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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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6. Form and Poetic Content


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6Form and Poetic Content

An inclusive interpretation of the Concerto’s form, poetic content, and tonal/harmonic language taken together serves to reveal the complex motivic and thematic strategies. The identity and transfigurations of the leitmotiv, both as determinants of style and process, are part of a larger system: a chain of thirds that functions as the underpinning for the leitmotivic succession throughout the work. The urgent presence of the Tristan grief motif (A-F-E) that is carried in the single voice of orchestra (violin 2 section only) joins Béla to Stefi at the cadential point of her first solo statement initiated with her motif–a manifesto of his love for and longing toward her. The presence of two of the greatest human emotions are revealed here in the first eight measures of the poetic work, which are then to be carried forward in order to project their meaning into the contrasting thematic ideas of the First and Second Movements. In this way the Tristan leitmotif takes on a secondary assignment by serving as bridge from the old to the new, the ideal to the real, and the octatonic romance of the cultured to the pentatonic modality of the peasant.

The order of movements in the Concerto was determined by the composer’s emotional state toward the dedicatee of the composition. Four days before Christmas 1907, Béla wrote to Stefi that it was an absolute necessity that his concerto for her consist of two...

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