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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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8. Chain of Thirds as Nonfunctional Vehicle for Leitmotivic Progression


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8Chain of Thirds as Nonfunctional Vehicle for Leitmotivic Progression

Style and process are the essence of Chapters Seven and Eight, which view the exclusivity and metamorphosis of the leitmotif, as well as its progression based on a chain of thirds that interlocks seventh chords as the result of diatonic and pentatonic fusion. These technical aspects subsume two independent courses for the leitmotif. The first is the leitmotif itself and its transformations (the major/minor-seventh chord, French-sixth chord, whole tone form, and chromatic expression of Tristan) as a musical focal point that carries far more meaning than simply its proliferation on nearly each page of the score. The second course is the transfigurative change of the tertian harmonic world of Strauss and Wagner through intermediary whole tone and chromatic stages by means of the leitmotif succession and the relations between them.

Once again we need to bring attention to the identity of the Tristan tunnel and its pivotal function between the D major-seventh chord and the lower whole-step transposition, the C major-seventh chord. This can be shown more explicitly in the descending order of the seventh chords themselves: C#-A-F#-D through B-G-E-C.218 [Ex. 1]

Example 1

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The notes of Tristan’s grief-motif (A-F-E), constitute the F major-seventh chord (F-A-[]-E), which has an F-E boundary. These two notes form an essential element in identifying Tristan’s leitmotif.219 The direction of the entire work descends from the highest...

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