In 1913 Béla Bartók traveled to Algeria to research Arab folk music. He took with him the most modern technological device then available, the Edison phonograph, and recorded Arab peasants performing their music. Analysis of his ensuing scholarly documentation and free composition reveals the inspiration Bartók drew from Arab folk music, not only in his treatment of traditional musical elements — melody, rhythm, and harmony — but also in novel incorporation of exotic timbre, scales, drum modes, ululation, and exorcism. This paper elucidates diverse musical elements with examples from authentic folk music and Bartók’s compositions. What emerges is a remarkably comprehensive image of Arab music, seen through the lens of Béla Bartók’s unique scholarship and creativity.
When travelling in and around Biskra, Algeria, in 1913, Béla Bartók recorded almost two hundred melodies on phonograph cylinders. Bartók’s unique research was the subject of my PhD dissertation at the Sorbonne in Paris in 2003. The dissertation was based on about half of Bartók’s Arab collection available at the time at the Budapest Bartók Archives. In the meantime in 2006, the CD-ROM Bartók and Arab Folk Music has made for the first time available all the surviving transcriptions and sound recordings, which represent Bartók’s collection almost in its entirety. The article summarizes new research into the source material which has recently become available and points out the special significance of his study of Arab folk music for ethnomusicological research into the Maghreb.
Béla Bartók’s “On Hungarian Music,” one of his controversial articles published in 1911, is known for criticizing Géza Molnár’s book, Theory of Hungarian Music (1904). However, it has not been mentioned that Molnár himself replied to Bartók’s article in the next volume of Aurora [Dawn] magazine, using exactly the same title as Bartók’s. While Bartók asserted that true Hungarian music had never existed before, Molnár, a musicologist in Budapest, bitterly criticized Bartók’s assertions from an academic perspective. This controversy over Hungarian music published in Aurora seemed quite crucial for understanding and relativizing Bartók’s position at that time. The historian Mary Gluck explained that several intellectuals, including György Lukács and Béla Balázs, had to depend on the older generation, both financially and philosophically, during that period. Using Gluck’s framework, this paper examines the genesis of Bartók’s article and the connection between him and the intellectuals in 1911, as well as to interpret this controversy. In conclusion, the controversy with Molnár, and plausible “defeat” in the field of musicology could be added to his list of challenges and setbacks before 1912, the year that saw Bartók’s temporal exit from public musical life.
In spite of his mistrust in giving public explanations about his compositions, Bartók worked with great care on what we may call the narrative of a piece - the “spirit of the work” in his phrasing (spirit in the sense of the German Geist, the meaning, the characteristic quality). His “plans were concerned with the spirit of the new work and with technical problems (for instance, formal structure involved by the spirit of the work)” (Harvard Lectures, 1943). The best source to understand the narrative of multi-movement Bartók works is a close study of the creative process, primarily the sketches and the draft. The genesis of the Violin Concerto (1937-1938) reveals that to Zoltán Székely's request in 1936 Bartók first proposed a one-movement Konzertstück in variation form, i.e. the second movement. In the next step a full-size sonata-form piece emerging from the Tempo di verbunkos opening theme (as Bartók identified its character) of the present first movement could also have been an alternative one-movement Konzertstück of considerable size. Thus Bartók created two independent narratives: one for a fascinating variation, another for a big sonata-form movement written in a warmly melodic style with a special strategy of variations of the themes. Finally, because his violinist was expecting a regular three-movement concerto, by the addition of a finale he fulfilled the commission.
At the Bartók International Congress 2000 in Austin, Texas, I discussed basic questions related to the forthcoming Bartók thematic catalog with the temporary text of the entry BB 50 Fourteen Bagatelles as a sample. Thank to the interest of G. Henle Verlag, in addition to the continuation of the research on new items, basic reediting of the already written work entries have been carried out. The visual concept and typography of the forthcoming Bartók catalog, planned to be one large volume in English, is similar to Henle’s new Reger Werkverzeichnis. With the item BB 83 Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs op. 20 for piano as a sample, here I investigate problems of a catalog caused by the quickly growing number of reprints, new sheet music editions following the end of copyright protection of the composition in the USA, Japanese revised editions, and editions revised or first published by Peter Bartók.
Le Prince de bois de Bartók n’a pas connu le succès escompté lors de sa création, il correspondait peu aux attentes du public, bien que son intrigue de base fût similaire à celles d’autres ballets du moment, comme Coppelia. L’auteur du livret, Béla Balázs, était proche des milieux d’avant-garde, autour du Cercle du dimanche de Georg Lukács, mais son intention de plonger dans les profondeurs du drame humain en s’intéressant moins aux conditions sociales le tenait éloigné, non seulement de la bourgeoisie, mais aussi des mouvements d’émancipation. L’oeuvre peut être envisagée sous l’angle de la psychanalyse des contes de fée. Une analyse de Ferenczi met en évidence l’idée de la toute-puissance du moi. Sur un fond autobiographique, Bartók a donné une forme musicale à cette pièce illustrant la difficulté des relations entre l’homme et la femme. Il répond au livret de Balázs en combinant notamment plusieurs thématiques musicales (des danses) illustrant l’opposition entre l’authentique et l’artificiel, ainsi que la progression dramatique de l’amour, du désespoir et du rituel initiatique.
Recent studies of formal structure in themes in the Classical repertoire (William Caplin) as well as the music of Wagner (Matthew BaileyShea) point towards the enormous importance and potential of the Sentence phrase structure with its hybrid forms for analyzing tonal music. Initially described by Schoenberg, a Sentence is phrase consisting two main events of equal length, a presentation phrase (consisting of one repeated basic idea) and a continuation phrase. In this paper I will demonstrate Bartók's dependence upon Classical and Romantic phrase structures, including the Sentence, and also the Classical Period (consisting of an antecedent and consequent phrase). In both his small-and large-scale works, Bartók's sentences display a Classical coherence, despite the lack of a functional harmonic framework, due to their clear formal articulation and clearly defined modal pitch centers. Bartók also utilized chains of Sentences, Satzketten, in several works including Concerto for Orchestra. I will describe the different paradigmatic types utilized by Bartók in works such as Divertimento, the String Quartets, along with the Violin and Piano Concertos. Particularly significant is how Bartók alters the repeated basic idea and elaborates the continuation phrase and the creation of compound forms.
Maurice Ravel uses a lot of musical elements in his ballet Daphnis et Chloé that appear in Bartók's Ballet The Wooden Prince. So are the instrumentation and especially the orchestration (particularly at the beginning of these two works: the wake-up of the nature that is almost the same, and the “grotesque” moments). The themes of the different episodes that build the ballet seem to be the same in their conception, and we can add that the main themes (love in Daphnis and the prince in The Wooden Prince) are twin. Their roots are the same, so the idea that Ravel influenced Bartók looks likely. Even if there is no real proof, like e.g. a letter by Bartók about Daphnis et Chloé. A comparison of the two works seems to suggest that Ravel's work really had an influence on Bartók's Wooden Prince.