Talking Bartók

Sullivan highlights an interesting piece comparing the string quartets of Bartok and Shostakovich. The observation about Bartok’s “ironically anticlimactic” endings is dead on.

The Dish

Philip Kennicott finds that Hungarian composer Béla Bartók’s quartets evoke “the enlightenment of a restless mind finding something definite and tangible in its search for certitude”:

[C]ompare the Bartók quartets to the 15 quartets of Shostakovich, and one hears an almost desperately single minded consistency in the former. Shostakovich’s cycle is deeply personal, and often imbued with a profound sense of fear; Bartók’s is strangely depersonalized, and more focused on anxiety. Although fear can be based on a false sense of danger, anxiety is a more ungrounded emotion, free floating, detached from immediate causes or explanations. While fear can be dispelled, anxiety is ever present, lifting on occasion but always settling back in. Even at its most calm and reflective, as in the lento movement of the Fourth Quartet, one never senses any slackening of Bartók’s obsessional need to keep control of the music. His relation to his musical materials…

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Music For The Day

One of my very favourite pieces of music, Piano Concerto no. 3 by Béla Bartok (1881-1945), performed here by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Simon Rattle, with Andras Schiff as the soloist:


The mini fugue section starting at 0’50, introduced by the piano and then picked up by strings, is sublime.

In fact, I love all three movements of this piece. The second movement is so serene and still (the piece was a gift from Bartok to his wife, written in his final days, and in many ways can be seen as a farewell letter to her, or to life), and makes a marvellous contrast with the explosive start to the final movement, given here.