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Bartók, Hungary, and the Renewal of Tradition

Case Studies in the Intersection of Modernity and Nationality

David E. Schneider

Publication Year: 2006

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.

Published by: University of California Press

Series: California Studies in 20th-Century Music

Title Page, Other Works in the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

My interest in Bartók dates back to my days as a professional clarinetist and predates my musicological studies. In those days Bartók’s Contrasts for clarinet, violin, and piano held a special place in my repertoire, and his Violin Concerto (1938), which first captivated me at the Aspen Music Festival in 1983 when it was the required audition piece for the violin concerto competition, ...

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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. ...

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1. Tradition Rejected: Bartók’s Polemics and the Nineteenth-Century Hungarian Musical Inheritance

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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 ...

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2. Tradition Maintained: Nationalism, Verbunkos, Kossuth, and the Rhapsody, Op. 1

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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. ...

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3. Tradition Transformed: “The Night’s Music” and the Pastoral Roots of a Modern Style

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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 from Nine Little Piano Pieces (1926), ...

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4. Tradition Challenged: Confronting Stravinsky

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pp. 119-183

Interpreting works like Kossuth, 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 ...

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5. Tradition Transcribed: The Rhapsody for Violin No. 1, the Politics of Folk-Music Research, and the Artifice of Authenticity

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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. ...

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6. Tradition Restored: The Violin Concerto, Verbunkos, and Hungary on the Eve of World War II

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pp. 218-250

Except for the Sixth String Quartet, with its Mesto spreading 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. ...


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pp. 251-282


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pp. 283-292


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pp. 293-308

E-ISBN-13: 9780520932050
Print-ISBN-13: 9780520245037

Page Count: 319
Publication Year: 2006

Series Title: California Studies in 20th-Century Music