The aims of the conference under the title “Bartók's Orbit,” held at the Institute for Musicology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest between March 22 and 24, 2006 to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Béla Bartók's birth, were not modest. Its main purpose was to reexamine Bartók's place and significance in the history of twentieth-century music. Paper proposals were selected by a committee. Sixty contributors coming from twenty-one countries (including Hongkong, Russia, a number of European countries and the United States) were finally accepted. Official languages of the international conference were English, French and German. The main topics of the sessions were the following: Interpreting the stage works, New approaches to Bartók's style, Reconsidering Bartók's folklorism, The absorption of influences in Bartók's works, Bartók reception. The Introduction - based on the original call for papers and the opening address read at the first session of the conference - explains that the main aim of the conference was to reevaluate Bartók's international significance. Apart from revisiting key issues, the papers also drew on a number of less well-known sources thereby responding to the organizers' wish to reveal some of the more hidden connections of Bartók's music to the music of others especially for whom he was, or still remains, a very personal experience. The Introduction finally also considers the inspiration behind the title, “Bartók's Orbit,” an astronomical term that can mean a planet's path as well as its sphere of influence.
It is thus probably not by chance that Zoltán Kodály, writing in 1950 about Bartók “the folklorist,” recalled his own friend's belated study of Palestrina and Jeppesen's counterpoint treatise. Whereas Bach had a prominent role in Bartók's musical training, his interest in contrapuntal writing in his early compositions followed the lead of music from Beethoven to Richard Strauss. It was undoubtedly Stravinsky's neoclassicism that inspired his own - as Tibor Tallián put in, lonely - “retour à Bach” from 1926 on. And Bartók's journey into the realm of counterpoint did not end there. Works like the first movement of Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta or the “Fuga” of the Solo Violin Sonata testify to the challenges counterpoint posed to him up to the final years of his career. In the study, the author will consider Bartók's own compositional autographs, some of which reveal a tendency to lend a particular status to contrapuntal writing. He will further discuss possible documentary evidence related to Bartók's actual late interest in counterpoint and earlier polyphony.
‘Bear Dance’ (German ‘Bärentanz’) appears to have been a lesser-known nineteenth-century character piece exemplified by Schumann’s two related compositions in A minor,
Twelve Pieces for Four Hands
, op. 85, no. 2 and its early version, for piano solo, composed for the
Album for the Young
but left unpublished, as well as Mendelssohn’s F-major occasional piece. These pieces are all characterized by a very low ostinato-like tone-repetition in the base (recalling the clumsy movements of the bear in Schumann’s pieces while imitating the leader’s drumming in Mendelssohn’s) and a melody in high register in imitation of the leader’s pipe tune. Bartók must have had this particular genre in mind when composing his closing piece for the
Ten Easy Piano Pieces
(1908), herald of later fast ‘ostinato’ movements, in which the amusing topic, a market place event, is turned into something wild and eerie. The composition and publication history of the piece is reinvestigated on the basis of documents, letters and compositional manuscripts, partly unpublished so far. ‘Bear Dance’ is closely related to the compositions, such as
nos. 13 and 14, resulting from the composer’s personal crisis in 1908, due to his unrequited love to the violinist Stefi Geyer, and it also uses a version of the leitmotiv generally named after Geyer by theorists. The employment of characteristics derived from folk music (
[herdsman’s dance] or
rhythm, strophic structure, etc.) is analyzed as well as the composer’s modernist preference for harmonies integrating minor second/major seventh clash and large-scale tritonal tensions. Bartók’s encounter with a special (but distinctly different) musical type accompanying ritual peasant dances in Romanian villages of Transylvania is also briefly discussed as one of his arrangements of a violin piece, the second movement of the Sonatina for piano (1915) was also entitled as ‘Bear Dance’.
Bartók’s “Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm,” the only formally self-contained set within the Mikrokosmos, is the crowning series of pieces in this huge compendium of the composer’s later piano music. Since Bartók recorded all six of them in 1940, they are ideal for an investigation of performance issues. The recordings from the Mikrokosmos, although relatively late, are fortunately close to the composition of most of the pieces, which makes these recordings all the more “authentic.” The essay, however, focuses on the concept of the series as a series revisiting the compositional manuscripts, discussing the evolution of the individual pieces and the emergence of the idea of the set (first intended to comprise only five pieces) and Bulgarian rhythm as a pedagogical issue within the series. The “Six Dances” also bear a somewhat enigmatic dedication to the British pianist of Jewish descent, Harriet Cohen, obviously not an accidental choice. The dedication might be considered with what Bartók said in an interview in 1940 about the “hibridity” of national musical types in his “Bulgarian” pieces as well as with his article “Race Purity in Music” (1942) in mind. The significance of order and ordering in Bartók’s creative work, a hitherto little discussed common central element in the various fields of his activity, collecting, performing and composing, are also discussed.
Based on a fresh study of all primary sources of Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin (composition: 1918/19, orchestration: 1924) the article reconsiders the entire history of composition and repeated revisions of the work. The original choice of genre (expressive “pantomime” in contrast to “ballet”) seems to have played a significant role in this troubled history, which shows the composer’s efforts to transform sections of the original “gesture” music into a more symphonic style often making the music more succinct. Puzzlingly, the first full score of the complete work and a revised edition of the piano reduction published posthumously in 1955 by Universal Edition present an abridged form of the work, which cannot be fully authenticated and was finally restored to its more complete form in Peter Bartók’s new edition of 2000. Looking for the possible origin of the more obscure cuts, discussions with choreographer Aurelio Milloss in 1936 and Gyula Harangozó in 1939/40, both of whom later directed and danced productions of the work under the baton of János Ferencsik with great success (in Milan in 1942 and in Budapest in 1945, resp.), should probably be taken into consideration as these might have resulted in the integration of cuts into the published full score. Apart from trying to understand the different stages of the work’s long evolution, the article argues that it is essential to study the original version in the compositional sources since it reveals Bartók’s first concept of the piece composed in his period of highest expressionism.