Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Concerto Guide: Bartók, Violin Concerto No. 1, op. post.

Continuing our journey through the concerto in the 20th century, the next one of interest, chronologically, is the Violin Concerto No. 1 of Béla Bartók, which was completed in 1908. It was inspired by an intense romantic attachment Bartók had formed to Stefi Geyer, a gifted violinist who later taught at the Zurich Conservatory.

Stefi Geyer
Alas, this was a doomed romance as Ms. Geyer was not interested, neither in Bartók, nor in Othmar Schoenk who also wrote a concerto for her! She refused the dedication and the concerto was never performed during either of their lifetimes and not premiered until 1958.

It is a powerful work, despite its early provenance: Bartók was only 27 at the time of composition. It is in the form of a rhapsody: two movements, slow then fast. It begins with the violin alone:

Soon joined by the first violin section:

It is in the wandering chromatic melodic style that perhaps had, even this early, taken some inspiration from the folk music of the Carpathian Basin that attracted Bartók's interest later on as a scholar of folk music. One of the ways Bartók developed to structure music was to use tonal relationships to relate the large sections while the surface melodic patterns are organized in other ways. We will get into this more as we look at other concertos by Bartók. Perhaps the biggest influence at the moment of this composition, apart from the ineffable mystique of Stefi Geyer, was that of Debussy which we can also see in the Fourteen Bagatelles, also from 1908.

Without further ado, let's have a listen to the two-movement Violin Concerto No. 1 of Bartók. This is José Maria Blumenschein, Violin with Jukka-Pekka Saraste conducting the Youth orchestra of NRW:


Rickard Dahl said...

Well, a bit too much of the dissonant type of melody for my taste. The first movement gets good after maybe 5:00 or so. I prefer the second movement as it's more energetic.

Bryan Townsend said...

This is really early Bartók and far from being his best work. Part of the reason I chose it was that there are very few examples from this early in the century.