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Béla Bartók’s 1907 Violin Concerto

Genesis and Fate


Alicja Usarek-Topper

The genesis and genius of Bartók’s Concerto was mingled with his love for Stefi Geyer. As Hungarian Tristan pursuing his Isolde, he sounds allusions to Wagner’s paean of unfulfilled love. In transposing the ideal into the real, Bartók enlists folk sources voicing pristine truths of peasants. While biography and Tristan allusions supply the keys to Stefi’s Concerto, the Tristan grief motif serves as bridge from idealized romance to the pentatonic simplicity of peasant realism. In these tensions private love and public life, and esoteric romance and raw worldliness are provoked and reconciled. The rise and fall of living romance and its musical mirroring against peasant scales and rhythms is background to "Tristan" ruling a score that incites and resolves the clash of two conflicting worlds

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Preface: The Author’s Reflection


Inspired by his music and motivated by his letters from the past, I devoted three years at the University of Texas at Austin to Béla Bartók’s remarkable 1907 Violin Concerto in order to bring to light what required a half-century to bring to sound. In my research I drew upon primary sources, including materials in the Paul Sacher Stiftung in Basel, Switzerland, as well as upon the analytical evidence the Concerto score reveals. What follows is the story behind this seminal but long-lost work that explains what happened and what for so long did not happen. I reflected on what the young composer and musicologist wrote to his beloved Stefi Geyer in the early spring of 1907: “While working on it I have always your art of playing in mind. Otherwise, I would not compose it. I am doing it only for you.”1 Then I reviewed some words accompanying a book I had received in 2004 from the late Elliott Antokoletz with a different dedication and an invitation to convert my dissertation into a book. Motivated and enthused by his expression of support to publish with the house for which he served as music editor, I once again opened my dissertation in standard University of Texas orange to learn anew what I had written. While reading the opening chapter and remembering what followed, I recognized that in fact a new assignment had been given to me–to write a book that would tell the whole...

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