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Violin Sonata No.1 Sz.75

Béla Bartók (b. 1881 - d. 1945)

Tanja Becker-Bender

Tanja Becker-Bender

Composer
Béla Bartók (b. 1881 - d. 1945)
Composition Year
1921
Work Movements
1. Allegro appassionato
2. Adagio
3. Allegro
Artists
Tanja Becker-Bender [violin], Péter Nagy [piano]

Programme Note Writer:
© Fíacha O'Dubhda

The pace of post-war political change in Hungary was relentless. Following the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire the years 1918-19 saw a liberal government, toppled by a communist revolution, displaced by a rightist counter-revolution, culminating in the reinstatement of the Kingdom of Hungary under the military commander turned elected regent Miklós Horthy.

After all these political upheavals Bartók was left with a simple teaching role at the Budapest Academy of Music. His ethnomusicological work did not chime with the nationalistic turn of Horthy’s regime and he faced mounting criticism in the press for his appreciation of enemy Romanian musics. The work of his kindred composers Kodaly and Dohnányi at the Academy was also continuously under threat, and their musicianship frequently derided in the popular press. Bartók turned to extensive musicological writing, composition, and foreign tours in order to escape the bitter witch-hunts of domestic politics and the stifling tedium of pedagogy and the institution.

The Sonata was composed in 1921 and dedicated to the violinist Jelly Arányi. Bartók and Arányi first performed the work at a private recital in London organised by the Hungarian chargé d'affaires. Arányi's diplomatic connections eased their access to London’s chamber music circles and the following public recital at Aeolian Hall was met with rapturous reception. Bartók was startled by the response, declaring in a subsequent interview; At the end of my violin sonata, I was surprised, and almost confused, by the waves of applause rising up to the platform from an English audience which is generally described as cold and reserved.

The tumultuousness of the work may have as much to do with Bartóks own stylistic quandary as with the unsettling political climate. This was a period when he published his thoughts on composition frequently, striving to negotiate a space between serialism and the folk music of his country. In his 1920 article, The Problem of New Music, he describes the previously undreamt-of wealth of transitory nuances now at our disposal. The First Violin Sonata is emblematic of this fascination with transitory nuance, which can be heard at the thematic, tonal, and rhythmic levels.

The Allegro Appassionato opens with an intoxicating tension between the instruments, the violin's restless melodies blowing across the surface of the piano's choppy angular progressions. The instruments reflect each other's disquiet, their conversation taking an ever more frenzied tone. We are relieved by a muted middle section that is gently brooding, replete with languid tempo changes and mysterious connotations. The return to the primary tempo brings a sense of violent rupture that fades to a high meandering violin melody accompanied by cascading piano passages. The following sections bombard us with continuous juxtapositions of the brooding and the violent, the tempos of the tranquil and the agitated, compounding our disorientation. Yet it is through such vivid contrast that our ears focus on the tiniest details, allowing us to share with the musicians, as Adorno described it, a degree of concentration that is almost out of this world.

The Adagio opens with an extended passage for solo violin that is insular and contemplative. The piano's entry firmly sets the impressionistic tone of the movement, providing an even, glassy backdrop against which the wavering thoughts and sentiments of the violin are reflected and amplified.

The Allegro is a relentless helter-skelter of accelerations and decelerations, its opening breakneck theme the refrain that punctuates the ensuing wild extrapolations. We are led through an astonishing array of instrumental effects and metrical modulations, the tempo changing almost every phrase, to the turbulent conclusion of a movement that is truly an epic lattice of contrasts.

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Violin Sonata No.1 Sz.75

Composer: Béla Bartók (b. 1881 - d. 1945)
Performance date: Friday 29th June 2012
Venue: Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,

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Composer Béla Bartók (b. 1881 - d. 1945)
Work Title Violin Sonata No.1 Sz.75
Composition Year 1921
Work Movements 1. Allegro appassionato
2. Adagio
3. Allegro
Artist(s) Tanja Becker-Bender [violin], Péter Nagy [piano]
Performance Date Friday 29th June 2012
Performance Venue Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,
Event Opening Concert
Duration 00:34:23
Recording Engineer Anton Timoney, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category Duo
Instrumentation vn, pf
Programme Note Writer © Fíacha O'Dubhda

The pace of post-war political change in Hungary was relentless. Following the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire the years 1918-19 saw a liberal government, toppled by a communist revolution, displaced by a rightist counter-revolution, culminating in the reinstatement of the Kingdom of Hungary under the military commander turned elected regent Miklós Horthy.

After all these political upheavals Bartók was left with a simple teaching role at the Budapest Academy of Music. His ethnomusicological work did not chime with the nationalistic turn of Horthy’s regime and he faced mounting criticism in the press for his appreciation of enemy Romanian musics. The work of his kindred composers Kodaly and Dohnányi at the Academy was also continuously under threat, and their musicianship frequently derided in the popular press. Bartók turned to extensive musicological writing, composition, and foreign tours in order to escape the bitter witch-hunts of domestic politics and the stifling tedium of pedagogy and the institution.

The Sonata was composed in 1921 and dedicated to the violinist Jelly Arányi. Bartók and Arányi first performed the work at a private recital in London organised by the Hungarian chargé d'affaires. Arányi's diplomatic connections eased their access to London’s chamber music circles and the following public recital at Aeolian Hall was met with rapturous reception. Bartók was startled by the response, declaring in a subsequent interview; At the end of my violin sonata, I was surprised, and almost confused, by the waves of applause rising up to the platform from an English audience which is generally described as cold and reserved.

The tumultuousness of the work may have as much to do with Bartóks own stylistic quandary as with the unsettling political climate. This was a period when he published his thoughts on composition frequently, striving to negotiate a space between serialism and the folk music of his country. In his 1920 article, The Problem of New Music, he describes the previously undreamt-of wealth of transitory nuances now at our disposal. The First Violin Sonata is emblematic of this fascination with transitory nuance, which can be heard at the thematic, tonal, and rhythmic levels.

The Allegro Appassionato opens with an intoxicating tension between the instruments, the violin's restless melodies blowing across the surface of the piano's choppy angular progressions. The instruments reflect each other's disquiet, their conversation taking an ever more frenzied tone. We are relieved by a muted middle section that is gently brooding, replete with languid tempo changes and mysterious connotations. The return to the primary tempo brings a sense of violent rupture that fades to a high meandering violin melody accompanied by cascading piano passages. The following sections bombard us with continuous juxtapositions of the brooding and the violent, the tempos of the tranquil and the agitated, compounding our disorientation. Yet it is through such vivid contrast that our ears focus on the tiniest details, allowing us to share with the musicians, as Adorno described it, a degree of concentration that is almost out of this world.

The Adagio opens with an extended passage for solo violin that is insular and contemplative. The piano's entry firmly sets the impressionistic tone of the movement, providing an even, glassy backdrop against which the wavering thoughts and sentiments of the violin are reflected and amplified.

The Allegro is a relentless helter-skelter of accelerations and decelerations, its opening breakneck theme the refrain that punctuates the ensuing wild extrapolations. We are led through an astonishing array of instrumental effects and metrical modulations, the tempo changing almost every phrase, to the turbulent conclusion of a movement that is truly an epic lattice of contrasts.