BARTOK: Out of Doors / Ten Easy Pieces / Allegro Barbaro

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Bela Bartok (1881-1945)

Piano Music, Volume 3

The Hungarian composer Bela Bartok was born in 1881 in aregion that now forms part of Romania. His father, director of an agriculturalcollege, was a keen amateur musician, while it was from his mother that Bartokreceived his early piano lessons. The death of his father in 1888 led to a lesssettled existence, as his mother resumed work as a teacher, eventually settlingin the present capital of Slovakia, Bratislava (the Hungarian Poszony), whereBartok passed his early adolescence, counting among his school-fellows thecomposer Erno Dohnanyi. Offered the chance of musical training in Vienna, likeDohnanyi he chose instead Budapest, where he won a considerable reputation as apianist, being appointed to the teaching staff of the Academy of Music in 1907.At the same time he developed a deep interest, shared with his compatriotZoltan Kodaly, in the folk-music of his own and adjacent countries, laterextended as far as Anatolia, where he collaborated in research with the Turkishcomposer Adnan Saygun.

As a composer Bartok found acceptance much more difficult,particularly in his own country, which was, in any case, beset by politicaltroubles when the brief post-war left-wing government of Bela Kun was replacedby the reactionary regime of Admiral Horthy. Meanwhile his reputation abroadgrew, in particular among those with an interest in contemporary music, and hissuccess both as a pianist and as a composer, coupled with dissatisfaction atthe growing association between the Horthy government and National SocialistGermany, led him in 1940 to emigrate to the United States of America.

In his last years, after briefly held teaching appointmentsat Columbia and Harvard, Bartok suffered from increasing ill-health, and from apoverty that the conditions of exile in war-time could do nothing to alleviate.He died in straitened circumstances in 1945, leaving sketches for a new ViolaConcerto and a more nearly completed Third Piano Concerto. The years inAmerica, whatever difficulties they brought, also gave rise to importantcompositions, including the Concerto for Orchestra, commissioned by theKoussevitzky Foundation, and a Sonata for Solo Violin for Yehudi Menuhin.

As a pianist Bartok had had a number of teachers in theyears before his mother settled in Bratislava. There he became a pupil ofLaszlo Erkel, son of the well-known Hungarian opera-composer Ferenc Erkel, andafter his teacher's death in 1896, of Anton Hyrtl, acquiring from both aknowledge of piano repertoire and of traditional compositional techniques. InBudapest his piano teacher was Istvan Thoman, a pupil of Liszt, and hiscomposition teacher the traditionalist Hans Koessler. From the early 1890s, at least,Bartok had written music for the piano, a series of works that remainunpublished, a fate that he might have preferred for his Four Pieces, publishedin 1904. He continued to write for the piano until he left for America in 1940,including among these compositions works for concert performance and piecesdesigned for students, in the comprehensive collection Mikrokosmos covering alevel of competence from that of the beginner to that of the mature performer.

The five pieces that make up Out of Doors were written inthe summer months of 1926. The first, With Drums and Pipes, makes percussiveuse of discordant intervals, at first in the lowest register of the piano.Above this fragments of melody appear, limited in range. Barcarolla isasymmetric in rhythm, making use of the interval of a fourth and moving forwardthrough the constant quaver figuration that runs through the whole piece.Musettes provides the bagpipe drone suggested in the title, with only fragmentsof melody. The Night's Music is a characteristic evocation of the sounds of thenight in tone-clusters, explored elsewhere in his music and here making use ofthe particular resonances of the piano. The piece was dedicated to his secondwife, the pianist Ditta Bartok. The Chase is impelled forward by its energeticrepeated rhythmic figures, with insistent groups of five notes in the left handproviding the constant accompaniment to melodic elements.

Bartok wrote his Four Dirges in 1909-1910, later revisingthem. Parts of the set were first performed in Budapest in 1917 by Dohnanyi.They offer an immediate contrast to The Chase, the first gently sustainingresonances centred on the chord of B major. The second opens in unison, withadded harmony notes held and then arpeggiated, as the music moves to a climaxand then fades once more. The third has solemn fifths doubled in the lowerregister, an octave melody above. The same mood of serene acceptance alsopermeates the fourth piece.

The Two Romanian Dances of the same date, the second revisedin 1943, were inspired by the folk-music of Romania, but are relativelyextended concert pieces. The first opens with an ostinato accompaniment figurein the left hand, against which a vigorous folk-dance is heard, the whole piecemounting to a great dynamic climax. The second starts with a right-handostinato figure, the music gradually gathering momentum, a derivative offolk-music and its spirit and energy, translated into very different terms.

Bartok wrote his Ten Easy Pieces in 1908. The Dedicationthat precedes the ten starts with the notes that he associated with his friend,the violinist Stefi Geyer, for whom he wrote the first of his two violinconcertos, which she never played. The motif appeared in the concerto and thenin the Two Portraits of 1911 that re-used the material of the concerto,returning also to the last of the Fourteen Bagatelles, with the same motif. ThePeasant's Song presents the melody in unison, while Painful Wrestling, itstitle variously translated, has an insistent ostinato accompaniment. TheSlovakian Peasant's Dance, like the two Hungarian Folksongs, the sixth andeighth of the pieces, is an arrangement of a folk-song. The nostalgicSostenuto, suggesting Debussy in more than its final left-hand risingwhole-tone scale, is followed by the most familiar of the pieces, An Evening atthe Village, included in the orchestral Hungarian Sketches of 1931, ajuxtaposition of two pentatonic melodies. The energetic Bear Dance was alsoincluded in the same orchestral work. Between the two Hungarian Folksongs comesDawn, akin to Sostenuto in mood. Finger Exercise, not quite a conventionalfive-finger exercise, as it turns out, has a five-note ostinato throughout.Bear Dance provides a typically vigorous ending to the set.

The Allegro barbaro of 1911 challenges the contemporarypublic in its title and content, as it is impelled onward, before relaxing fora moment into a gentler mood. Like much else, it has its roots in Magyarfolk-music, now absorbed into the composer's own musical language.

The Three Hungarian Folktunes date from 1907 and were alsoarranged for recorder and piano. The Three Burlesques of 1908-1911 offer animmediate contrast. The first of them, Quarrel, was dedicated to Bartok's firstwife, his former student, Marta. As its title suggests, it includes harshdissonances, with very brief moments of apparent reconciliation. The second, ALittle Tipsy, orchestrated in the later Hungarian Sketches, is described as 'inan unsteady rhythm', appropriate to its title. The third, with no title, hasless strident clashes in its headlong and capricious course.

Keith Anderson

Item number 8555329
Barcode 747313532926
Release date 01/01/2004
Category 20th Century
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Jando, Jeno
Jando, Jeno
Composers Bartok, Bela
Bartok, Bela
Producers Toth, Ibolya
Toth, Ibolya
Disc: 1
3 Burlesques, Op. 8c, Sz. 47
1 With Drums and Pipes
2 Barcarolla
3 Musettes
4 The Night's Music
5 The Chase
6 I. Adagio
7 II. Andante
8 III. Poco lento
9 IV. Assai andante
10 I. Allegro vivace
11 II. Poco allegro
12 Dedication
13 I. Peasant Song
14 II. Painful Wrestling
15 III. Slovakian Peasant's Dance
16 IV. Sostenuto
17 V. An Evening at the Village
18 VI. Hungarian Folksong
19 VII. Dawn
20 VIII. Hungarian Folksong
21 IX. Finger Exercise
22 X. Bear Dance
23 Allegro barbaro, Sz. 49
24 Three Hungarian Folktunes, Sz. 65-66
25 Quarrel
26 A Little Tipsy
27 Molto vivo, capriccioso
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