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Béla Bartók’s 1907 Violin Concerto

Genesis and Fate

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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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3. Béla and Stefi: Coda of Anguish

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3Béla and Stefi: Coda of Anguish

In the late summer of 1907, Béla anxiously and eagerly awaited each of Stefi’s letters. One of these in August informs us that Stefi’s letter had arrived but not yet reached its addressee. Bartók wonders whether it brings good or bad news: “Perhaps you were only going to tell me a few jokes? Or had you something more serious to put on paper? Which part of my letter would you have thought about and commented on? These conjectures gave me such a headache, I had to do something about it as soon as possible.”76 Distress and misery fill his heart. But when Stefi writes to him: “For life is so beautiful! There’s so much beauty in nature–the arts–science,”77 Béla is filled with joy and considers these statements the most exquisite thoughts she has expressed to him so far.

And why? Because it reflects my own view of life. It is one of man’s weaknesses that we only recognize the correctness of judgments when they correspond with our own–a pardonable shortcoming.

I am infinitely grateful to you for your letter just because you put in those 4 or 5 lines which have given me the most intense delight. There may be some interest–even some charm–in exploring a conception of things which is quite alien to one’s own. But to come upon a fellow human...

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