Mysticism. If you are tempted by mystic experiences, Bela Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (BB 114/SZ 106) should enchant you. It certainly did enchant me and the audience in the 1930s. In a time of disenchantment, when frivolity and hate rule, Bartok’s music hints at man’s desire to retrieve a state of internal purity, that does not change over time and that alone allows creativity, the French writer Pierre Jean Jouve once opined. Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta is a landmark in the history of 20th-century classical music and one of Bartok’s best known works.
Pompous, clear-cut, irritating, frightening, oppressive, siege mentality, bunker atmosphere, reinforced concrete, hard, sharp – the aesthetics of Hitler and Stalin. Those were my associations when I listened to Bela Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra (BB 123, SZ. 116) for the first time, more than two years ago. A brutal piece, a fascinating piece, one that I have grown fond of over time.
Something compelled me to go back to this violin concerto, and I can’t quite say what it was. I felt a certain urge to immerse myself into it again, to see if I would enjoy it in a different way or more deeply, with amplified emotions after having it initially dismissed as being of lesser interest.
Bela Bartok is a challenge. His music – I love it. But to write about it… It took me a long time to warm up to his language, but once I had summoned the courage to explore his works in detail, I was greatly rewarded. The String Quartets recorded by the Emerson String Quartet – what a fascinating universe! Bartok is unique in his style and perhaps in his ambitions as a composer. Transcending the principles of the Vienna classics era, blending the teachings of the past, serialism* included, with folk music elements and composing principles from different ethnic backgrounds, forging thus a contemporary music style that compares to no other – how daring! Chapeau.