This chapter will examine the extent to which Bartók synthesised elements that were derived from his

interaction with folk music. In Bartók’s mature works these elements evolve into what Antokoletz calls “a highly complex and systematic network of divergent chords and scales.”[1] In attempting to show the relation of folk music to Bartók’s creative music concepts, I concentrate on important techniques central to the early compositional idiom. I will analyse Bartók’s use of modality, demonstrating its influence on the symmetrical intervallic constructions of abstract music. It will be the purpose of this discussion to concentrate on the Bartók’s early collections of piano music, Fourteen Bagatelles op. 6 (1908), Ten Easy Pieces (1908) and Sketches op. 9b (1908-10).

In his Harvard lectures Bartók explained the difference between his concept of harmonic dissolution and that achieved by the dodecaphonic composers: Schönberg, Webern and Berg. He described a contrast between works based on an atonal system and works fixed in a concept governed by tonal centricity:
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 fundamental tone at all, polytonality offers – or is supposed to offer – several of them, and polymodality offers a single tone. Therefore our music, I mean the new Hungarian art music, is always based on a single fundamental tone, in its sections as well as in its whole.[2]

This illustrates how Bartók related chromatic pitches to modal pitch sets with common fundamental notes. As was demonstrated in the previous chapter, Bartók used a system combining two or more modal segments, based on a single fundamental pitch, which enabled him to use all twelve pitches of the chromatic spectrum. This system retains the fundamental tone as a point of reference, rather than a fundamental in the traditional hierarchical sense. This technique is not concerned with atonality, but a rejection of harmony in favour of a new way of establishing tonal priority. As was shown in the previous chapter, this technique was used to enrich the harmonic language

this only means that polymodality or bimodality appears in longer of shorter portions of our work.”[4] He writes in his essay “Autobiography” about the common bond between composers linked to folk tradition: In 1907. studied it through thoroughly and was greatly surprised to find in his work ‘pentatonic phrases’ similar in character to those contained in peasant music.[3] It is important to note that Bartók’s ideas were not developed in isolation from other developments in European art-music: he acknowledged that this compositional trend was not only limited to the new Hungarian art music. you cannot expect to find among our works one in which the upper part continually uses a certain mode and the lower part continuously uses another mode.[5] These discoveries coincided with Bartók’s examination of the modal and pentatonic structures of his native Hungarian folk music. For instance. very likely from Russia. various methods and principles cross each other. Bartók’s rather more complex and variegated approach to polymodal interaction of his original works is demonstrated by his comments: In our works. as well as in other contemporary works. So change may succeed from bar to bar. sometimes only in single bars. Bartók’s free compositions written after this period are an attempt to synthesis these elements and provide a cohesive framework for the construction of new works. It has become rejuvenated under the influence of a kind of peasant music that has remained untouched by the musical creations of the last centuries. I was sure these could be attributed to influences of folk music from Eastern Europe. which he felt gave “valuable hints for future possibilities. modern music has developed along similar lines in countries geographically far away from each other. Similar influences can be traced in Igor Stravinsky’s work.of simple modal folk tunes. An important event in Bartók’s development as a composer was his discovery of Debussy’s whole-tone scales and pentatonic formations. I became acquainted with Debussy’s work. or even from beat to beat in a bar. but was also influenced by other composers affected by the folk idiom. So if we say our art music is polymodal. at the instigation of Kodály. . It seems therefore that in our age.

I am not need of contradictory accumulation of dissonances which express that mood.[11] These pieces parallel the dissolution of tonality found in the early music of Arnold Schönberg. points out that they were “one of the earliest sets of pieces to discard the triad as the exclusive harmonic premise. His activities in 1907 led to a series of original piano works that formed the basis of a new style. what the composer has to say is out of the ordinary.”[10] The originality of these pieces was highlighted by Ferruccio Busoni’s words of praise. There are strong parallels between the Bagatelles and Schönberg’s op. 6. 11 .” so that today. [6] He was evidently aware of the importance of the place of the Bagatelles in his compositional development when he said that: “the Bagatelles inaugurate a new trend of piano writing in my career.[9]s Elliot Antokoletz. This may be a consequence of allowing myself to become more and more influenced by folk music [8] Many Bartók scholars have emphasised the importance of the Bagatelles in the wider context of the turn-of-the-century modernist movement. deliberately using only the most restricted technical means. which were included in an advertisement for the first edition published by Károly Rosznyai in 1909: I hold these pieces to be among the most interesting and original of our time. dissonant counterpoint. chords in intervals other than thirds.”[7] He wrote in a letter of 1910 that after writing the Bagatelles: I have regained some inner “harmony. a style stripped of all unessential decorative elements. and entirely individual.In 1907 Bartók was appointed chair of piano teaching at the Academy of Music in Budapest. who uses the Bagatelles as the basis of his study The Music of Béla Bartók (1984). somewhat before the works of Stravinsky and Schoenberg in which these devices first came to light. the earliest of which was the Fourteen Bagatelles op. Bartók described them in 1945: A new piano style appears as a reaction to the exuberance of the Romantic piano music of the nineteenth century. These were published as collections of short pieces. Stevens points out that Bartok was ahead of his contemporaries: The Piano music of 1908 shows experimentation with bitonality.

and on another they are an exposition of his early experimental ideas. Victoria Fischer. also all illustrate various levels of compositional treatment Bartók used for the accompaniment of folk music. which Bartók says is a “half-serious. He points out that the ear selects one key as the fundamental and “will project the tones of the other . which asserts the existence of two keys operating simultaneously. He states unequivocally that the tonality is “simply a Phrygian coloured C major. Seven Sketches op. On one level these works reveal Bartók’s interest in a pedagogical approach to composition.piano pieces composed the following year. In Bagatelle no. author of an article on the Bagatelles. as well as techniques for the creation of original music. and Ten Easy Pieces. and the lower stave has four flats implying Fminor.[13] The top stave has four sharps implying C#-minor. 9b. They mark an important transition from the youthful style to Bartók’s more individualistic mature style found in later works. 1. half-jesting procedure” designed to make fun of the use of key signatures in contemporary music. which later developed into more complex interactions. In his analysis of this piece Bartók rejects a polytonal interpretation. In his Harvard lectures Bartók explains the inability of the ear to perceive two or more different keys simultaneously. polytonality is the main feature of the musical language and the piece is notated in two key signatures. revealing the basic constructions of Bartók’s musical oeuvre. points out that these pieces are a “microcosm” of Bartók’s mature style and contain seeds of what was developed in later compositions.[12] Other collections subsequently published by Bartók.”[14] This statement supports a polymodal rather than the polytonal interpretation. which took shape in his larger scale compositions. These studies can indeed be interpreted as the seeds of composition. A method quite common to all these collections is the pedagogical exploration into a limited use of technique.

1). 4.”[15] In other words. which tends to emphasis the flattened second Phrygian colouring. the pitches of one key will be heard as altered tones of a second key. At the most prominent cadential points the C-Phrygian and C#-Aeolian modal lines coincide on the dyad C-E.1: Bagatelle No. Ex.[16] It is clear that Bartok intended to assert the priority of Phrygian coloured C-Major without resorting to traditional dominant-tonic chordal functionalism. Antokoletz’s analysis shows that the upper line has characteristics of C#-Aeolian superimposed over descending C-Phrygian segments.keys in relation to the one selected. It is interesting to note that the only pitch missing from the twelve-note spectrum is D-natural. Bars 1-12. implying C major tonality (Ex. 4. 1. .

Ex. where a six-note sequence of descending fourths is unfolded (E-B-F#-C#G#-D#) (bars 13-14). 4. skjhsCAslsaf .Bagatelle No. chords and pitch collections. 1 demonstrates the use of melodic and harmonic symmetries. In bar 12. which can also be rearranged as cycle of fifths. The music is better understood as a complex interaction of scales. This process is intensified in the second section. I have shown in the previous chapter that fourth chords. Bartók’s approach to polymodality is also well demonstrated in the second of his Seven Sketches op. 3. which equalise the notes of the diatonic mode. In bars 10-11. are related to the pentatonic scale (Ex. bars 13-18. three-note segments of the cycle of fifths. In bars 1–4 an E-minor triad is simultaneously sustained in the right hand with the Ab major tetrachord of the left hand. These symmetries weaken the tonal hierarchy. In light of this fact. creating a sense of tonal stasis. 1. Antokoletz points out that the C#-Aeolian mode is gradually transformed in this piece into reordered. Bartok warns us that an attempt to apply tonal interpretations is to “pigeonhole all music” that we do not understand. I can demonstrate that the pentatonic label applies equally as well to the three-note groups in bars 7-8 and 13-17.[17] The second segment (F#-C#-G#) is presented in its symmetrical cyclic order (bar 7). To a large degree the intervallic constructions of this piece are influenced by the symmetrical pentatonic properties of folk music. 9b. another symmetrical construction is used as the upper line is derived from a C-pentatonic pitch collection.1: Bagatelle No.10). the upper line uses another symmetrical ordering (E-A-B-C#F#).

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