Béla Bartók(1881-1945)

Allegro non troppo
Molto adagio
Allegro assai


Béla Bartók dedicated his whole life to preserving the oldest musical traditions of Hungary, ended his life as an exile in America. Forced to flee Europe in 1939 this work was written at the time of great sorrow shortly before he left. The work is scored for five soloists and the orchestra, reminiscent of Concerto Grosso with soli and ripieno.

The work begins with drive using imaginative folk rhythms, which lie below the first melody. It is not long before soloists intervene leading to the first tranquillo section. The first violins return at intervals with their melody in between crashing fortissimo chords which are often followed by a highly dramatic pianissimo. A final tranquillo section with the soloists leads to a final passionate outburst, which is unmistakably Hungarian with its direct link to the Hungarian language's stress on the first syllable of a word.

Second movement: Chromatic movement introduces the haunting melody in the second violins. The theme is taken over by the first violins, which gradually leads to the viola's passionate Hungarian folksong taken up by in turn by other instruments. A taut and powerful section with crying violins creates enormous tension before dying away to a solo quartet. After a final passionate section the movement dies away until one is suddenly roused by a final fierce scream from violins, surely summing up as the movement ends, all the suffering and anguish that war causes.

The third movement is pure and joyful folk music with lively exchanges between soloists and orchestra. After a double fugato in unison is answered by various instruments, the same procedure takes place before two free solos from the cello and violin romantically sing out the latter in true gypsy style. As the movement continues with great energy there is a parody of a polka before the movement draws to a furious close. 

copyright Lygia O'Riordan