The long-held notion that Bartók’s style represents a unique synthesis of features derived from folk music, from the works of his best contemporaries, as well as from the great classical masters has resulted in a certain asymmetry in Bartók studies. This article provides a short overview of the debate concerning the “Bartókian synthesis,” and presents a case study to illuminate how an ostensibly “lesser” historical figure like Domenico Scarlatti could have proved important for Bartók in several respects. I suggest that it must almost certainly have been Sándor Kovács who called Scarlatti’s music to Bartók’s attention around 1910, and so Kovács’s 1912 essay on the Italian composer may tell us much about Bartók’s Scarlatti reception as well. I argue that, while Scarlatti’s musical style may indeed have appealed to Bartók in more respects than one, he may also have identified with Scarlatti the man, who (in Kovács’s interpretation) developed a thoroughly ironic style in response to the unavoidable loneliness that results from the impossibility of communicating human emotions (an idea that must have intrigued Bartók right around the time he composed his
Duke Bluebeard’s Castle
). In conclusion I propose that Scarlatti’s Sonata in E major (L21/K162), which Bartók performed on stage and also edited for an instructive publication, may have inspired the curious structural model that found its most clear-cut realization in Bartók’s Third Quartet.