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