[Pt. V Proj.1] – Sonata Form – Research point 5.1- Bartók’s string Quartet No. 4 (1928), 400 words

[Pt. V Proj. 1] – Research point 55.1- Bartók’s string Quartet No. 4 (1928), 400 words. The compositional potential of sonata form has seen its use continue into the Twentieth Century. The Hungarian composer, pianist and musicologist Béla Bartók (1881-1945) is one of the most influential of Twentieth Century composers even though his success during his lifetime was intermittent. Some of his most enduring works are his six string quartets, composed over a period of 30 years from 1908 to 1939.

Research the composer and listen to some of his quartets, in particular to the 4th quartet. Then focus on the first movement which is in his personal interpretation of sonata form. If you can, find a score to relate your findings to.

Write 400 words on this movement and the quartet in general including a discussion of the points below as well, some background to the composer, and your own ideas:

•Would you say the form of the movement is obvious?

•What did you think of the musical style overall?

•Can you describe how Bartók uses the quartet in this piece?

Bela Bartok – String Quartet no 4

Bartók’s string Quartet No. 4 (1928)

String Quartet No. 4 ‘s five movements form an overall symmetrical palindromic structure with movement I. Allegro and movementV. Allegro molto mirroring each other. V using and developing (through retrogrades and inversions) the 2nd theme of the 1st movement. II and IV echo each other, and the centre movement standing on its own, employing Bartók’s slow soundscape style generally referred to as ‘night music’ Aside from movement III the entire quartet is highly chromatic and uses octatonic, whole-tone and pentatonic scales and a mixture of the major/minor modes. Some of these scales Bartók derived and developed from the folk music of his native country Hungaria (current day Romania) and surrounding areas. The asymmetrical 5/8 Aksak rhythms have also been adapted from Balkan folk music. My family is originally from the Balkans and I grew up listening to folk music from this region. These modes and rhythms are very familiar to me and I find Bartók’s ingenuity in adapting and melding them into a classical form very unique, exciting and fresh.

Bartók acknowledged Bach, Beethoven and Debussy’s influence. There also seem to be certain similarities to the music of his contemporaries although Bartók strived to set himself apart from Serialism and to develop a less ‘German’ chromaticism. Perhaps his nationalistic tendencies were due to the World Wars during which Bartók suffered badly and even faced starvation (he emigrated to the U.S in 1940).

Other traits of Bartók’s work included extended techniques and unusual articulations like the Bartók or snap pizzicati, mutes, glissando and sections without vibrato.

Bartók or snap pizzicati

The way he used the quartet was also very specific. He achieved a near orchestral dense sound through the use of double, triple and quadruple stopping. Creating thick textures through expanding and contracting the ranges of the instruments, starting off with homophonic clusters which were then layered into extended chords, ‘stretto-like’ compositional devises leading into counterpoint and canonical sections.

The harmonic language doesn’t conform to functional harmony, utilising instead Polymodal whole-tone/halftone clusters as ‘tonal centres’ but the form of the Sonata format is followed. One harmonic motif forms a tonic axis around the pitches f# and c and a ‘dominant axis’ is created around the pitches eb and a. These themes are then developed using standard compositional techniques such as sequencing, underpinned by pedals and having cadential functions. The movement is divided into the standard sections of Exposition, Transition, Development, Recapitulation and Coda.