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  • Author or Editor: Vera Lampert x
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This essay examines some of the humorous responses to fleas in literature, painting, and, especially, music. While scholarship has been aware of the wide-spread popularity of the flea-topos, no attention has yet been given to its musical manifestations. One of Lasso’s two such compositions extends the geographic boundaries of the theme to remote Hungary. „Bestia curvafia pulices” turns up in a poem that Lasso set to music and published in his Les melanges in 1576. „Bestia curvafia” [whoreson beast] was an expression in Hungarian, which for centuries was one of the most common verbal abuses. The first registered occurrence of the defamation bestia curvafia is from 1507. It was known throughout the country. Both the presence of a Hungarian swearword in the title and the reference to a Hungarian town (Posonium) in the text prove the Hungarian origin of the text. – Transcription of the chanson „Bestia curvafia”.

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Performance markings in the vocal lines of Bartók’s compositions are surprisingly sparse compared to how carefully the instrumental parts are furnished with detailed instructions to indicate the desired interpretation. The few markings in vocal parts, especially in the folksong settings, are mostly meant to create special effects. One possible explanation for this discrepancy might be found in the spontaneous, simple performance of the folk singers Bartók came across during his research. He presumably intended his vocal folksong settings to be performed in the same unaffected way that characterized the original folk performance. Comparison of recordings of folksongs and the sound recordings that preserved Bartók’s vocal folksong settings with the composer at the piano can put this assumption to the test.

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There is a great affinity between Bartók’s scholarly works and that of the members of the Berlin Phonogramm-Archiv — established in 1900 and considered as the cradle of the discipline of ethnomusicology — both in their methods and philosophical outlook. Several publications of the Berlin scholars are extant in Bartók’s library. They exerted significant influence on Bartók’s folkloristic output, from the methods of transcription and analysis, to the publication of folk material. Bartók also had personal connections with two of the members of the school. He contacted the director of the institution, Erich von Hornbostel, in 1912, wanting to take part in the galvanoplastic preservation and exchange program, introduced in Berlin a few years earlier. Only ten of Bartók’s cylinders could be processed before the war broke out, putting an end to this effort. A few years later Hornbostel took on the publishing of Bartók’s monograph, Volksmusik der Rumänen von Maramureş in the series Sammelbände der vergleichenden Musikwissenschaft . Bartók also met and corresponded with another outstanding member of the Berlin School of Ethnomusicology, Robert Lachmann, the chairman of the committee on sound recordings, in the work of which Bartók also participated in 1932 at the Congress of Arab Music in Cairo.

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Folksong settings are usually the least appreciated works of a composer. Focusing on Béla Bartók's guiding principles in creating folksong settings, the author examine the motivations that have driven other composers to use folk material in their works.  The spread of the idea of nationalism, resulting in the endeavor to create an idiomatic national language of music played the lead in many cases. But the folksong as an exotic object also exerted an enormous appeal on composers and audiences alike, making folksong settings generally, but not always, a profitable undertaking as well. In the long run, the artistic quality of the folksong, its expressive power despite its succinct form, fascinated composers and inspired them to create a wealth of folksong settings. 

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