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Béla Bartók
1 CD | 54min | Nr. 93.194
CD 1: » Béla Bartók: The Miraculous Mandarin op. 19 Sz 73 (Pantomime in one act)
» Béla Bartók: Sonata Sz 110 for 2 Pianos and Percussion
Mit ungeheurem Furor werfen sich die beiden ungarischen Pianisten Àkos Hernádi und Károly Mocsári in die Vibrationen...
Klassik Heute

The Miraculous Mandarin

The origins of The Miraculous Mandarin by Béla Bartók go back to the year 1918. After completing the first sketch in 1919, Bartók began orchestrating the work in 1924. At the same time, he wrote the piano reduction, which was already published one year later, and initial portions played by the Hungarian pianist György Kósa and Bartók himself on a broadcast by Radio Budapest on April 8, 1926. In 1927, the concert version then went into print at Bartók’s publishers, Universal Edition, and the complete score appeared in 1955. It was not staged until fourteen years later, however. The reason why the work was not performed until far later – in December 1945, shortly after Bartók’s death – is primarily because the plot appears so frivolous. The incomplete versions that were published were a consequence of the fact that the theme did not appeal to the ›zeitgeist‹ of that time, even causing some scandals. (You can find more detailed information on this subject in the preface to the revised score by Peter Bartók [Universal Edition 1999]).

Hence an early reprint of 1952 shows that Bartók had composed and inserted a new finale especially for a performance originally planned for March 25, 1931. In addition, fear of being censored led him and the librettist Menyhert Lengyel to make extensive changes to the words and music. These amount to a total of 42 marked passages, as a copy of the score bears witness. Despite all the effort and compromising, the performance was still called off. The copy of the score archived in the Budapest opera house nonetheless served as a model for later performances. Therefore, the first printing of 1955 mentioned above and the third edition of the score (likewise 1955) are lacking thirty or 28 measures, respectively. These portions are even missing from the concert version and the third edition of the piano version. We can be certain, however, that the deletion of these passages was not intended to be permanent, but was probably only undertaken by Bartók and Lengyel in the hope of making the performance possible.

Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion

Bartók was commissioned to compose this work by the Internationale Gesellschaft für Neue Musik (ignm; “International Society for New Music”), or rather, by Paul Sacher in the name of this Society, for its Basel Section. It is one of three masterpieces by Bartók commissioned in Basel, the others being the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936) and the Divertimento for Strings (1939). Paul Sacher invited Bartók and his wife to premiere the piece in Basel on January 16, 1938. Thus the composer himself and his spouse Ditta Pasztory, together with the Swiss percussionists Fritz Schiesser and Philipp Rühlig, were the musicians at this performance. Soon thereafter, further performances were aired on the radio in London and Brussels, also played by Mr. and Mrs. Bartók. It premiered in Budapest on October 31, 1938 at a concert of the Budapest Philharmonic Society, likewise featuring the Bartóks and the percussionists Jözsef Jegesi and Sandor Vigdorovits, this time conducted by Ernest Ansermet.

Before its premiere, Béla Bartók published an explanation of the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion in the “Baseler National-Zeitung” newspaper on January 13, 1938: “I had already intended years ago to write a work for piano and percussion. Gradually, meanwhile, the conviction grew in me that one piano would not provide a satisfactory balance against the often quite sharp sound of the percussion instruments. As a consequence, the plan changed in that now two pianos instead of one were set in opposition to the percussion. When the ignm Basel asked me last summer to write a work for its anniversary concert on January 16, 1938, I was happy to take this opportunity to realize my plan.”

The following can be asserted concerning the formal structure of the work: The first movement begins with a slow introduction which anticipates a motif of the allegro movement. The allegro movement itself is in the key of C and evinces sonata form. In the exposition, two themes (the second one already mentioned in the introduction) of the primary group are established, then follows the contrasting subsidiary theme, out of which a rather intricate, lengthy final section develops, at the end of which the contrasting theme briefly wafts past once again starting at the consequent phrase. Following a short transition with layers of fourths one over the other, the elaboration consists essentially of three sections. The first is in the key of E and uses the second theme of the primary group of themes as an ostinato motif over which an imitative treatment of the first theme of the primary group goes on, taking the form of a middle section. “… The reprise does not really have a proper finale; in its place is a rather drawn-out coda which (with a rudimentary fugato) built on the theme of the final movement, joined finally by the main theme …”

The second movement, in F, has the simple song form a b a. The third movement in C unites rondo and sonata form. Between the exposition and the reprise appears a new theme group built upon an imitative treatment of two sections of the first theme. The movement and the work as a whole close with the coda dying away in pianissimo.

In the Sonata for Two Pianos, the “classic” Bartók style of the 1930’s finds expression. The great Bartók analyst Ernö Lendvai has pointed out that strict, idiosyncratic rules govern the work's musical idiom, its arrangement of keys and harmonies, as well as its formal structure,evidence of which can also be found in other works by Bartók from this period: these rules include the golden ratio or sectio aurea as the most important organizing principle, and the tone series and types of chords.

Within the music, the sectio aurea appears in two different forms. On the one hand, two notes or their frequencies can be related to one another in the proportions of the sectio aurea. On the other, the composition of a piece can consist of sections whose lengths are related to one another in the proportions of the golden ratio. Bartók himself, however, never made any remarks regarding the structural principles of his style of composition. Bartók’s artistry and his unmistakable style are a result of a richness of his ideas, themes, tonal colors and combinations, the regularity of his forms, as well as the way he brings these elements into a classical balance.

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