Bartók’s opera Bluebeard’s Castle ushered in a new period of psychological realism, darkness, and economy of material in his music. Premiered in 1937, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta was an incredibly compelling step forward in transferring these forces into the abstract realm. An Expressionist engagement with the drama of oppositions meets with a feeling of black comedy to create a highly visceral experience, married with masterful technical achievement.
This extraordinary work adds to Bartók’s assimilation of folk traditions of his native Hungary a sophisticated dialectic between ancient and modern. The movements each caricature a different form whilst adapting them to the precise, shadowy vision of the music. He does not fully embrace these archaic forms but chooses certain features from a distance, with the result of creating 20th century metaphors for the fugue, sonata and concerto, rather than wholeheartedly continuing their tradition.
Bartók’s worldview derived from a deep love…
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