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Bartk on His Own Music

Author(s): John Vinton


Source: Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Summer, 1966), pp.
232-243
Published by: University of California Press on behalf of the American Musicological Society
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Bartokon his own Music1


BY JOHN VINTON

WHEN

EXAMINING Bela Bart6k's remarks about music, one should re-

member two things: his remarks about the folk music of Eastern
Europe2 were the product of tens of thousands of hours of scholarly
research and systematic analysis, but his remarks about his own music
(although they deal with specific technical features and are supported
by numerous examples) are basically the informal thinking of a composer rather than the systematic analysis of a scholar. It should be pointed
out that Bartok was often reluctant to express his feelings about art
music and that he refused many attractive offers to teach composition.
We can expect, therefore, that when he writes about his own music, he
will not be as comprehensive as he is when he writes about folk music,
and we can expect that he will dwell on those aspects of his style that are
most closely related to the folk music he has already analyzed.3 These
tendencies can be seen in two passages from a lecture that Bart6k prepared in 1942-43:
I never created new theories in advance; I hated such ideas. I had, of
course, a very definite feeling [about] certain directions [I wanted] to take,
but at the time of the work I did not care about what designationswould apply to those directions, what sources they came from. This doesn't mean . . .
composing without . . . plans and without sufficient control. The plans were
concerned with the spirit of the new work and with technical problemsfor instance, formal structure [as required] by the spirit of the work-all this
more or less instinctively felt; but I was never concerned with general theories
to be applied to the works I was going to write. Now that the greatest part of
my work has already been written, there appear certain general tendencies,
general formulaefrom which to deduce theories. But even now I would prefer
to try new ways and meansinsteadof deducingtheories.
Source 7 (1942-43),

p. 594

1The followingarticleis basedon materialthat was madeavailableto the writer


by the Bela BartokArchivesin New York.Permissionto quote from Bartok'sunpublishedwritingswas kindlygrantedby Victor Bator,founderof the Archivesand
Trusteeof the Bart6kEstate.
2 Bart6kprepared
morethanfive dozenbooks,articles,andlectureson this subject,
some of which remainunpublishedto this day. The most completebibliographyof
his writingscan be found in HalseyStevens'The Life and Musicof BelaBartok,revised edition (New York: Oxford University Press, I964),

pp.

337-343.Some addenda

to ProfessorStevens'list havebeen includedin a reviewof the book by the present


writer,whichwill be publishedin a forthcomingissueof Notes.
3 For theseobservations,
as well as for othervaluablesuggestions,the writeris indebtedto ProfessorIvanF. Waldbauerof BrownUniversity.
4Seethe list of sourcesprintedbelow.

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BARTOKON HIS OWN MUSIC

233

So the start for the creation of the new Hungarian art music was given
first by a thorough knowledge of the devices of old and contemporaryWestern art music (for the technique of composition); and second by this newly
discovered musical rural material of incomparable beauty and perfection
(this for the spirit of our works to be created).
Scores of aspects could be distinguished and quoted by which this material exerted its influence on us; for instance: tonal influence, melodic influence, rhythmicinfluence,and even structuralinfluence.
Source 7 (I942-43),

pp. 31 & 33.

In the pages that follow, some of Bartok's writings are quoted and
placed into categories similar to those that he himself mentions in the
passage immediately above. The quotations have been gathered from
eight sources, all of which are in English. Bartok's spelling and English
style sometimes differ from standard usage, and in such cases the present
writer has taken the liberty of editing the text; in no instance does such
editing affect the meaning of the passage. The sources quoted will be
referred to in this article by the numbers under which they are given
here:
SOURCES
I. "The Relation of Folk-Song to the Development of the Art Music of Our
Time," The Sackbut (June, 1921), pp. 5-II. Parts of this article were published originally in "Der Einflussder Volksmusikauf die heutige Kunstmusik,"
Melos (October, 1920),
pp. 384-386; however, the passages quoted in the
presentarticle appearedonly in the English version.
2.

"The Folk Songs of Hungary," Pro Musica (October, 1928), pp. 28-35.

3. "The Peasant Music of Hungary," The Musical Courier (September

12,

1931), pp. 6 & 22.

4. "HungarianPeasant Music," The AMusicalQuarterly XIX (I933),

pp. 267-

287.

5. "RumanianFolk Music" (3 volumes, unpublished,which were completed


in I943). The manuscriptof this work is deposited at ColumbiaUniversity. It
has been edited by BenjaminSuchoff and will be published in I966 under the
auspicesof the Bela Bart6kArchives,New York.
6. "SomeProblems of Folk Music Researchin East Europe" (unpublishedlecture preparedin 1941;the typescript is at the Bela BartokArchives, New York).
7. ["The New HungarianArt Music"] (unpublishedlecture notes preparedin
I942-43;

Bart6k's hand-written draft is at the Bela Bart6k Archives, New

York).
8. "Foreword"to "Bela Bartok: Masterpieces for the Piano" (unpublished).
This foreword was written in 1945when Bartok assembledan anthology of his
piano compositionsfor publicationby the E. B. MarksCorporation;the anthology was not published, but the typescript for the foreword is at the Bela
Bartok Archives, New York.
I. MELODIC ECONOMY
One of the first characteristics of folk music that Bartok discovered
and utilized in his own compositions was economy of means:

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234

JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MUSICOLOGICALSOCIETY

. .. Every single melody of the peasantmusic in the narrower sense is perfection itself-a classical example of how the musical thought can be expressed
in the most ideal manner with the simplest means and in the most finished
form.
Source 4 ( 933), p. 270

So, above all, from this music we learn how best to employ terseness of expression, the utmost excision of all that [is] non-essential-and it was this
very thing, after the excessive grandiloquenceof the romantic period, which
we thirstedto learn.
Source 2 (1928), pp. 30-3I

The first group of original compositions to show the influence of this


factor was the Fourteen Bagatelles. Bartok wrote the following about these
pieces when, many years after they were composed, he assembled an album of his piano music:
The oldest of these sets of pieces are the Bagatelles,written in May, I908. In
these, a new piano style appearsas a reaction to the exuberanceof the romantic piano music of the nineteenth century-a style devoid of all unessential
decorative elements, deliberately using only the most restricted technical
means. As later developments indicate, the Bagatelles inauguratea new trend
of piano writing in my career, which is consistently followed in almost all of
my successivepiano works ....
Source 8 (i945)5

Bartok was not alone in hearing something new in the Bagatelles. Shortly
after they were composed he played them for a piano class of Ferruccio
Busoni in Switzerland. In a postcard to Etelka Freund, 28 June 1908,
Bart6k reported:
Busoni nagyon 6riilt a zongoradaraboknak"Endlich etwas wirklich neues"
mondta.
[Busoni was very happy with the piano pieces and said, "Finally, something
really new."]6
II. MELODIC AND RHYTHMIC VARIABILITY

To produce good music, restricted resources must be used in an


imaginative way, and this, too, Bart6k found in folk music:
It is amazing indeed what a variety can be achieved with such scanty means.
Still more surprisingis the wealth of repertoire (or creative imagination?) of
Lazar Lascus, a boy eighteen years old, the best bagpipe player I have ever
met. He played all in all thirty-one dance pieces which contain io6 different
motifs . . . He turned them out with an ease and an almost kaleidoscopic
rapidity, really remarkable.We must concede, though, that he began to repeat
himself later.
Source 5 (1943) I, p. 57
5 In the same source Bart6k also mentions the Seven Sketches (1908-191o) as being

a productof this trend,"althoughin the fourth,thereis a certainreturnto the old


style pianotechnique."
6 Printedin JainosDemeny(ed.), BartdkBelalevelei[11] (Budapest, I95I), p. 83.

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BART6K ON HIS OWN MUSIC

235

In addition to the creative use of material by musicians like Lazar Lacu?,


Bartok heard melodic and rhythmic variations that were produced almost
accidentally:
A considerablenumber of the singers either seem to have no correct notion
about the melody and its structure or are totally careless about it. They may
begin the melody at a wrong point, with the second or third section, and may
terminate it in the same way. This is a fortuitously characterizedprocedure
from which no system can be deduced.
Source 5 (1943) II, pp. 46-47
Peasant melody is a very elastic material;its external form, being without an
essential basis, is unstable even in the case of one and the same individual.
When one hears any given melody sung several times in succession by the
same person, one will generally notice certain slight alterationsin the rhythm,
sometimeseven differencesin pitch.
Source 4 (1933), p. 269
On such variations as these, Bartok may have based one of his own techniques of melodic development:
You know very well the extension of themes . . . called augmentation and
the compression . . . of them called diminution. These devices are very well
known, especially from the i7th- and i8th-century art music. This new device
could be called "extension in range" of a theme. For the extension we have
the liberty of choosing whatever diatonic scale or mode we want .. . As you
will see, such an extension will considerably change the character of the
melody, sometimes to such a degree that its relation to the original nonextended form will be scarcely recognizable. [In some cases] we will have the
impression [of dealing] with an entirely new melody. And this is very good indeed, because we will get variety in one sense while the unity remains undestroyed because of the hidden relation between the two forms. If, perhaps,
you will object that this new device is somehow artificial, my only answer
will be that it absolutelyis no more artificialthan those old devices of augmentation, diminution, inversion, and cancrizans of themes. The last one even
seems to be much more artificial . . . When I first used the device of extending chromatic melodies into diatonic form or vice-versa,I thought I [had]
invented something absolutely new that [had] never existed [before].
Source 7 (1942-43), pp. 67, 69, & 7i7

Along with the freedom of pitch that Bartok found in folk music, he
also found a great variety in the treatment of note values and accent:
[To the averagemusician] a plain old rustic melody sounds incomprehensibly
modern because his ears are not greeted with the comfortable and well known
tonic-dominant variantsof the major and minor scales, but by dorian, lydian,
mixolydian and other remarkableand strange series of tones. And to this is
added the freest of rhythm; not the hackneyed sequence of but one kind of
measure, but a rubato recital with the strangest coloratures-sometimes four
7Bart6klisted here as examples:for the spreading-outof a melody, the String

Quartet No. 4 [I, bars II-22]

and the Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta; and

for the compressing


of a melody,No.

I12 fromthe Mikrokosmos.

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JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MUSICOLOGICALSOCIETY

236

or five variations in a measure within one short melody. Truly difficult to


understand!
Source 3 (1931), p. 6

The greater rhythmic structure of instrumental dance melodies is, on the


whole, much more subject to seemingly hazardous changes than that of
melodies sung with text. Extra-structuralrepeats of certain bars or sections,
and even interpolationsof severalbars,are rathercommon.
Source 5 (1943) I, p. 51

We must mention . . . the "shifted"rhythm occurring in some pieces . . . It


can be expressed for one melody section by the following symbols: (Ex. i).
Ex. i
>

>

>

>

>

>

>

>

andab cdlbclde[[.

ablcalbcldel|;

Each letter stands for a quarter-note value; identical letters mean identical
content. The phrase . . . is repeated with shifted accents so that accentuated
partslose their accent in the repeatwhile non-accentuatedpartsgain one.
Source 5 (1943) I, p. 51
After coming into contact with these aspects of folk music, Bartok
revised his own rhythmic thinking:
I also mention the quite incredible rhythmic variety inherent in our peasant
melodies. We find the most conceivably free, rhythmic spontaneity in our
parlando-rubatomelodies; in the melodies with a fixed dance rhythm the most
curious, most inspiring rhythmic combinations are to be found. It therefore
goes without saying that this circumstance pointed the way to altogether
novel rhythmic possibilitiesfor us.
Source 2

(1928),

p. 34

Thus, we had three sources to draw from. First, the parlando-rubato;


second, the normal rigid rhythm with occasional changes of measure; and
third, the dotted rhythm. As for the parlando-rubatorhythm, it could mostly
be used in vocal-solo works.8 This kind of musical recitation is in a certain
relation to that created by Debussy in his Pelleas et Melisande and in some of
his songs; [Debussy] again based it on the old-French recitativo. This recitation is in the sharpestpossible contrast to the Schonbergiantreatment of vocal
parts in which the most exaggeratedleaps and restlessnessappear.
What mostly interested us in the rigid rhythm . . . were the changes of
measure. I fully exploited these possibilities . . . in my earliest works, and
later with, perhaps, some exaggeration . . .9
Our third and perhaps most important rhythmic source is the "dotted
rhythm" [Ex. 2]. This, although of vocal origin, can be transferred into
Ex.

[ J J

J J.

or

j.

.),

8 Bartokaddedhere: "Kekszakallubol

beard"].

nehanypelda"["Someexamplesfrom Blue-

9 Bartok added here:


"milyen peldak I. suite? II. suite? kesobbiek? tanc-suite,
Huiros hangsz. elso tetel?" ["which examples: ist suite? 2nd suite? later ones? dance
suite, Music for str. first movement?"].

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BARTOKON HIS OWN MUSIC

237

purely instrumentalmusic and is amply used there by us.10A softer variety


of it is the following rhythm: [Ex. 3]. . . .11 We may have, though not
Ex. 3

DJ J D | - J^ J S!)
^ ..or JJ
very frequently, 5/8 time or 7/8 time in our [folk]melody. The difference
between these and the regular 2/4 is not essential; it is rather a derivative
difference. 5/8 can be explained as a doubling of one of the eighths in a
2/4-time measure, and 7/8 by a trebling of one of the eighths in a 4/4-time
measure.These strange measures attracted me in a high degree, and their influence can be discovered in many places [in] my original works. As for the
strangenessof these measures,it is, however, nothing in comparisonwith . . .
"Bulgarian"rhythm formations.
Source 7 (1942-43), pp. 77, 79, &8i
[In Bulgarianrhythm-formations]the smallestunit is very short, the MM.
[value] being about 380. These extremely small units are grouped into higher
unequal units . .. [such as] groups of 2 + 2 + 3 sixteenthswhich form a bar.
There are many differentsuch groups: about 40 or 50.
Source 6 (194I), p. II
III. TONALITY AND MODALITY

Considering the difficulty of describing twentieth-century harmonic


procedures, it is not surprising that Bartok should be a little confusing
when he treats this subject. However, some general principles can be
clearly delineated. The first and most important is that Bartok always considered folk music and his own music to be tonal:
One point, in particular, I must again stress: Our peasant music, naturally,
is invariably tonal, although not always in the sense that the inflexible major
and minor system is tonal. (An "atonal"folk-music, in my opinion, is unthinkable.) Since we depend upon a tonal basis of this kind in our creative work, it
is quite self-evidentthat our works are quite pronouncedlytonal in type.
Source 2 (I928), p. 35
Bart6k was so thoroughly rooted in tonal harmony that he could not
even acknowledge the existence of atonality and polytonality:
Perfect and real atonality doesn't exist even in Schonberg'sworks, because of
that unchangeablephysical law concerning the interrelationof the harmonics,
and their relation to their fundamentaltone. When we hear a single tone, we
will interpret it subconsciously as a fundamentaltone. When we hear a following different tone, we will-again subconsciously-project it on the first
tone (felt as being the fundamentalone) and interpret it according to its relation to the latter. In a so-called atonal work, one selects now this, now another
tone as a fundamentalone, and projects all other happeningsof the piece onto
these selected fundamentals. The same phenomenon appears when dealing
10Bartokaddedthe following exampleshere: the first dance in his ballet, The
Wooden Prince, and the second theme of No. 5 from Ten Easy Piano Pieces.
1 Bart6kadded here: "I used this for instancein my VI Str.
qu. pelda I tetel

2.

tema III. tetel trio" [". . . ist movement,2nd theme; 3rd movement,trio"].

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JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MUSICOLOGICALSOCIETY


238
with so-called polytonal music. Here polytonality exists only for the eye when
looking at the music. But our mental hearing again will select one key as a
fundamentalkey and will project the tones of the other keys on this selected
one. The parts in different keys will be interpeted as consisting of tones of the
chosen key....

Source 7 (1942-43), pp. 39 & 4I

In the last year of his life, Bartok made the following observation about
pieces that had once been "analyzed" as polytonal:
Some additionalexplanationsseem to be appropriateto the Bagatelles.The
first bears a key signatureof four sharps (as used for C# minor) in the upper
staff, and of four flats (as used for F minor) in the lower staff. This semiserious and semi-jesting procedure was to demonstratethe absurdity of key
signatures in certain kinds of contemporary music. After carrying the keysignatureprinciple ad absurdumin the first piece, I dropped its use in all the
other Bagatellesand in most of my following works as well. The tonality of
the first Bagatelle is, of course, not a mixture of C# minor and F minor, but
simply a Phrygian colored C Major. In spite of this, it was quoted several
times as an "early example of bitonality" in the twenties when it was fashionable to talk about bi- and polytonality. The same fate befell the second Sketch
about the same time although its tonality is indisputablya pure C Major.
Concerning the tonality of some of the other pieces, the following statements are added, in order to avoid misunderstanding:
Sketches: 4 CSminor
Bagatelles: 2 Db Major
6 B Major
7 B Major
7 D: minor
8 G minor
9 Eb Major
Elegies: i D minor
10 C Major
2
CX minor
12
B minor
13 Eb minor
This information is addressedespecially to those who like to label all music
they do not understandas atonal music.
Source 8 (1945)
As an alternative explanation for his own experiments away from
traditional harmonic practices, Bart6k offered the concept of polymodality. It is here that his writing becomes less clear than usual and sometimes sounds like the species of theory-deducing that he disliked. He
came into contact with polymodality, as one might expect, through folk
music:
It is very interestingto note that we can observe the simultaneoususe of major
and minor third even in instrumentalfolkmusic. Folkmusic is generally music
in unison; however, there are areas where two violins are used to perform
dance music; one violin plays the melody, the other plays accompanying
chords.And ratherqueer chords may appearin these pieces.
Source 7 (1942-43), p. 45

Bart6k developed this spontaneous use of polymodality into a more com-

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BART6K ON HIS OWN MUSIC

239

plex harmonic procedure, which he called "polymodal chromaticism" or,


more simply, "modal chromaticism":
As the result of superimposinga lydian and a phrygian pentachord with a
common fundamentaltone, we get a diatonic pentachord filled out with all
the possible flattened and sharpened degrees. These seemingly chromatic flat
and sharp degrees, however, are totally different in their function from the
altered chord degrees of the chromatic styles of the previous periods. A
chromatically altered note of a chord is in strict relation to its non-altered
form; it is a transition leading to the respective tone of the following chord.
In our polymodal chromaticism, however, the flat and sharp tones are not
altered degrees at all; they are diatonic ingredients of a diatonic modal scale.
Source 7 ( I 942-43), p. 43
I must state again to what results the superimposingof the various modes led
us. First result: a kind of restricted bimodality or polymodality. Bimodality
again led towards the use of diatonic scales or scale-portions [that were]
filled out with chromaticized degrees . . . They are not altered degrees of a
certain chord leading to a degree of a following chord. They can only be interpreted as the ingredients of the various modes used simultaneously-a certain number of these seemingly chromaticizeddegrees belonging to one mode,
others to another mode . . . This modal chromaticism, as we will call this
phenomenon henceforward . . . is a main characteristicof the new Hungarian
art music.
Source 7 (1942-43), p. 57

But not only different modes can be superimposed;the same can be done with
the common major and minor scale, or to be more exact, with a major and
minor pentachord. As a result we will get a triad with a double third, one a
minor third, the other a major.12
Source

7 (1942-43),

p. 45

You can't expect to find a work among ours in which the upper part continuously uses a certain mode and the lower part another mode. So if we
say that our art music is polymodal, this only means that modality or bimodality appearsin longer or shorter portions of our works, sometimes only
in single bars. So, changes may succeed from bar to bar or even from beat
to beat in a bar. I will show you an examplein which each tone of the theme is
treatedseparately.13
Source 7 (1942-43), p. 47

These last remarks, and the example of a theme in which each tone
is treated separately, help to clarify some of Bartok's earlier writings on
the chromatic tendencies in his own music. In the twenties he (or his
translator) referred to modal chromaticism as an equalizing of the value
of semitones:
The genuine folk music of easternEurope is almost completely diatonic and in
some parts, such as Hungary, even pentatonic. Curiously enough [in view of
this fact] . .. a tendency [appearedin our art music] towards the emancipa12Bartoklisted here as examples:the String QuartetNo. 2, No. I08 from the
and the trio from the secondmovementof the StringQuartetNo. 6.
Mikrokosmos,
13The exampleis the BagatelleNo. 7.

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240

JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MUSICOLOGICALSOCIETY

tion of the twelve tones comprising our octave . . . (This has nothing to do
with the ultra-chromaticism[of the Wagner-Straussperiod] . . . , for there
chromaticnotes are only chromaticin so far as they are basedupon the underlying diatonic scale.) The diatonic element in eastern European folk music
does not in any way conflict with the tendency to equalize the value of
semitones. This tendency can be realised in melody as well as in harmony;
whether the foundation of the folk melodies is diatonic or even pentatonic,
there is still plenty of room in the harmonisationfor equalizing the value of
the semitones.
Source i (1921), pp. 7-8
This analytical concept preceded the period of greatest chromaticism in
Bart6k's original compositions:
My first "chromatic"melody I invented in 1923 and used as the first theme of
my Dance Suite. This has some resemblance to Arab melody . . . This was
only an incidental digressionon my part and had no special consequences.My
second attempt was made in 1926; on that occasion I did not try to imitate
anything known from folkmusic.14I can't rememberhaving met such kinds of
melodic chromaticism deliberately developed to such a degree in any other
contemporarymusic.
Source 7 (1942-43),

pp. 65 & 67

By 1928 Bartok felt that he had passed through this period of extreme
chromaticism:
I must admit . .. that there was a time when I thought I was approachinga
species of twelve-tone music. Yet even in works of that period the absolute
tonal foundationis unmistakable.
Source 2 (I928), p. 35
Bartok continued to insist throughout the rest of his life that his music was
based on an "unmistakable"tonal foundation:
The same can be said about my melodies as [what] I have already said concerning the chromaticfolk melodies. That is: the single tones of these melodies
are independent tones having no interrelation between each other; there is,
however, in each specimen of them a decidedly fixed fundamental tone to
which the others resolve in the end.
Source 7 (1942-43), p. 67

To point out the essential difference between atonality, polytonality, and


polymodality in a final word on this subject, we may say that atonal music
offers no fundamentaltone at all, polytonality offers or is supposed to offer
several of them, polymodality offers a single one. Therefore, our music, I
mean the new Hungarian art music, is always based on a single fundamental
tone, as [much] in its entirety as in its sections.
Source 7 (1942-43), P. 47

14Bartokadded nine exampleshere: i) No. 4 from Out of Doors; 2) String


QuartetNo. 4, secondmovement;3) Piano ConcertoNo. 2, second movement;4)
CantataProfana,fugue theme; 5) Music for Strings. . . , first and third movements;6) Sonatafor Two Pianosand Percussion,secondmovement;7) Violin Concerto [1937-38],first movement"contrasting"
theme; 8) Divertimentofor String
Orchestra,secondmovement;and9) StringQuartetNo. 6.

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BARTOKON HIS OWN MUSIC

241

IV. HARMONIC MANNERISMS

With regard to this subject, Bartok's own words need no further


comment:
The Minor Seventh as a Consonant Interval
We find in the music of Eastern Europe the most incredible variety in the
leading of the melodic lines, as well as in the availabletonal modes ... In the
majority of these tonal modes the fifth degree, in general, does not play that
dominant part which we can observe in the case of the fifth degree of the
major or minor scale. This circumstance has exerted an important influence
on our harmonicprocesses-that reciprocity of effect between tonic and dominant, so familiar to us in older art music, must here give up much of its
sovereignty. In ... pentatonic scales the third, fifth and seventh are of equal
rank and importance.
Source 2 (1928),

p. 31

A visible sign of the consonant characterof the seventh [in folk music] is the
condition that the regular resolution of the seventh (one degree downward to
the sixth degree) does not occur, in reality cannot occur, because the sixth
degree is missing, [as] for instance, in this old Hungarian melody from
Transdanubia:
Ex. 4
Parlando

tt-h
i;

r rrr
I[

r
1--

- -

i TI
I

,L I

A principalmotive in my... II. Suite, 2nd movement is as follows:


Ex. 5

"r p
i

The final chord of the movement is:


Ex. 6

which is a simultaneousresonance of all four (or five) tones of the motive. . .


The incentive to do this was provided by these pentatonic melodies. When the
consonant form of the seventh was established, the ice was broken: From
that moment the seventh could be appliedas a consonanceeven without a neces-

sarily logical preparation.

Source

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2 (1928),

p. 32

JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MUSICOLOGICALSOCIETY

242

The Building of Fourth Chords


A further peculiarity of these old melodies is to be found in the frequent
occurrence of the skip of a perfect fourth:
Ex. 7
Parlando

tG

rI

L.

II

. . . The frequent repetition of this remarkable skip occasioned the construction of the simplest fourth chord (which was filled in to be completed as a
consonant chord) and its inversions:
Ex. 8

-5 JI II-I.
II
(a)

(c)

(b)

Form (b) occurs as the final chord (to be sure derived thematically in the
same manner as the above-mentioned final chord of the II. Suite) in the last
movement of my first string quartet.
Ex. 9
1r

Source

2 (1928),

pp. 32-33

The Use of the Tritone


Roumanian and Slovakian folk-songs show a highly interesting treatment of
the tritone (the first in a sort of mixolydian mode with minor 6th, the other
in a lydian mode) . . . These forms brought about the free use of the
augmented fourth, the diminished fifth, and of such chords as:
Ex. IO

Through inversion, and by placing these chords in juxtaposition one above the
other, many different chords are obtained and with them the freest melodic
as well as harmonic treatment of the twelve tones of our present day harmonic system.15
Source 2 (1928), p. 34
15 Because the tritone has been so
in
widely exploited twentieth-century music, it
might be interesting to compare Bartok's approach to this interval with Anton
Webern's. Bartok was attracted to it because of its occurrences in the modes used in
folk song, while Webern was attracted to it because of its position at the mathematical

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BART6K ON HIS OWN MUSIC

243

V. THE USE OF PERCUSSIONINSTRUMENTS

The single comment given below is not as significant as Bartok's remarks on other aspects of his music, but it does show an important
aesthetic inclination:
This idea [of writing pieces for percussion instruments alone] seems to be
propagated mostly in this country [USA]; several composers have written
such pieces; I have seen whole programs consisting only of percussion music.
However interestingly rhythmic and other devices may be used in such kinds
of music, I think it is nevertheless rather monotonous . . . to listen exclusively to such music [for the durationof an entire concert]. This is my feeling in spite of being personally very much interested in the exploitation of
percussioninstrumentsin variousnew ways.
Source 7 (1942-43), p. 9

It is one of Bartok's twentieth-century characteristics that he was


conscious of and verbal about so many of his own techniques of composition. But because he was never systematic in analyzing his own
music, he overlooked many significant factors and thereby left plenty of
room for further analysis and evaluation. For some of us, his music may
gain in attractiveness if it is pointed out that even obvious features,
such as thematic resemblance, were not necessarily the result of deliberate calculation:
When the statement was made by the author that the first theme of the
last movement [of the second quartet] was derived from the corresponding
theme of the first movement, Bart6k seemed surprised,and asked to be shown
where the similarity existed. After studying the themes for a moment, he
replied, "You are right, you are right-but it was entirely unconscious."1x6
The Evening Star
Washington, D. C.
of symmetry,regularityare now to the fore, as
centerof the octave:"Considerations
againstthe emphasisformerlylaid on the principalintervals-dominant,subdominant,
mediant,etc. For this reasonthe middleof the octave-the diminishedfifth-is now
most important."(AntonWebern,The Path to the New Music,Bryn Mawr:Theodore Presser Company, 1963,p. 54.)

16ChristineAhrendt,"AnAnalysisof the SecondQuartetof BelaBart6k,"unpublishedmaster'sthesis(EastmanSchoolof Music,I946), p. io.

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