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Spotlight on Bartok
Béla Bartók (1881–1945) has been the most frequently performed of the “classical modernist” composers for more than sixty years. His orchestral, concerto, chamber, and piano works appear in the repertoires of well-known performers and ensembles in his own country, and around the world. The catalogue of Editio Musica Budapest features his early works, including ambitious compositions such as the symphonic poem KossuthRhapsody op. 1 and Scherzo op. 2 for piano and orchestra (1903–5), and early masterworks like the 14 bagatelles for piano, the 1st String Quartet, and the Two Pictures for orchestra (1908–10). 

After completing his studies at the Budapest academy of music, Bartók’s primary influence was the music of Richard Strauss which is apparent in Kossuth (1903), his first completed orchestral piece. Written at the age of 22, it commemorates the unsuccessful war of independence, fought by the Hungarian nobility against the House of Habsburg in 1848–49, and its leader, Lajos Kossuth. This symphonic poem, replete with a romantic patriotism, was performed only twice in the composer’s lifetime – first in Budapest and then in Manchester in 1904.

Rhapsody op. 1 was composed in 1904 for solo piano, and then expanded slightly and given an orchestral accompaniment in the following year. Its slow–fast structure and Hungarian verbunkos style hearken back to Liszt’s rhapsodies, while also anticipating his own two violin rhapsodies of 1928 and his Contrasts of 1938. As a pianist, Bartók kept Rhapsody in his repertoire throughout the 1920s.

In contrast, Scherzo op. 2, also composed in 1904 and arranged for piano and orchestra in 1905, was never performed in the composer’s lifetime. The work has a long, slow introduction, followed by a ternary fast section with a piano solo in the middle. The strongly varied, demonic recapitulation, on the other hand, gives the main role to the orchestra. Although this half-hour composition represents the romantic, Hungarian style of the young Bartók, it introduces the “diabolic scherzo” movement which reappears throughout his life’s work.

Two Pictures op. 10, composed in 1910, marks a later stage in Bartók’s stylistic development – a period of integration of Debussy and of Eastern European (Hungarian, Slovak and Romanian) folk music. The colorful score – in accordance with Bartók’s favorite formal scheme – pairs a slow and a fast movement. “In Full Flower” presents a pastoral scene, while “Village Dance” is a lively clapping and stamping dance.

At the request of his Vienna publisher Universal Edition, in the early 1930s Bartók decided to compile accessible and easily played suites from his earlier works thereby creating one of his most popular scores: Hungarian Pictures (1931) an orchestral compilation made from five short piano pieces of 1908–10. This ten-minute cycle links such popular pieces as “An Evening in the Village” and “Bear Dance” from the Ten Easy Piano Pieces, “Slightly Tipsy” from the Three Burlesques, “Swineherd’s Dance” from the piano cycle For Children.

Márton Kerékfy 
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