Bartók String Quartet #2
Beethoven's late string quartets were revolutionary in every sense of the word. They went largely unappreciated and were disregarded as the products of a mad old man until the late Romantic Period. In fact, they were so far ahead of their time that no one attempted to follow up on them; Romantic composers instead chose to expand on the ideas set forth in Beethoven's middle quartets. The late quartets did not see a true successor until the revolutionary set of six quartets written by Béla Bartók in the early 20th century.
The six Bartók quartets were written over the course of his entire life. To trace their development is to trace his musical development. The quartets are now considered by music scholars to be the quartet masterpieces of the twentieth century. However, to the casual music listener, these pieces may seem like nonsense. This is because they are characterized by irregular rhythms and tempos, bizzare sound effects, and of course, healthy doses of atonalism.
This Second Quartet was written between 1915 and 1917 in the
Hungarian village of (get ready) Rákoskeresztúr, where he
was living with his first wife, Márta. It has been described
as having a "Mozartian
balance of grace and controlled eloquence". With that said, go
ahead and listen to this fine quartet (but remember to keep an open
Hear the Entire Piece
Movement 1 | Movement 2 | Movement 3
These recordings were donated to The Music Chamber by the generous people at www.hidingplace.net. They have many more fine recordings at their site so please feel free to visit them for more great chamber music!
Like Beethoven before him, Bartók did now allow "the rules" to restrict his artistic vision. When the existing musical language could not allow him to express his art, he created a new language that could. The String Quartet #1 contains something akin to the development of his musical language: it begins in the first movement as a kind of advanced chromaticism, and eventually develops by the last movement into a more concrete language derived form East European folk music.
By the time of the Second Quartet, Bartók was confident in
his mastery of his newly created musical language. The first movement is in a leisurely
sonata form scheme with
three main subject groups. In the next two movements, however,
Bartók puts himself and his language to the test. The second
movement is a stamping rondo, which also includes a zippy Hungarian
folk tune against plucking accompaniment. The final movement is
sparse and bleak, and manages to achieve a final moment of
climactic coherence before splintering apart into fragments.
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