Béla Bartók – Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta



– Composer: Béla Viktor János Bartók (25 March 1881 — 26 September 1945)
– Orchestra: RIAS Symphony Orchestra
– Conductor: Ferenc Fricsay
– Year of recording: 1953

Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Sz. 106, BB 114, written in 1936.

00:00 – I. Andante tranquillo
07:02 – II. Allegro
14:33 – III. Adagio
21:08 – IV. Allegro molto

«Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta», is one of the best-known compositions by Bartók. Commissioned by Paul Sacher to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the chamber orchestra Basler Kammerorchester, the score is dated 7 September 1936. The work was premiered in Basel, Switzerland on 21 January 1937 by the chamber orchestra conducted by Sacher, and it was published the same year by Universal Edition.

As its title suggests, the piece is written for string instruments (violins, violas, cellos, double basses, and harp), percussion instruments (xylophone, snare drum, cymbals, tam-tam, bass drum, and timpani) and celesta. The ensemble also includes a piano, which may be classified as either a percussion or string instrument (the celesta player also plays piano during 4-hand passages).

Bartók divides the strings into two groups which he directs should be placed antiphonally on opposite sides of the stage, and he makes use of antiphonal effects particularly in the second and fourth movements. The first and third movement are slow, the second and fourth quick. All movements are written without key signature.

– The first movement is a slow fugue. Its time signature changes constantly. It is based around the note A, on which the movement begins and ends. It begins on muted strings, and as more voices enter the texture thickens and the music becomes louder until the climax. Mutes are then removed, and the music becomes gradually quieter over gentle celesta arpeggios. The movement ends with the second phrase of the fugue subject played softly over its inversion. Material from the first movement can be seen as serving as the basis for the later movements, and the fugue subject recurs in different guises at points throughout the piece.
– The second movement is quick, with a theme in 2/4 time which is transformed into 3/8 time towards the end. It is marked with loud syncopic piano and percussion accents in a whirling dance, evolving in an extended pizzicato section, with a piano concerto-like conclusion.
– The third movement is slow, an example of what is often called Bartók’s «Night music». It features timpani glissandi, which was an unusual technique at the time of the work’s composition, as well as a prominent part for the xylophone. It is also commonly thought that the rhythm of the xylophone solo that opens the third movement is based on the Fibonacci sequence as this «written-out accelerando/ritardando» uses the rhythm 1:2:3:5:8:5:3:2:1.
– The fourth movement, which begins with notes on the timpani and strummed pizzicato chords on the strings, has the character of a lively folk dance.

It is believed that Dmitri Shostakovich parodied this piece in his Symphony No. 13, in response to Bartók’s own mockery of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7 in his Concerto for Orchestra.

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