from oblivion some music
you will not know.
31. Bartók's Original 4th String Quartet
In the autumn of 1927, immediately after completing his 3rd String Quartet,
Bartók was overcome by a fit of remorse and self-doubt. His most
recent works were so harsh, so uncompromisingly dissonant: was this all
there was to life, all that he could offer the world? Where were all the
tunes, all the carefree music of his youth? To console himself he began
leafing through some childhood manuscripts -- pieces he had written
to perform with his sister in their home-made puppet plays at Pozsony --
when, suddenly, he had a flash of inspiration: he would write a new string
quartet incorporating these themes! The resultant music is childlike and
innocent, but even so, many elements of his mature style are in evidence.
The five movements form an arc-like structure and each one has a descriptive
- 'Fairy Frolics': a deft scherzo featuring pizzicato in the
outer sections and a captivating melody for muted viola in the central
- 'Whimsical Waltz': 'whimsical' in that the waltz
metre is ironically broken into in several places by a perky march rhythm.
- 'Sad Siciliana': this is the keystone of the structure and
the emotional heart of the piece; a long lament using an ancient Hungarian
folk-song, 'The Peacock'. The long downward glissandi
are used to harrowing effect.
- 'Merry March': a direct reflection of the waltz; here, the
march rhythm is ironically interrupted by a waltz measure.
- 'Jovial Jig': using the same basic material as 'Fairy
Frolics', the finale is a compendium of colour effects -- snap
pizzicato, col legno, sul ponticello, guitar-like strumming.
At one point, the cellist is required to play a passage involving all four
colour effects simultaneously.
But this period of vacillation and self-doubt was only brief and Bartók
was soon back amongst the dissonances and working on what we now know as
his 'official' 4th String Quartet. Worried that his temporary
aberration might give the wrong impression and compromise his 'tough'
modern persona, Bartók hid the pieces away, with the following note:
'On no account must this String Quartet ever be performed'.
Copyright © 14 December 2000, Trevor
Hold, Peterborough, UK
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