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In her book about Bartók’s American years Agatha Fasset recalls the composer attesting to his second wife Ditta Pásztory that her piano playing “comes to the nearest of all” to his own style admonishing her “to preserve this style, keep it alive, keep it going.” Pásztory’s discography (containing recordings from the 1960s) testifies that she took Bartók’s assignment seriously. The first part of this paper gives a short description of Pásztory’s formative years as a pianist and her long apprenticeship under Bartók’s guidance. The second part, analysing a few of her recordings will attempt to find out how she succeeded in preserving Bartók’s manner of performance.

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Most analyses of Bartók’s Contrasts focus on abstract compositional ideas such as musical language, form, and motivic unity. Manuscript sources, however, show that practical considerations played an equally important role in the compositional process. Bartók adventurously exploited the potentials of the instruments (clarinet, violin and piano) as well as that of the musicians (Benny Goodman and Joseph Szigeti) for whom he composed the piece, but, within certain boundaries, he was also ready to make concessions to them. Since Bartók was commissioned to write Contrasts, the composition had to fill a number of essentially practical requirements. When he began composing, he had to regard as given some of the basic characteristics of the work such as the instrumentation, the need to include virtuoso cadenzas for both soloists, number, tempi, and approximate duration of movements, as well as some stylistic features. Even so, the composer did not adhere strictly to all of the requirements. The compositional process of Contrasts, therefore, can be interpreted as a simultaneous realization of both practical and abstract ideas.

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Questions of source, style and interpretation have been central to the work of the Budapest Bartók Archives over its first half-century. The author looks at various issues of work genesis, structure, and interpretation, in works by Mahler and Riley, before considering the “definitive” state of Bartók’s Viola Concerto and the Sonata for Solo Violin, and the current availability of different editions of Bartók’s late works. He then outlines ways in which correspondence, both to and from Bartók, illuminates the rich and varied path from sketch to score to work première, and on to the earliest stages of performing interpretation. The paper concludes with seven examples where performance practice is enlightened by observations in Bartók’s correspondence: innovative work combination, comparative work quality or difficulty, compositional archetypes and models, processes of work revision, song-text translations, section or movement timings, and issues of correction versus revision.

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In the well-discussed introduction to The Miraculous Mandarin Bartók’s music depicts the stylized image of an anonymous metropolis. It is, however, very likely that Bartók referred to a specific city: the capital of Europe in the (long) 19th century, Paris. The precise geographic attribution is made possible by Bartók’s repeated use of the French term apache, referring to the three thugs. Originally the name of a group of North American indian tribes, the second meaning of the term came up at the beginning of the 20th century. It was omnipresent in French press and French cultural life at a time when Bartók, in 1905, first visited the city that impressed him so much. As Bartók began to think about the Mandarin in 1918 he chose this term, that by now had been integrated into Hungarian too, to designate the thugs adequately.

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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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The world premiere recording of Bartók’s Violin Concerto, played by Zoltán Székely has been a classic for seventy-two years now. Since that time, dozens of artists have committed the work to disc and hundreds more—from concert artists to conservatory students—have played the Concerto. Székely’s extremely subtle, almost chamber-music-like interpretation has been widely admired but many violinists in past decades have favored, by and large, a more robust approach, one that stresses the work’s connections to the Romantic concerto tradition. The question is: can a careful reading of the musical text—the final version as well as the various manuscript sources—help a player make practical stylistic decisions? A comparative examination of the performance of the first 16 measures from a number of older and more recent recordings will be set against what textual analysis can tell us, as a test case for a productive dialog between scholarship and performance.

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In his inaugural lecture to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Béla Bartók proposed dividing the works of Liszt into two unequally valued portions: the valuable works that showed Liszt as an artistic innovator, and the undesirable ones that adopted a false “Hungarian” style that pleased unsophisticated listeners but corrupted their taste. In sum, he asserted a radical pseudo-aesthetic dichotomy in the interests of a political agenda. Only a dozen years later, Bartók’s own legacy was dichotomized in a very similar way by musicians and politicians, on both sides of the Cold War divide, who were acting according to a political agenda that no one even tried to disguise as aesthetic. The crypto-political pseudo-aesthetics of the twentieth century, whether practiced in the name of pure national traditions, in the name of social justice, or in the name of aesthetic autonomy, has corrupted both the production and the reception of art music and has played a part in its devaluation, all too evident in twenty-first-century society. The many errors of evaluation enumerated in this essay have contributed to that melancholy history.

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The question of authenticity in the creation of Bartók’s Viola Concerto has been one of the most enigmatic in the viola repertoire. Inconsistencies among revisions of the work by different scholars since the first attempt by Tibor Serly in 1946 reveal that the task of uncovering an authentic final version by scrutinizing the manuscript itself is not always a clearcut or “purely mechanical” endeavor. Following a brief overview of the manuscript’s layout, this article addresses some ambiguous details based on a number of puzzling indications. Some of these questions can only be resolved by acquiring an in-depth knowledge of Bartók’s musical language. The manuscript draft is thereby approached not only by studying the primary-source materials alone, but also by means of a theoretic-analytical approach. The latter takes into account principles of modality, polymodal combination, and more abstract types of pitch sets, such as hybrid modes, the octatonic scale, and other more chromatic configurations. General types of scalar or modal construction are discussed as basic determinants in performing certain figural details. Such principles as diatonic expansion, chromatic compression, and polymodal chromaticism are shown, for instance, to be essential for understanding the content and function of the trill figures and the larger linear constructions to which they belong. Thus, we may assume that the combined levels of research and analysis suggested above are essential in arriving at Bartók’s authentic conception.

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Bartók left behind over 300 folksong arrangements. In the field of vocal music, three series are based on Slovak folksongs: Five Slovak Folksongs for male choir (1917, BB 77), Four Slovak Folksongs for mixed choir and piano (1917, BB 78) and Village Scenes (1924, 1926, BB 87). The series are strongly connected among themselves in terms of textual content, formal concept, and treatment of folk melodies. In Village Scenes, Stravinsky’s influence is unmistakable. Not only was Bartók “influenced” by Stravinsky but he also imitated and even “quoted” Les Noces (1923). The article examines the relationship between the two works using Bartók’s 1928 essay Hungarian Folk Music and New Hungarian Music as a point of reference.

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Bartók’s later works from the years 1939–1945 present an impressive synthesis of his musical innovations. Beginning with the Divertimento and Sixth String Quartet (both composed in 1939), the Hungarian composer starts with a freely tonal, neo-Classical foundation. Above this initial compositional level he then superimposes Beethovenian formal structures gleaned from the latter’s opp. 53 and 135, in addition to a prominent Stravinsky quotation from The Rite of Spring, part two. In both works Bartók achieves an impressive large-scale cyclical unity, frequently through wholetone scalar integration.

The Concerto for Orchestra (1943) blends pervasive quotation techniques with analogous cyclical intervallic patterns, such as major third cells on F–A–D4. One is again distinctly reminded of the F Major Divertimento. Like the latter work, the Concerto is especially notable for its expansive codas, which function in the manner of Beethovenian second developments. Similarly, the Sonata for Solo Violin (1944) fuses neo-Bachian counterpoint with the expansive forms of the Concerto for Orchestra. Finally, the interrelated last two Concertos for piano and viola (both penned in 1945) present a cumulative synthesis of Bartókʼs later style, emphasizing the tertial (and modal) degrees of VI and flattened VI. Here, too, we encounter elaborate quotational systems that distantly recall the 1910s and 1920s music of French composers as Debussy, Ravel and Satie.

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