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Bartók, Hungary, and the Renewal of Tradition

Bartók, Hungary, and the Renewal of Tradition: Case Studies in the Intersection of Modernity and Nationality

Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 319
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  • Book Info
    Bartók, Hungary, and the Renewal of Tradition
    Book Description:

    It is well known that Béla Bartók had an extraordinary ability to synthesize Western art music with the folk music of Eastern Europe. What this rich and beautifully written study makes clear is that, contrary to much prevailing thought about the great twentieth-century Hungarian composer, Bartók was also strongly influenced by the art-music traditions of his native country. Drawing from a wide array of material including contemporary reviews and little known Hungarian documents, David Schneider presents a new approach to Bartók that acknowledges the composer’s debt to a variety of Hungarian music traditions as well as to influential contemporaries such as Igor Stravinsky. Putting representative works from each decade beginning with Bartók’s graduation from the Music Academy in 1903 until his departure for the United States in 1940 under critical lens, Schneider reads the composer’s artistic output as both a continuation and a profound transformation of the very national tradition he repeatedly rejected in public. By clarifying why Bartók felt compelled to obscure his ties to the past and by illuminating what that past actually was, Schneider dispels myths about Bartók’s relationship to nineteenth-century traditions and at the same time provides a new perspective on the relationship between nationalism and modernism in early-twentieth century music.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93205-0
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    In the first decade of the twentieth century the sense that the forging of a new road in composition demanded a break with the traditions of the nineteenth century was a sentiment shared by many of the greatest musicians. Loudly declared detachment from the past was part and parcel of a modernist aesthetics. But, for all the new directions championed by Debussy, Janáček, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky, few if any composers so professed to disdain their predecessors in their respective national schools of composition as did the Hungarian Béla Bartók. Debussy praised Offenbach and idolized Rameau. Janáček proudly considered himself part...

  5. ONE Tradition Rejected: Bartók’s Polemics and the Nineteenth-Century Hungarian Musical Inheritance
    (pp. 8-32)

    Attempting to answer the question ″What is Hungarian?″ has been a preoccupation of educated Hungarians since the rise of national consciousness in the early nineteenth century. The question ″What is Hungarian in music?″ that lies behind so many of Bartók’s essays is itself part of a national debate that had been going on for decades before his compositions and folk-music research redefined and intensified it.¹ Despite the rigidity of some who have striven to define it, Hungarianness(magyarság)has never been a static concept. On one level Bartók, like all Hungarian composers, redefined it with every piece he wrote. Certain...

  6. TWO Tradition Maintained: Nationalism, Verbunkos, Kossuth, and the Rhapsody, Op. 1
    (pp. 33-80)

    Declarations of maturity are often a sign of adolescence. This is true of Bartók’s fervent outburst of patriotic enthusiasm, which he made some three years before he would seriously take up the cause of folk music and begin to reevaluate the nationalist beliefs with which he was so preoccupied in 1903. Despite its naiveté, this oft-quoted pronouncement serves as an important point of entry into Bartók’s world at a crucial time in his development. His words reverberate with the idealistic sentiments of Hungarian Romantic poets like Sándor Petófi (1823–49) and Mihály Vörösmarty (1800–1855) whose writings had spurred their...

  7. THREE Tradition Transformed: ″The Night’s Music″ and the Pastoral Roots of a Modern Style
    (pp. 81-118)

    On 8 December 1926 Bartók gave a recital of his own works at the Academy of Music in Budapest that included the premieres of four pieces:Falun(Village Scenes, 1924) for voice and piano, the Sonata for Piano (1926), seven short movements fromNine Little Piano Pieces(1926), and the first and fourth movements from the suite for pianoSzabadban(Out of Doors, 1926).¹ Of all the pieces on the program, critics seem to have been most taken by the fourth movement, ″Az éjszaka zenéje″ (literally: ″Music of the Night″ or ″The Night’s Music″ as it is translated in the...

  8. FOUR Tradition Challenged: Confronting Stravinsky
    (pp. 119-183)

    Interpreting works likeKossuth, the Rhapsody, op. 1, and the Second Suite for Orchestra as reflections of Bartók’s national identity is a relatively straightforward task. Both the Hungarian national movement Bartók endorsed while composing these works and the musical style he used to signify his allegiance to it are clearly defined and were recognized by Hungarian audiences of the day. His compositions of this period were impressive technically, but their style signaled sympathy for an intolerant patriotism that celebrated a heroic, pompous vision of the nation.

    Bartók’s arrogant nationalism and exclusive devotion to Hungarian culture soon gave way to a...

  9. FIVE Tradition Transcribed: The Rhapsody for Violin No. 1, the Politics of Folk-Music Research, and the Artifice of Authenticity
    (pp. 184-217)

    Much of the music discussed in the previous chapter relies on elements of Hungarian folk music (modes, structures, rhythms) that Bartók habitually abstracted in his original compositions. The First Rhapsody for violin and piano (1928; arranged for violin and orchestra, 1929) reflects a somewhat different type of relationship to folk music. Its sources are instrumental melodies as opposed to folk songs; the melodies were mainly collected from Romanians as opposed to Hungarians; and, most important, he not only takes inspiration from their general characteristics, but actually quotes them. More precisely, the Rhapsody consists of tunes collected from village fiddlers in...

  10. SIX Tradition Restored: The Violin Concerto, Verbunkos, and Hungary on the Eve of World War II
    (pp. 218-250)

    Except for the Sixth String Quartet, with itsMestospreading ever more cancerously with every recurrence and finally engulfing the whole last movement, Bartók’s last European works (Divertimento,Contrasts, and the Violin Concerto) are notoriously difficult to relate to the political tensions in Hungary at the time of their composition. Of these works, the Violin Concerto is especially perplexing, for its lush lyricism seems to clash most oddly with the forebodingly late date at the end of the score: 31 December 1938. In his discussion of the work, György Kroó includes a description of the increasing unease in Hungary preceding...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 251-282)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 283-292)
  13. Index
    (pp. 293-308)