Muzsikás and Bela Bartok

Sam Pawlett rsp at
Mon May 8 22:47:37 MDT 2000

Louis Proyect wrote:
> In an act that amounted to charity, Bartok was appointed a research fellow
> in anthropology without teaching duties at Columbia University. According
> to an article by Paul Hume in the March 22, 1981 Washington Post,
> "Unhappily the funds, limited at best, that paid Bartok's stipend at
> Columbia gave out by 1942; and in the face of wartime privations, the
> university felt unable to continue its grant to a non-teaching composer. It
> was also a time when, although he has some concert appearances and some of
> his music was being played, the income from both of these sources was minute."

[the following has little to do with politics or pol economy but oh

  This post-1942 period was Bartok's worst in terms of poverty and
health but his best in terms of creativity. Many of his friends came to
his aid commissioning works from him. The famous bassist-conductor Serge
Koussivitsky commissioned the Concerto For Orchestra which was debuted
Koussivitsky and the BSO in 1943 (there is a recording of this concert,
I'm not sure if it is on CD. Still one of the best interpretations.
Played real fast and with extravagance.Bartok was there and liked it.)
Y.Menuhin commissioned the Sonata for Solo Violin in 1943,
another extravagant work that became the longest work for solo violin
next to the chaconne from Bach's partita in Dm. During this period he
composed other great works including the 3rd piano concerto.

   The folk rhythms in Bartok make his instrumental music very
difficult to play. Only Hungarian interpreters of Bartok like Zoltan
Kocsis, Gyorgy Sandor or Zoltan Szekely can, I think, get the full
measure of it.   The best recordings are the ones made by Bartok

   In the early 40's, Bartok was commissioned by a native band in
Washington State (forget which one) to make field recordings and
transcribe their musical traditions. Bartok accepted knowing that
recording and transcribing the band's music was crucial to its survival
as a coherent entity. He died before he
could make the trip depriving the band of a chance to ensure its
traditions would survive and perhaps depriving music fans of a chance to
hear Western
Classical music based on Native American rhythm and harmony (the only
serious attempt that I know of to base music on Native American
harmonies and rhthym
was by the late great jazz saxophonist Jim Pepper.)

Bartok was one of the greatest ethnomusicologists. Like  others before
him such as Liszt and to a lesser extent Brahms and Dvorak  he took a
lot of heat from the cesspool known as the classical music establishment
who accused him of "vulgarity" and "crudity". You could maybe level
these accusations at Liszt who used the folk tunes to create vehicles
for his flamboyant virtuosity at the piano.  Bartok never used the folk
harmonies and rhythms as a means. Bartok was influenced by the Viennese
school and this can be seen in some of his work most notably the 2nd
violin concerto a cross between Viennese dodecaphony, traditional
western harmonies and folkish harmonies. As always with Bartok, no style
dominates suggesting that various cultures and traditions could live the
same way.

Sam Pawlett

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