be found in peasant dirges. Joseph Szigeti relates
his experience with Bartók's recordings of such
When Bartók played for me some records he
had made of improvised lamentation songs, or rather
orations, it was a gripping revelation. Sorrowing
peasant women who had lost some dear one--a child,
or a grown-up son--had been induced somehow to face
the (to them) terrifying recording machine, chant
into it their names and ages, describe their grievous
loss in unrhymed song (or rather Sprech- gesang); they would
sometimes break down sobbing, in the middle of the
record . . . (24)
Bartók points out that these dirges can be
grouped with the general oeuvre of ceremonial
songs. As such, they can tend to degenerate into frozen
formulas, although originally an expression of spontaneous
feelings. However, he claims that the "sobbing
which inevitably goes with the performance of the mourning
songs by the near female relatives is usually genuine." (25)
In vol. 2 of his Rumanian Folk Music, published
as recently as 1967, Bartók gives a detailed
description of the structure, text and significance
of mourning songs. (26) He makes a clear differentiation
between those of Rumanian and those of Hungarian origin,
with particular reference to the elements of melody,
mode, and text. Rumanian peasant dirges consist of
. . . using certain traditional patterns; the metrical
structure is the well-known acatalectic or catalectic
quaternary, with aa, bb rhymes.
On the whole, major thirds occur as frequently as
minor in these mourning song melodies. These . . .and
many other . . .examples prove that in Eastern European
folk music, no standard connections exist between the
use of minor scale and expression of sorrow on the
one hand, and the use of major scale and expression
of merriment or joy on the other. Such connections
are purely Western European conceptions.
The four-section structure is frequently unstable,
changing from stanza to stanza by way of alternating
with three-section structure.
Very characteristic features include the ending of
some of the sections in which the shortened final tones,
produced with a break of the voice, give the effect
of stylized sobs . . .
The well-known Hungarian mourning song melodies represent
a completely different type. First of all, the texts
are improvisations in prose: there are no rhymes and
no metrical structure of the lines. Accordingly, the
melodies have a rather free stanza structure--if one
is allowed to call them stanzas at all. (24)
Ex. 5. Hungarian Dirge.
In ex. 5, from the recorded collection Hungarian
Folk Music, (28) the notation (which attempts
to convey the speech-like tones of the improvisations)
follows the description of the signs given by Bartók
himself in his "Introduction" to Rumanian
Folk Music. (29)
The actual designation "dirge" first appears
in the composition entitled Four Dirges which
dates from 1910. The term can be applied to the last
movement of the Suite, Opus14 of
1916. Yet, it is the second movement of the Piano
Sonata of 1926 which provides what is perhaps
the most easily recognized parallel with the peasant
style of lamenting. The reiteration and intensification
of single pitches, the flexibility of the articulation
(signified by dashes), and the characteristic abrupt
interruptions found in this movement can all be heard
on the above-mentioned recordings and observed in the
Ex. 6. Bartók, Piano Sonata, second
The elements of such style can also be observed in
the first and second string quartets. In the opening
movement of the first quartet, marked lento,
the viola, at m. 33, plays a rhapsodic passage in descending
steps, described by Halsey Stevens as "Mannheim
sighs," (30) over a pedal point in the 'cello.
Also, in the first movement of the second string quartet,
a repeated-note melody with a lament character appears
in a slow sostenuto passage following a dynamic
climax in the development section.
Pierre Boulez's statement that the opening movement
of Music for Strings, Percussion. and Celesta contains
no folk elements (3l) is contrary to its actual relation
to peasant dirges. This relationship can be experienced
by hearing, in sequence, recorded laments by peasant
women, Bartók's performance of Suite, Opus
14, and the opening movement the Music for
Strings, Percussion, and Celesta. It is a truly
gripping and an especially revealing coincidence that
Solti's reading of the latter is in exactly the same
mood and tempo as Bartók's playing of Opus
The title "Elegia" in the Concerto
for Orchestra (1934) seems to represent a return
to, as well as a synthesis of the entire spectrum
of articulation, mood, mode, and meaning of the lamenting
style. It encompasses the ancient peasant style,
the Lisztian "en mode hongrois," as well
as being a memento of a disappearing peasant
musical world and of Bartók's taking leave
of it. Bartók's exploration of the dirge style--its
static elements, slowness of movement, immobility
within musical time, and insistence within the musical
space of pitch and rhythm--remains the richest, most
original and imaginative of all similar musical investigations.
Even though the compositional elements of Bartók's
dirge, Arabian, Bulgarian, and Turkish styles are generally
different, the intervallic construction (repeated tonal
centres, reiteration, and narrow compass) of the dirge
is common to all four of these styles. It is only the
individual movement of these elements of intervallic
construction within their musical orbits, their own
time and space, which enables us to distinguish one
from the other. While great attention and study is
being spent on analysis of structure seldom is the "invisible
geometry" of movement given consideration. The
problem of rendering the invisible choreography inherent
in the musical design either verbally or in notation
makes a study of "gesture" a futile aim.
And yet, as the word signifies, it is the gesture which
carries the musical substance in time, giving it impulse,
amplitude, and duration.
When we are confronted with Bartók's contradictory
statements regarding the sources of his Dance Suite movements,
which at one time he said to be of Arab derivation,
while later he claimed them to be Hungarian, we are
puzzled by the interchange of such disparate folk elements.
But as the movement of the eye can assemble and reassemble,
form, and compose completely different figures out
of one and the same visual structure, so can the ear
perceive and discriminate between various movements
within similar musical structures. One is reminded
of the ideas attributed to Leonardo, to the effect
that it is movement which gives shape to form, while
structure orders it.
No amount of abstract analysis of structure could
supply such knowledge or reveal the similarities and
differences of stylistic, national gestures, their
echoes, correspondences and divergence. For the performer,
the crucial knowledge is that of movement, which derives
from an acquaintance with the living articulation and
delivery of a certain style, it is this knowledge which
enables the performer to interpret the Rumanian or
the Arab character of one and the same piece.
III. "The Arabian influence in Bartók's
Unlike the examples taken from Bartók's Hungarian
and Rumanian collections, those from his Arabian collection
are not available commercially. However, in the fall
of 1975, the author was able to hear and study Arabian
material at the Bartók Archives in Budapest.
There are sixty-five recorded melodies of various types
which Bartók notated in 1913 in the Biskra oasis
in Northern Algeria, one of the main "doors" to
the Sahara. (33) In order to illustrate the characteristics
of Arabian music and to correlate them with Bartók's
compositions, recorded examples taken from recent collections
of North African folk music were also used.
As Kárpáti points out, Bartók's
research, even if small, was important at the time.
While the work of other eminent scholars such as Erich
von Hornbostel was based solely on examples recorded
by others, Bartók's belief in the necessity
for the scholar himself to record the material in the
field made his contribution truly unique. (34) He was
the first to make a scientific distinction between
the musical styles of town and village in North Africa
and to use the methods of classification of what was
then called comparative musicology; that is, he classified
the material according to ambitus, melodic
structure, and the length of motif. He hypothesized
that a link might exist between the musical products
of Algerian villages and analogous Ukrainian, Iraqi,
Persian, and Rumanian examples, and about the possibility
that such a link could be ascribed to an "origin
of direct filiation" and not simply to coincidence
or chance. (35)
In a report on this visit, Bartók stressed
that his research concerned peasant rural music only.
He pointed out two remarkable characteristics which
are not found in European music.
Firstly, percussion instruments accompany almost
every tempo giusto melody, and secondly, the
intervals of the scale are only infrequently based
on the diatonic or chromatic system. Furthermore, these
intervals change according to locality, performer,
and the instrument used. (36)
Bartók identified three types of melodies,
classified according to their function. The Knéja,
a secular type, was not confined to any special occasion
and comprised unaccompanied tempo rubato songs
and tempo giusto songs which were accompanied
by percussion. The Qseida, of religious significance,
was sung (by men only) in strict rhythm accompanied
by the darbuka, with the voice and instrument
alternating. Notation of the text was, however, impossible
because of the linguistic difficulty. (37) Kárpáti
points out that Bartók believed that in order
to gain full comprehension of the melodies of a people
it was necessary to understand the words.(38)
The third type of melody comprised the instrumental
dances: dances and dance-like tunes which were used
on special occasions without actual dancing. In these
tunes, accompanied by percussion, Bartók noticed
that different rhythmic formations resulted mainly
from the different accentuation of equal metric units.
Indeed, in exploiting the different possibilities of
accentuation and the ordered division of strokes between
the hands, he found that extremely varied rhythmic
formulas were obtained even though the metric length
of each pulse was identical. (39)
Bartók most extended and complex utilization
of this feature of Arabian music occurs in his Sonata
for Two Pianos and Percussion (first movement,
mm.232-259) where a single motif is presented
twenty-eight times in different guises. The subtlety
of repetition can only be savoured if the imagination
is able to recall the intricacy of the percussion instruments
themselves, together with the complexity of performance
involving dynamics, hand and finger strokes, rhythmic
shifts, and positions. Bartók accompanies each
repetition of the motif with a change of dynamics
or context. If could be said that the manual "duality" of
the folk music is expanded in Bartók's art to
the duality of the pianists plus percussionists, each
piano being used at times as one hand. This same idea
of percussive duality is exemplified in miniature in "Bulgarian
Rhythm," No.113 of Mikrokosmos, which,
significantly, Bartók transcribed for two pianos.
Bartók found that the ambitus of
the above-mentioned Arabian melodic types was extremely
small--two or three notes. Sometimes the range was
extended by trills, or other ornaments, and/or descending
slides at the end of melodies. Trills can be found
in Nos.37 and 41 of the Biskra collection, mordents
in Nos. 24, 33, 35, 36, 38-40, and slides in Nos. 1,
3, and 19. Repetition of short motives characterizes
the form: the highly developed rhythm features different
types of syncopation and polymeters which never vary
during a performance, thus functioning as ostinati.
As Kárpáti points out, Bartók
never quotes directly from his Arabian collection;
the influence is manifested in themes, motifs,
special forms of accompaniment, as well as in the use
of scales, melodic turns, and rhythmic formulas. (40)
In the third movement of the Suite, Opus 14 (1916),
a continuous eighth-note ostinato (see ex.
7) results in a motory [sic] rhythm [which] has much
in common with the drum effects of Arab folk music." (41)
The minor second is a predominant interval of the melody
which uses only a total of four notes, the range spanning
only a perfect fifth. The second theme (given as ex.
8) has a coiling effect.
Ex. 7. Bartók, Suite, Opus 14,
third movement, m. 11.
Ex. 8. Bartók, Suite, Opus 14,
third movement, mm. 61-63.
Arabian folk music is further evoked in the second
movement of the second string quartet (1915-17) in
both the drum-like accompaniment and the melodic figures
of the theme. The entire movement is built on a relentless
eighth-note figure imitating the beating of drums (see
ex. 9). Kárpáti also makes a connection
between No. 42 ("Arab Song") of the Forty-four
Violin Duos (1931) and No. 15 of the Biskra collection.
(42) These are given as ex. 10 and ex. 11.
Ex. 9. Bartók, String Quartet,
No. 42, second movement, mm.12-24.
Ex. 10. Bartók, Forty-four
Violin Duos, No. 42, "Arabian Dance."
Ex. 11. Biskra collection, No.
Typical of many Arabian melodies is the serpentine
movement of a melody around a central axis. Example
12 from The Miraculous Mandarin illustrates
this characteristic. (43)
Ex. 12. Bartók, Miraculous Mandarin,
In 1931, Bartók wrote the following in reference
to the Dance Suite for Orchestra (1923):
No. 1 has partly, while No. 4 entirely an oriental
(Arabic) character. "Ritornelli" and No.
2 have a Hungarian one, [while] in No. 3, [the influences
are] Hungarian [and] Rumanian. Moreover, Arabic influences
alternate with each other. (44)
In the first movement, the bassoon theme, which is
restricted to four notes, has an ambitus of
a minor third, and produces the already-mentioned coiling
effect. This theme is shown in ex. 13.
Ex. 13. Bartók, Dance Suite for Orchestra,
first movement, mm1-5.
In citing the fourth string quartet (1928), Kárpáti
remarks that "the drum imitation accompanying
the Arab-like melody ...got its asymmetrical emphasis
as a result of the influence of...Arab metre..." (45)
The Arabian influence is especially significant in
the music of Bartók because, as Kárpáti
concludes, it affected his new musical language in
general without specific "evocative" intents;
for example, in the accompaniment rhythms, in ostinato principles,
and in characteristic divisions of melody and the use
of oriental scales. It is apparent that Bartók's
1913 encounter with Arabian music can indeed be compared
in significance to his discovery of Hungarian peasant
music seven years before. (46) He assimilated into
his compositions the characteristic ornamentation,
the centring around one note, the coiling effect, the
predominance of the augmented second and minor third
intervals, and the rhythmic ostinato effects.
IV. "Bulgarian rhythm and its manifestation
in Bartók's compositions. (47)
Of the many cultural influences present in Bartók's
compositions, one that is frequently made manifest
is the enigmatic style of Bulgarian rhythm; enigmatic,
since it occurs almost exclusively in Bulgaria. In
fact, Bulgaria is the only European country where asymmetrical
metric and rhythmic forms are an integral part of national
art. The exact genealogy of this rhythmic form is relatively
vague. Arabic and/or Greek roots are possibilities,
but no conclusive evidence has been brought forth to
clarify the situation. Examples of Bulgarian rhythm
in Greek or Arabic music are extremely isolated.
In his essay "The So-Called Bulgarian Rhythm," Bartók
defined this musical phenomenon as:
. . . that in which the quantities indicated in the
irregular time signature are exceptionally ( =
300-400 MM.) short and in which these very short,
basic quantities are not evenly--that is to say, not
within the larger quantities. (48)
The basic temporal unit of Bulgarian rhythm is the
sixteenth note, although Bartók advocates the
use of the eighth note. For the most part, the time
signature is an odd number, lending itself to the application
of hemiola (the lengthening of a note value
by half) which is an integral part of the Bulgarian
rhythmic character. Bulgarian rhythms are obtained
by the combination of ordinary time values with lengthened
values in a hemiola-like relationship, producing an
additive metrical structure within the confines of
each bar. The speed of Bulgarian music causes the units
to be grouped aurally, forming the ground plan for
this additive construction. The most common manner
of designating the time signature and units within
them are as follows: 5/16 2+3 or 3+2, 7/16 2+2+3, 8/16
3+2+3, and 9/16 2+2+2+3. These groupings are the most
prevalent, but individual patterns can be and are varied
by manipulating the temporal units, as shown in ex.14.
The most likely forum for Bulgarian rhythm is in the
national dances of the country; for example, in the Ručenitza or
handkerchief dance in 7/16 time and the Pajduška or
limping dance in 5/16 time.
A question which comes to mind here is that of differentiation
between Bulgarian rhythm and some other kind of rhythmic
designation, especially when referring to Bartók's
compositions: that is, what criteria can be established
for the inclusion of a rhythm in a Bulgarian-influenced
list. It is of primary importance to realize the salient
characteristics of Bulgarian rhythm: a quick tempo,
short temporal units, asymmetrical structures of individual
bars, and consistency within a self-contained section.
Further, when this kind of musical parameter is juxtaposed
within a different context, it will usually undergo
some kind of metamorphosis. In this regard, it must
be remembered that the use of aboriginal source material
in Bartók's music falls into three main categories:
direct quotation, quotation and synthesis, and complete
Ex.14. Variation of the temporal units.
These criteria would rule is out pieces such as Stravinsky's Le
sacre du printemps and Jeu de cartes,
for the asymmetrical gestures presented there are
not consistent in the macrostructure, appearing contiguously
with symmetrical measures. The manifestation of asymmetrical
division in music is also a trait of other Eastern
European music, although not to the extent found
in Bulgarian music. Another reason for non-inclusion
in this list is the fact that the use of Bulgarian
rhythm by Stravinsky and others was probably not
a conscious one. Bartók makes this point in
his article, "The influence of peasant music
on modern music." (49)
Difficulty is also encountered in determining the
use of syncopation as a cause of asymmetrical structure.
Syncopation is defined as a deliberate shift of the
meter and rhythm, which in Bulgarian music is an isolated
and rare phenomenon; the asymmetry created by irregular
groupings within the bar is inherent within the Bulgarian
Bulgarian rhythm is present in many of Bartók's
compositions where it appears as a synthesis and not
as a literal quotation. His particular use of it coincides
approximately with the time of composition of the Mikrokosmos (1926-1939).
Nos. 113 and 115 (Book 4) and Nos. 148 to 153 (Book
6) are what could be termed lessons in Bulgarian rhythmic
constructions, for the most common meters and asymmetrical
delineations appear. Each of these pieces has the characteristic
short temporal unit and fast tempo marking; the last
six have additive time signatures. The selections from
the Mikrokosmos, with the exception of No.115
which is Bulgarian in theme as well as rhythm, are
syntheses of the original source material. Bartók
explained them thus:
These are not Bulgarian folksongs, merely rhythms
- the so-called Bulgarian rhythm. They are original
compositions and contain no folk melodies . . . Incidentally,
many of the pieces in Bulgarian rhythm are not of Bulgarian
character and indeed some of their melodies are like
the Hungarian grafted onto Bulgarian rhythm. (50)
The third movement of the fifth string quartet (1934)
continues the practice of direct allusion to Bulgarian
rhythm. This particular movement is titled "Alla
bulgarese"; the time signature is additive and
is written as such (9/8= 4+2+3). The scherzo is
plays at a speed of
= 414 MM. The trio is in a 3+2+2+3 pattern at the even
faster tempo of
= 120 MM. or
= 600 MM.
Another very clear example and the final one in Bartók's
output is contained in the work Contrasts,
specifically the middle section of the third movement "Sebes." While
the preceding and following sections are both in a
regular meter, the Bulgarian rhythmic section is designated
by a time signature of 8+5 which is further broken
down 8 as (3+2+3) + (2+3). The tempo marking is =
330 MM. and is consistent throughout the section. The
asymmetrical rhythmic structure, fast tempo, and additive
meter distinctly portray the salient characteristics
of Bulgarian rhythm.
Although Bartók was aware of Bulgarian music
as early as 1912, his use of its characteristic rhythm
as a compositional device did not occur until the publication
of Vasil Stoin's Grundriss der Metrik und der Rhythmik
der bulgarischen Volkmusik in 1927, coinciding,
as previously mentioned, with the writing of the Mikrokosmos.
Other pieces which exhibit this characteristic are:
the Violin Duos, Nos. 22 and 35 (1931); the
fifth movement of the fourth string quartet (1928);
the fourth movement of the Music for Strings, Percussion,
and Celesta (1936); and the second theme of the
first movement of the Sonata for Two Pianos and
A significant aspect of Bartók's use of the
Bulgarian element is its interplay and juxtaposition
with the rhythmic scansion of tempo giusto.
This results in a variety of dynamic scripts or successions
of events which, by opposing and by exchanging their
Bulgarian or giusto nature (their spirit and
rhythmic design), create their own level of choreography
and rhythmic expression. This can be studied in the
third movement of the Piano Sonata, and in
the Finale of the Concerto for Orchestra,
in Contrasts, and in the third movement of
the Third Piano Concerto.
V. "Béla Bartók: Rumanian Sources."
Among all the folk sources from which Bartók
drew, none is perhaps richer than the Rumanian one.
It has drawn from so many other folk and national streams
--the Persian, Turkish, Arab, Slavic, and Hungarian.
But the amalgam so derived is quite unique, and is
Although Bartók devoted nine years (from 1909)
to the actual collection of Rumanian music, his immense
labour (1,440 vocal melodies, 1,115 instrumental tunes,
and poetic texts) took thirty-seven years to complete.
(52) Bartók's own introductions to his Rumanian
Folk Music are all too often ignored by professional
musicians and performers. This is most unfortunate
since they afford the most enlightening and convincing
experience of the significance, scope, and poignancy
of the composer's endeavor. The dimensions touched
are not only of ethnomusicological interest, scholarly
example, and historical value, but above all, of poetic
insight, artistic surprise, and human testimony.
Besides the simplicity and the exclusion of all non-essentials
which represent a fundamental aspect of all folk music,
Rumanian melody and rhythm are both characterized by
augmentation and diminution. Augmentation becomes an
extension in range of the theme in whatever scale or
mode Bartók is using. Shifting rhythms, extra-structural
repetition, and reference to parlando-rubato style
are also characteristic.
The three main areas of focus in Rumanian folk music
are vocal melodies, colinde, and instrumental
tunes. All of these areas are further divided and subdivided.
The hora lunga or doina, the most
representative Rumanian song, can express any emotion
or mood, depending upon the performer and the situation.
The effect of this expression is present in a great
deal of Bartók's music, but it cannot be analyzed
specifically. "Buciumeana," No. 4 from the Rumanian
Folk Dances for piano and the central section
from the Rumanian Dance, Opus 8a, No. 1 may
be cited as examples. The influence of the instrumental
dance tunes, on the other hands, is readily apparent.
Most of these tunes stem from dance melodies that
were originally sung with text, and may be divided
into five main types. The first is from the Bihor region
of Rumania and is related to the parlando-style
melodies in that it uses the same scales, melodic twists,
and three-section structure. Dances of this type include
the maruntel and ardeleana, although
they are rarely found in their original forms. The
second group is described as “heroic" owing
to the military rhythm which is characteristic. Whether
in 2/4 or 6/8 time, the scales used are the same and
the melodic intervals consist largely of minor thirds,
augmented seconds, and altered sixths. Those in 6/8
time are less numerous and extremely varied. Examples
of "heroic" dances are the de alungu,
the de ciuit, and the hora, the Rumanian
national dance, a whirling or circular dance of many
variations, in which the musicians play in the Middle
of the circle while the dancers sing, shout, and dance
around them. The true ardeleana (the third
type) is closely connected to the "heroic" dance
melodies in 2/4 time, although it is much faster and
has a more even rhythm. There is some speculation that
the ardeleana may be related to the Hungarian verbunkos,
derived from the shepherd dance which in turn may have
its origins in the Ukrainian kolomyjka. The
fourth category of dance melodies includes those based
on a short motive, have no set form, and are an inherent
part of bagpipe music. Bartók believed that
they preceded a period of more complicated structural
development. The fifth variety can be found in the
Hunedoara region where there is no music for bagpipes
or violin, only for the fluer or peasant flute.
Aside from a few ceremonial pieces, these dance tunes
have no consistency of form or melodic patterns.
Rumanian folk melodies are frequently formed on a
lydian scale with the tritone featured. This is often
coupled with a mixolydian scale characterized by its
minor seventh. The basic melodic outline is coloured
by rich ornamentation and improvisation, and sections
are almost always eight syllables in length. These
basic features form the fundamentals for Bartók's
own melodic Rumanian style, as seen, for example, in
Opus 8a. His harmonic style, labeled by him as "modal
chromaticism," frequently employs the minor seventh
as a consonant interval, builds chords of fourths,
and uses the tritone freely, as in the Rumanian dance
As early as the Rumanian Dances, Opus 8a
(1909) and No. 6 of Sketches, both for piano,
Bartók was able to create completely original
material which was entirely Rumanian in character.
This Rumanian quality is also apparent in the third
and fifth movements of the Dance Suite for Orchestra (1923)
which is also constructed upon original material. Actual
folk-tune arrangements are present in No. 5 of Sketches,
the Rumanian Folk Dances, the Rumanian
Colinde, and the Sonatina, all written
for piano in 1915. The combination of folk melodies
and original material is well exemplified in three
works of 1928: the two Rhapsodies for Violin and
Piano and the fifth movement of the fourth string
quartet which incorporates the rhythmic ardeleana (see
ex. 15). (53) The opening of the final movement of
the Concerto for Orchestra (1943) has all
the wild whirling motions of the hora. Erich
Leinsdorf has cited the common misreading of Bartók's
metronome marking (=
134-146) in this movement and has noted the unfortunate
loss of character and clarity of articulation resulting
from the excessive tempo usually adopted. (54)
Ex. 15. Batrók, String Quartet No.
4, Fifth movement, mm. 15-18.
Rumanian folk music had a considerable influence
on Bartók's style. Consequently, there is a
certain poignancy evoked by the image of the composer,
near the end of his life, surrounded by slips of paper
on which he was copying and correcting the tunes of
his huge Rumanian collections, with no prospect at
all for their publication, yet obeying the urge and
the conviction that the labour was important, necessary,
and not in vain. (55)
VI. "Aboriginal instruments and Bartók's
sound spectrum." (56)
For the performer in general, the solution of a melodic
idea comes, as Ralph Kirkpatrick advised, by singing
it; of a rhythmic idea, by dancing it. (57) For the
first, the proper articulation and phrasing of a melodic
line, the knowledge of the particular accentuation
of a language is necessary; for the second, the articulation
of a rhythm, the knowledge of a dance movement, of
its character, speed, its steps, its overall gesture,
is crucial. To this awareness one may add the need
for knowledge of a particular instrumental timbre;
the performer who possesses it is able to recreate
the sound spectrum, the required acoustical balance
and combination that belong to a particular instrumental
style. Jürgen Uhde's phrase Klangspektrum (sound
spectrum) (58) describes the novel blend of sonorities,
acoustical relationships, and investigations of previously
untried timbric possibilities and techniques found
in Bartók's music. This blend was nourished
by the composer's familiarity with the neglected realm
of peasant musical instruments.
Some instances of Bartók's unconventional
use of conventional symphonic instruments, especially
the string and percussion instruments, suggest influences
beyond the traditional orchestral environment. In the
fourth movement of the fourth string quartet, Bartók
instructs the performers to pluck the string in mm.
48 to 51 in such a manner that it hits the finger board.
This particular sound recalls the peasant musician's
practice of plucking the strings of a cello-like instrument
while striking it with a stick. (59)
Bartók was meticulous in his instructions
to the percussionist He was concerned with producing
several different timbres by striking the instruments
in different areas; for example, the cymbal is to be
played in the regular playing area as well as at the
edge and the centre. The snare drum is to be played
in the same manner, with the additional possibilities
of engaged or disengaged snares. He also designates
the use of specific beaters to create contrasting sounds;
for instance, the percussionist is instructed to play
the triangle with light, normal, and heavy beaters
as well as wooden sticks. The suspended cymbal is to
be played with yarn (soft) sticks, wooden sticks, and
fingernails. Bartók also advises the percussionist
to use specific parts of the stick, including the butt
end, bead end, and shaft, for sound production. The
above effects can be found in the Sonata for Two
Pianos and Percussion.
In the Béla Bartók Essays,
the composer's descriptions of peasant instruments,
their music, and their performance have been grouped
under the general title "The folklore instruments
and their music in Eastern Europe."
Our interest, of course, is only in music performed
on folk instruments, as originating from peasant hands.
A general rule: folk instruments--as we designate them--are
only those instruments produced in the villages by
the peasants themselves, without imitating some artificial
manufactured instrument (for instance, the peasant
flute or violin), or which are the direct descendants
of some instrument originally produced in the village
(the Jew's harp is now produced in factories)--in contrast
with the accordion, the clarinet, instruments of the "brass-band," and
so forth. It is conceivable, however, that (as an exception)
a peasant could play in a genuine peasant style on
the clarinet or even on the piano. From the folklore
viewpoint, such performance, although uncommon, would
be of certain interest too. But when a peasant becomes
civilized to the extent that he turns to the clarinet
instead of the peasant flute, he is lost to folklore;
he wants to play in a gentlemanly way on professional
musical instruments--for example, in imitation of gipsy
performance, etc. His imitations for the most part
are worthless. Conversely, it sometimes happens that
peasants imitate art style on their folk instruments.
This too, of course, is of no value to us.
Thus far  we have discovered the following
folk instruments in Hungarian villages: bagpipe, peasant
flute, the so-called hurdy-gurdy, natural horn....
As the listing discloses, we do not find any special
Hungarian instrument. The bagpipe (Dudelsack, cornemuse)
and the hurdy-gurdy (Leierkasten, vielle)
were spread all over Europe and are more or less still
in use today. In fact, in Eastern Europe, Italy, and
even in Paris one can find old vielleurs'.
The peasant flute is equally well-known everywhere.
Before we review the various instruments and the
melodies recorded from them, we should mention a particular
circumstance: we did not meet with any absolute (that
is, without text) or otherwise special instrumental
music among the Hungarians. The music performed on
instruments is an ornamented performance of more or
less well-known folk songs with text. (60)
Two elements should be considered in understanding
how peasant instruments influenced Bartók's
compositional style. The first deals with whether or
not the instruments were used for melody, drone/harmony,
accompaniment, or rhythm, while the second concerns
the way in which instruments functioned in the peasant
Within the first category, certain instruments serve
more than one function (such as the bagpipes), and
must be included in more than one category. Melody
instruments include the bagpipes, shepherd's flute,
short (furulya) and long (hossú furulya) flutes,
tárogató, violin, and to a lesser extent,
the hurdy-gurdy. These instruments provide unrestricted
melodic possibilities while others, such as the tilinkó,
kanasztülok, and alphorn are more limited because
they can produce only the notes of the natural harmonic
series. The instruments of this second group are generally
confined to melodic/rhythmic motives: for a tilinkó melody,
see ex. 16. (61)
Ex. 16. Tilinkó melody.
Drone instruments include, in addition to the bagpipes,
the hurdy-gurdy and the accompaniment violin. Because
the lower strings of the hurdy-gurdy easily over-power
its melody string, it is usually employed as a drone/accompaniment
instrument. The transferring of drone patterns to the
fiddle or violin is common to both folk music and the
Viennese classical tradition. This drone instinct,
so to speak, compels the peasant musician to add a
sort of growl even as he blows on his long flute (for
instance, in Bartók's collection on Folkways
recordings). Bartók renders this effect through
arpeggiated chords, such as those found in his piano
transcriptions of peasant songs (ex. 17).
Ex. 17. Bartók, Fifteen Hungarian
Peasant Songs, No. 1, mm. 10-12.
In the original application of peasant instruments,
two distinct purposes can be recognized: dance music
and personal music. The dance played a prominent role
in the social life of the peasant, and almost all festive
occasions, including wedding and religious ceremonies,
incorporated it as an indispensable component. Personal
music also played an important part in the peasant's
daily life. Shepherds not only employed primitive instruments
to communicate between themselves and to call their
herds, but also used more advanced instruments to pass
Transcriptions of original melodies for aboriginal
instruments can be found in several of Bartók's
compositions, most of which date from before 1915.
Some examples include the bag-pipe melody of No. 15
from the Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs (1914-17,
recorded with Bartók at the piano); the flute
melody of No. 26 from vol. 2 of For Children (1908-09);
the violin tunes from all the Rumanian Folk Dances
from Hungary (1915) except for No. 4; and the
flute melodies of the Three Hungarian Folk Songs
from the County Csik (1907) (ex. 18).
Ex. 18. Bartók, Three Hungarian Folk
Songs from the County Csik, No. 1, mm. 1-4.
During the years 1915 to 1935, Bartók continued
to explore the sound potential of original peasant
instruments, including their characteristic accompaniment
possibilities--especially the drone effect and repeated
eighth-note figures. Examples of this style include
bagpipes in mm. 9 to 25 of the third movement of the Dance
Suite (1923); the piano imitation of the cimbalom
as from m. 1 in the Violin Sonata No. 1 (1921);
and the tárogató in bars 6 to 17 of the
third movement of Music for Strings, Percussion,
and Celesta (1936).
This association with the tárogató in
the above example is parallel with that of Halsey Stevens
in the third movement of the Fourth Quartet.
(62) In both examples, the improvisational character,
the freely decorated melodic line, and above all, the
melodic range and timbre, recall the "pastoral
melancholy" of the old woodwind instrument. Both
examples, however, as well as others with similar characteristics,
may also be understood as a generic abstraction of
the parlando style.
An interesting correlation between peasant instrumental
sound and Bartók's use of the orchestra in The
Concerto for Orchestra is offered in a recent
article by Benjamin Suchoff. (63) Music for Strings,
Percussion, and Celesta and the Sonata for
Two Pianos and Percussion like-wise reveal the
development and transfiguration of examples of the
aboriginal sound spectrum and invite further exploration
VII. "The 'night' music of Béla Bartók."
Bartók's statement regarding the three ways
of composing with folk material (see section I) can
be related in general to the larger themes which pervade
his oeuvre. We find in his music the transforming
approach achieved by transcription; the abstracting
approach in which authentic elements are played with,
composed with, out of their total context; and the
transcendent approach in what he called the sublimation
of folklore. No-where is this third mode better exemplified
than in his "nature" and "night" music,
in which a vast musical landscape becomes his "mother
The particular aspect of "nature" and "night" in
Bartók's music in a way summarizes many of the
components of his musical idiom. It is tempting to
associate this aspect with Bartók's indication "Religioso" (adopted
only once, in his Third Piano Concerto), if
one considers that the etymology of the word religare points
to that "connectedness" which is implicit
in the music and its structure.
The following works contain those compositional elements
which determine the categories of "nature" and "night": Bagatelles,
Opus 6 Nos. 3 and 12 (1908); Mikrokosmos Nos.
63 ("Buzzing"), 97 ("Notturno"),
102 ("Harmonics"), 107 ("Melody in the
Mist"), 125 ("Boating"), 132 ("Major
seconds together and broken"), 142 ("From
the Diary of a Fly"), and 144 ("Minor seconds,
major sevenths") (1926-39); Improvisations No.
3 (1920); Out of Doors No. 4 "The Night's
Music"; String Quartet No. 4 (1928); Piano
Concerto No. 2, second movement (1930-31); String
Quartet No. 5, second movement (1934); Music
for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, third movement
(1936); Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion,
second movement (1937); Concerto for Orchestra,
second movement (1943); Piano Concerto No.
3, second movement (1945); and Viola Concerto,
second movement (1945).
The originality of Bartók's achievement lies
above all in the structural use he made of his chosen
elements: it is not limited to his investigation of
particular elements, such as instrumental combinations,
sound effects, rhythmic design, articulation, mood,
character, and characterization. Beyond the analytical
and theoretical description of the design and of the
construction of temporal and timbric components, one
can observe a common pattern which links all the above
compositions psychologically as well as technically.
The arguments first proposed by Szabolcsi (65) and
by Masimo Mila (66) are used here as a basis for illustration
of Bartók's use of time, space, and timbre.
The essay by Mila deserves to be better known in spite
of the rhetorical bent which makes English rendition
problematic. Even in its early version of 1951, the
essay provided perhaps the most penetrating commentary
on this dimension of Bartók's music outside
of Hungarian sources. Ernö Lendvai's 1947 article
on Bartók's "Night Music," which Mila
refers to, appears in all bibliographies, but seems
to remain impervious to translation into English. (67)
Mila has borrowed Lendvai's analogy of Bartók's
night symbolism to that of the Hungarian Romantic poet
Vörösmarty as exemplified in the "Monologue" of
the night from the play Csongor and Tünde (1830).
While Lendvai used this analogy in connection with
the night aspect in Bartók's opera Duke
Bluebeard's Castle, Mila suggests its application
to all the "great, slow movements" of Bartók:
these seem to belong to the category by virtue of their
construction as well as their spiritual affinity. They
all share an opening section which seems "like
the beginning of things, the passage from Chaos to
Cosmos" and a course of compositional procedure
in which the musical material "is born as if in
the presence of the listener, as substances combining
with one another." This technique of "successive
germination from an initial cell," which Mila
defines as autointegratrice (self-integrating),
obviously derives from Beethoven's late style, the
comparison with the contrappunto germinale o autointegrativo of
the C-sharp minor Quartet, Opus 131 being
a familiar one and Beethoven's Adagio ma non troppo
e molto espressivo representing "the matrix
for similar ways of connecting musical sound." Bartók's
achievement and his greatness, however, are determined
(according to Mila) by his having gone beyond stylistic
borrowing and mere experimentation, toward an intuition
of nature as a "secret nuclear reality," as
a mystery to be deciphered. (68) To adopt a contemporary
concept used by linguists, it appears that Bartók
approached folksong, which he studied as a natural
phenomenon, by viewing it as a point of arrival rather
than as a point of departure: a microcosm which he
considered a sort of miniature masterpiece. (69)
According to Mila, Bartók's intuition of nature
as a mystery is manifested by his "continuous
need for creation of sound," by his "passionate
explorations at the threshold of noise." It is
significant, says Mila, that Bartók satisfies
this need of invention of sound by means of the instruments
which are the most classical and, it would seem, the
least congenial--strings and piano. Bartók's
revelation of the laws which govern the life of matter
is an unconscious one, continues Mila, which poets
alone can achieve by a contact which is neither rational
nor limited by normal senses. Spiritualization of matter
is the real meaning of Bartók's germinal counter-point.
(70) One could add to Mila's view that it is in this
sense that the term "Religioso" applies to
Bartók's night music.
One has to go back to very ancient intuitions of
nature, Mila suggests, to find a conceptual equivalent,
and he quotes Empedocles:
... non v'è nascita d'alcuna delle cose mortali,
né termine di morte funesta; ma solo mescersi
e dissolversi di sostanze ... (71)
He further compares the curved, rotating themes of
Bartók to the atoms of Epicurus which had clinamen,
that is, a tendency to deviate in their vertical fall,
thus enabling the atoms to aggregate and to form the
world. (72) A reading of the piece entitled "The
Night's Music" from the Out of Doors Suite for
piano best illustrates that passage from chaos to cosmos
found also in Vörösmarty's "Monologue" (see
ex. 19). (73) Consideration of this poem allows not
just a facile comparison, but rather an insight into
the very "movement" of Bartók's night
A similar analogy was formulated by André Schaeffner
in regard to Debussy's first nocturne for orchestra, Nuages,
between Debussy's music, which, in the composer's own
words, reflects “...l'aspect immuable du ciel
avec la marche lente et melancholique des nuages ... " (74)
and Flaubert's opening pages of the Education sentimentale with
their " ...images...motrices, exprimant des mouvements
... un choix judicieux des temps verbaux, des coupes
de phrases et de la ponctuation." (75) Such correspondences
in the compositional sense recall George Woodcock's
parallel between the imagery of Canadian painter Jack
Shadbolt--his perception of natural forms and Coast
Indian symbolism and their transformation into the "symbolic
forms" of his individual works--and Baudelaire's:
...long échos qui de loin se confonent Dans
une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté, ...
Ex. 19. Selection (in translation) from Vörösmarty,
Shades reigned and Nothingness. And I was,
Desert, silent, uninhabited: the Night.
Woman, I begot the Cosmos, my only son.
And World was born, and the monstrous Whole.
Turned the stars and the moon, marvels of the sky
. . .
A flux of motion and infinite activity
Populated the emptiness of space and time.
And the sky smiles from its depths.
Splendid, all dress-up with flowers
Earth celebrates her engagement.
Dust moves for the beast to appear
And then, the ardent grain of sand with a royal head
Man, shall propagate his race,
pious, and criminal, and vile, and glorious.
Shades reign and Nothingness. I am the Night
hiding from light in mourning
The soul of man, a stream of light
reflects the immensity of Cosmos
But soon he is no more, if he has ever been
But as long as he lives, burning with ardor,
He is set to plough, to think, to know, to act;
Doth he not proclaim his work to be immortal
Although mortal be his hands? And even gone,
with vanity and pride he marks his ashes.
All is reduced to Nothing. On its final ruins
World extinguishes with a sombre shiver.
His grave shall be the place of his genesis,
Shades and Nothingness. But I shall be,
Desert, silent, uninhabited: the Night.
Both the images and their order in Vörösmarty's "Monologue" are
reflected and symbolically presented in "The Night's
Music" of Bartók: out of a hypnotic drone
emerge the flickering and the fragmentation which are
progressively animated within the widest range of musical
space and sonority. The equivalent to the poem's central "formation" of
earth-its vegetable, animal, and human organisms--is,
in Bartók's piece, the appearance of the ancient
eight, the "classical" four-line tune of
eight syllables (eight, if one considers
to be melisma in parlando style). It can
be only intuitively that Bartók "connected" this
folk-hymn statement across the centuries with the
thirteenth century "Mary's Lament," the
first extant relic of Hungarian literature (ex. 20).
Ex. 20a. "Marienklage" (Mary's Lament").
Ex. 20b. Bartók, Out
of Doors, "The Night's Music," mm. 17-19.
This again recalls Woodcock's words of the many resonances
vibrating in the works of a contemporary artist. The
same vocal theme is later presented in its furulya version,
that is, a human instrument's version. Further, both
the vocal and instrumental versions are canonically
superimposed before progressively dissolving again
into nothingness. This piece embodies, in condensed
form, the structure common to all of Bartók's
movements in this style which Mila refers to as being
night's music. The term “structure" is intended
in Northrop Frye's sense of a central concept--a governing
idea which determines the composer's choice of elements
and of general scheme.
The common tonal centre hinges around E and F while
in the case of the Out of Doors piece, E-sharp.
This recalls the Romantic referral to F as being the
most prevalent sound in nature. (78) Such centring
of tone can be observed in the above list of Bartók's
night pieces, in all of which the sequence of keys
and tonal centres fluctuates between E-flat and F-sharp.
The clinamen idea Mila speaks of is fundamental
to an understanding of Bartók's structuring
of movement. Patterns of rotating--spiral, vortex-like,
and circular design--are investigated in various degrees
of intricacy, and display progressions of intensification
common to expressionistic art. According to the nature
of their movement, such patterns can be defined as
being a development either of Arabian musical formations
(Suite Opus 14, third movement) or of dirge
style (Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta,
first movement) or of shepherd's pipe and bagpipe figuration
(Second Piano Concerto, second movement) or
of scordatura (Contrasts, third movement).
As it can be said that Liszt's Fountain at the
Villa d'Este is the source from which all subsequent
musical "fountains" flow, so it is from
Bartók's The Night's Music that all
our contemporary nocturnal explorations have descended.
The legacy of Bartók's exploration in sound
is most apparent in the works of the Polish composer
Penderecky; the American, George Crumb; the Italian,
Luciano Berio; the Greek, Yannis Xanakis; and the
Canadian, Murray Schafer. Unlike Bartók, however,
these composers have shifted in their creative strivings
to new sources of sound.
- Q.v. Béla Bartók and Zoltán
Kodály, eds., Corpus Musicae Popularis
Hungaricae, 6 vols. (Budapest: Akadémiai
- Franz Liszt, quoted in descriptive notes, Liszt:
19 Hungarian Rhapsodies, Louis Kentner, pianist
(Vox SVBX 5452).
- Cf. Fernand Ouellette, Edgar Varèse,
ed. Seghers, Paris, 1966, p. 67.
- Béla Bartók, The Hungarian Folk
Song, ed. Benjamin Suchoff, trans. M. D. Calvocoressi,
annotated Zoltan Kodály (Albany, New York:
State University of New York, 1981);
Béla Bartók, Béla Bartók Essays, sel.
and ed. Benjamin Suchoff (London: Faber and Faber, 1976);
Béla Bartók, Rumanian Folk Music,
ed. Benjamin Suchoff (The Hague: Marinus Jijhoff, 1967),
vol. I (Instrumental Melodies), vol. 2 (Vocal Melodies),
vol. 3 (Texts);
Corpus Musicae Popularis Hungaricae: A Magyar Nepzene Tára,
ed. Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály ( Budapest:
1. Children's Games (Gyermekjátekok), ed. Gy. Kerenyi, 1951;
2. Tunes of the Calendar Customs (Jeles Napok), ed. Gy. Kerenyi, 1953;
3. Wedding Songs (Lakodalom), ed. L. Kiss, 1955 (vol. 3 A.), 1956 (Vol. 3 B.);
4. Match-making (Parositok), ed. Gy. Kerenyi, 1959;
5. Laments (Siratok), ed. B. Rajeczky and L. Kiss, 1966;
6. Types of Folksongs (Nepdaltipusok I), ed. P. Jardanyi and I. Olsvai, 1973;
Vera Lampert, Source Catalogue of Bartók's
Folksong Elaborations: Hungarian, Slovak, Rumanian,
Ruthenian, Serbian, and Arabic Folk-songs and Dances
(Budapest: Zenemükiadó, 1980);
Hungarian Folk Music , vols. I and 2 (in
co-operation with UNESCO, from the collection of the
Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Hungarian Ethnographic
Museum), ed. Benjamin Rajeczky (Qualiton LPX 10095-98
and LPX 18001-04);
Folk Music of Hungary (recorded in Hungary
under the supervision of Béla Bartók).
Descriptive notes and transcriptions Peter Bartók,
intro. Henry Cowell (Folkways Records FM 4000).
- Hungarian Folk Music (phonograph
cylinders from Bartók's collection), ed. Balint
Sarosi (Hungaroton LPX 18069).
- Michael Greenwood, "Foreword and acknowledgements," Henry
Moore: Drawings, Bronzes, and Prints from the Feheley
Collection February 7 to March 3, 1974, 4700 Keele
Street Downsview, Ontario (Toronto: Art Gallery
of York University, 1974), p. 9.
- George Woodcock, "The paintings of Jack Shadbolt" in A
George Woodcock Reader, ed. and intro. Doug
Fetherling ([ Ottawa]: Deneau and Greenberg, 1980),
- Ibid., p. 119
- From materials initially investigated by Linda
- Bence Szabolczi, "Man and Nature in Bartók's
world" in Bartók Studies, ed.
Todd Crow (Detroit: Information Coordinators, 1976),
- "... this sort of symbol, made a fetish of,
and torn out of its proper context, borders on the
noxious ..." László Somfai, descriptive
notes, Bartók Record Archives (Hungaroton
LPX 12334-38) 1981, p. 25. Cf. the B.B.C.'s program "Only
Let the Source be Clean: A Centenary Portrait of
Béla Bartók in Words and Music," intro.
Michael Oliver, March 22, 1981.
- Bartók, "Harvard lectures," Béla
Bartók Essays, p. 384.
- Erich Leinsdorf, The Composer's Advocate:
A Radical Orthodoxy for Musicians (New Haven,
Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1981), p. 78.
- Bartók, The Hungarian Folk Song,
- Bartók, "The influence of peasant
music on modern music," Béla Bartók
Essays, pp. 340-44.
- László Somfai, "Bartók's
rubato performing style," in Magyar Zenetorteneti
Tanulmanyok, ed. Ferenc Bonis (Budapest: Zenemukiado,
- Eighty-five pieces for piano in four volumes,
later revised to seventy-nine pieces in two volumes.
- Bartók, "Autobiography (1921)," Béla
Bartók Essays, p. 410.
- George Jellinek, "First and Only," Opera
News 39, no. 16 (1975): 12.
- Indeed, until recently, this opera could not be
performed by non-Hungarian singers whose traditional
opera repertoire is restricted to texts in languages
of Indo-European origin. Familiarity with the general
cadence of these Indo-European languages allows ease
of movement among the related languages; this familiarity
does not transfer to Hungarian, which is from a different
- For an expanded view of the system of symbols
in the legend of the stags, see János Kárpáti,
descriptive notes, Cantata Profana (Hungaroton
SLPX 11510), P. 9.
- Bartók, "Explanation to Concerto for
Orchestra," Béla Bartók Essays,
- From materials initially investigated by Victoria
- Joseph Szigeti, With Strings Attached, 2nd
ed. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967), p. 268.
- Rumanian Folk Music , vol. 3, P. xcvi.
- Rumanian Folk Music , vol. 2, p. 25.
- Rumanian Folk Music , vol. 2, p. 26-27.
- Hungarian Folk Music , vol. I (Qualiton
LPX 10095-98), P. 59.
- Rumanian Folk Music , vol. 1, pp. 58-61;
vol. 2, pp. 42-45.
- Halsey Stevens, The Life and Music of Béla
Bartók, rev. ed. (London: Oxford University
Press, 1964), p. 174.
- Pierre Boulez, descriptive notes, trans. Felix
Aprahamian, Boulez Conducts Stravinsky Firebird
Suite, Bartók Music for Strings,
Percussion, and Celesta ( Columbia Stereo MS
- From materials initially investigated by Anne
- János Kárpáti, "Bartók
et la musique arabe," Musique Hongroise,
ed. L'Association France Hongroie ( Paris, 1962)
- Bartók, "Why and how do we collect
folk music," Béla Bartók Essays,
- Cited by Kárpáti, "La musique
arabe," p. 99.
- Béla Bartók, "Die Volkmusik
der Araber von Biskra und Umgebung," Zeitschrift
für Musikwissenschaft 2, no. 9 (June 1920):489-522.
- Bartók, "Die Volksmusik der Araber," p.
- Kárpáti, "La musique arabe,
- Ibid., p. 94.
- Kárpáti, "La musique arabe," p.
- János Kárpáti, Bartók's
String Quartets (Budapest Franklin Printing
House, 1975), P. 89.
- Kárpáti, "La musique arabe," p.
- Ibid., p. 104
- Bartók to Octavian Beu, 10 January 1931, Béla
Bartók Letters, ed. János Demény
(London: Faber, 1971), p. 202.
- Kárpáti, Bartók's String
Quartets, p. 79.
- Kárpáti, "La musique arabe," p.
- From materials prepared and presented by Silvester
- Bartók, "The so-called Bulgarian rhythm," Béla
Bartók Essays, p. 44.
- Bartók, "The influence of peasant
music on modern music," Béla Bartók
Essays, p. 343.
- János Breuer, descriptive notes trans.
R. Prokl, Mikrokosmos (Hungaroton LPX 11405-7,
series 2, vols. 9- 11), p. 13.
- From materials initially investigated by Debra
- Rumanian Folk Music , vol. 1, P. xxv.
- Earlier discussion (section III) indicated that
Kárpáti views the rhythmic character
and the drum-beat accompaniment of the fourth string
quartet as "pointing unambiguously" to
an Arab derivation. See Kárpáti, Bartók's
String Quartets, p. 223. Here one is reminded
of the contradictory statements made by Bartók
himself in regard to his Dance Suite. See
Florence Ann McLean, Bartók's Dance Suite:
A Comparison of the Orchestral and Piano Versions," M.Mus.
document, University of Western Ontario, 1980, p.
- Leinsdorf, The Composer's Advocate, p.
- Agatha Fassett, Béla Bartók:
The American Years, 2nd ed. (New York: Dover
Publications Inc., 1970), pp. 120-21.
- From materials initially investigated by D'Arcy
- Ralph Kirkpatrick, "Preface" in Domenico
Scarlatti, Sixty Sonatas, (N.Y.: Schirmer,
), vol. 1, p. xi.
- Jürgen Uhde, Béla Bartók,
Kopfe der Jahrhunderts (Berlin: Colloquium
Verlag, 1959), p. 95.
- Hungarian Folk Music , Vol. 1 (Qualiton
- Bartók, "The folklore of instruments
and their music in Eastern Europe," Béla
Bartók Essays, pp. 239-84.
- Ibid., p. 269. (Tilinkó: a long peasant
- Stevens, The Life and Music of Béla
Bartók, p. 174.
- Suchoff, Béla Bartók: A Celebration (Camp
Hill, Pennsylvania: Book of the Month Records, 1981.)
- From materials initially investigated by Tannis
- Szabolcsi, "Man and Nature in Bartók's
world," pp. 63- 75.
- Masimo Mila, "La natura e il mistero nell
'arte di Béla Bartók," Chigiana 22
- Ernö Lendvai, "La musica della notte
di Bartók," Zenei Szemle (1947),
pp. 216-19. (cited by Mila, "La natura e il
mistero," p. 165.)
- Mila "La natura e il mistero," pp. 151-64,
- Barók, The Hungarian Folk Song,
- Mila, "La natura e il mistero," pp.
- ". . . there is no birth of mortal things,
nor end; only mixing and dissolving of substances.
. . " (author's translation). Empedocle, trans.
Mila in "La natura e il mistero," p. 151.
- Mila, "La natura e il mistero," pp.
- This English translation of a portion of Vörösmarty's "Monologue" is
taken from Damiana Bratuz, "The Folk Elements
in the Piano Music of Béla Bartók" (Doctoral
document, Indiana University, 1966), p. 174. French
trans., see Ladislas Gara, ed., Anthologie de
la poésie hongroise duX11e siècle à nos
jours, (Paris Editions du seuil, 1962).
- "... the immutable appearance of the sky,
with the slow and melancholic passage of the clouds.
. ." (author's translation). Claude Debussy
as cited in André Schaeffner, "Debussy
et ses rapports avec la peinture," in Debussy
et l'evolution de la musique au XXe siecle,
ed. Edith Weber (Paris: Centre National de la Recherche
Scientifique, 1965), pp. 151-166.
- ". . . motor . . . images expressing movements
. . . well chosen verbal beats, phrase cuts, and
punctuation." (author's translation). Flaubert
as cited in André Schaeffner, "Debussy
et ses rapports avec la peinture," pp. 151-66.
- "...the long echoes which fuse from afar
in a dark and profound oneness vast as the night
and the daylight..." (author's translation).
Baudelaire cited in Woodcock, "The Paintings
of Jack Shadbolt," p. 115.
- Bence Szabolcsi, Geschichte der Ungarischen
Musik (Budapest: Corvina Verlag, 1964), p.
- . Gardiner, The Music of Nature (Boston:
Wilkins and Carter, 1841), P. 245; R. Murray Schafer, The
Tuning of the World ( Toronto: McClelland and Stewart,
1977, p. 99. Here, in the chapter "The Electronic
Revolution," Schafer describes the result of a soundscape
study as centring around G-sharp.