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Contrasts Sz.111

Béla Bartók (b. 1881 - d. 1945)

Tamsin Waley-Cohen

Tamsin Waley-Cohen

Composer
Béla Bartók (b. 1881 - d. 1945)
Composition Year
1938
Work Movements
1. Verbunkos - Moderato, ben ritmato
2. Piheno - Lento
3. Sebes - Allegro vivace
Artists
Tamsin Waley-Cohen [violin], Cédric Tiberghien [piano], Annelien Van Wauwe [clarinet]

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

Contrasts was commissioned by the American jazz clarinettist Benny Goodman, at the suggestion of Bartók's friend the violinist, Joseph Szigeti. It was written in 1938, shortly before Bartók emigrated to the States to escape Nazi persecution. In fact already in 1938, Bartók was sending his manuscript scores to Switzerland for safe-keeping. The annexation of Austria that year also forced him to change his publisher as the Vienna-based Universal Edition was taken over by the Nazis. He was also obliged to move from the Austrian performing rights society, which handled his copyright payments, to its British equivalent. Bartók had nothing but scorn for the Nazis and refused to allow his work to be performed in Germany. But it was only when his mother died at the end of 1939 that he felt able actively to plan his escape.

Contrasts is unique in Bartók's oeuvre as the only one of his chamber works to include a wind instrument, just as the violin was the only other solo instrument that he wrote for apart from his own instrument. All three movements explicitly reflect his obsession with Hungarian folk music that he spent most his life collecting and researching. Each movement takes on the varied and exciting rhythms of Hungarian dances, which combine to make this such an exciting and entertaining work.

The so-called verbunkos tradition originated with gypsy-performed popular dances used to attract village audiences from whom soldiers could be recruited for the Imperial army. Despite the music being drawn from diverse ethnic sources and being used for overt imperial political purposes, the verbunkos became over time a symbol of the Hungarian nation. It also became established in the classical tradition through a series of musical clichés, such that after his early flirtation with overt Hungarian nationalism, Bartók ignored the verbunkos style as too populist and Hungarian audiences avoided his music for not pandering to populist nationalism.

Contrasts was commissioned as a work that would fit on two sides of a 78rpm record for the American jazz audience that were followers of Benny Goodman, the virtuoso jazz clarinettist. In the late thirties he became the most famous jazz musician to achieve fame as a classical concert artist, for instance recording the Mozart Quintet with the Budapest Quartet. In this American context the verbunkos style takes on a different image as does the extravagant first movement cadenza for the clarinet. Incidentally Bartók never kept to the time limits and when he added the slow movement the recording had to move to two records.

The outrageous finale requires the violinist to bring two violins on stage as the movement opens with her playing a mistuned instrument, reminiscent of some village fiddler. The clarinettist also requires two instruments for this virtuoso and viscerally exciting movement. 

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Contrasts Sz.111

Composer: Béla Bartók (b. 1881 - d. 1945)
Performance date: Sunday 3rd July 2016
Venue: Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,

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Composer Béla Bartók (b. 1881 - d. 1945)
Work Title Contrasts Sz.111
Composition Year 1938
Work Movements 1. Verbunkos - Moderato, ben ritmato
2. Piheno - Lento
3. Sebes - Allegro vivace
Artist(s) Tamsin Waley-Cohen [violin], Cédric Tiberghien [piano], Annelien Van Wauwe [clarinet]
Performance Date Sunday 3rd July 2016
Performance Venue Bantry House Library, Bantry, Co. Cork, Ireland,
Event Main Evening Concert
Duration 00:17:18
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category Trio
Instrumentation cl, vn, pf
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

Contrasts was commissioned by the American jazz clarinettist Benny Goodman, at the suggestion of Bartók's friend the violinist, Joseph Szigeti. It was written in 1938, shortly before Bartók emigrated to the States to escape Nazi persecution. In fact already in 1938, Bartók was sending his manuscript scores to Switzerland for safe-keeping. The annexation of Austria that year also forced him to change his publisher as the Vienna-based Universal Edition was taken over by the Nazis. He was also obliged to move from the Austrian performing rights society, which handled his copyright payments, to its British equivalent. Bartók had nothing but scorn for the Nazis and refused to allow his work to be performed in Germany. But it was only when his mother died at the end of 1939 that he felt able actively to plan his escape.

Contrasts is unique in Bartók's oeuvre as the only one of his chamber works to include a wind instrument, just as the violin was the only other solo instrument that he wrote for apart from his own instrument. All three movements explicitly reflect his obsession with Hungarian folk music that he spent most his life collecting and researching. Each movement takes on the varied and exciting rhythms of Hungarian dances, which combine to make this such an exciting and entertaining work.

The so-called verbunkos tradition originated with gypsy-performed popular dances used to attract village audiences from whom soldiers could be recruited for the Imperial army. Despite the music being drawn from diverse ethnic sources and being used for overt imperial political purposes, the verbunkos became over time a symbol of the Hungarian nation. It also became established in the classical tradition through a series of musical clichés, such that after his early flirtation with overt Hungarian nationalism, Bartók ignored the verbunkos style as too populist and Hungarian audiences avoided his music for not pandering to populist nationalism.

Contrasts was commissioned as a work that would fit on two sides of a 78rpm record for the American jazz audience that were followers of Benny Goodman, the virtuoso jazz clarinettist. In the late thirties he became the most famous jazz musician to achieve fame as a classical concert artist, for instance recording the Mozart Quintet with the Budapest Quartet. In this American context the verbunkos style takes on a different image as does the extravagant first movement cadenza for the clarinet. Incidentally Bartók never kept to the time limits and when he added the slow movement the recording had to move to two records.

The outrageous finale requires the violinist to bring two violins on stage as the movement opens with her playing a mistuned instrument, reminiscent of some village fiddler. The clarinettist also requires two instruments for this virtuoso and viscerally exciting movement.