Saturday Morning Listening: Bartok’s Orchestral Colors

Happy Saturday and Happy New Year!  To get us all back in the spirit of listening to and playing Bartok, here are 3 excerpts for your listening pleasure this weekend.  Bartok rejected the late Romantic orchestral sounds in favor of his own palette of colors.  His orchestration ranges from brilliant combinations of rhythm, texture, and timbre to pearly threads of intertwined delicate melodies.  Enjoy!  And see you soon on the continuation of the Bartok, For Children Vol. 1 Play-Along!

1. Concerto for Orchestra (1943)

Two years before his death, Bartok was commissioned to write this concerto for “orchestra” soloist.  Consisting of 5 movements total, it is quite a showpiece highlighting the virtuosic talents of each orchestra section.  Here is the 4th movement – Interrupted Intermezzo, a rather nostalgic, sentimental work written in rondo form with some rather violent interruptions.  Note Bartok’s typical use of folk-like and pentatonic melodies, shifting meters, and irregular rhythms.


2. Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta (1936)

One of his most complicated and demanding works for sure, written in 4 continuous movements and lasting around 30 minutes.  It’s written for 2 groups of strings and an army of percussion instruments including piano, harp, and celesta.  It’s extremely eerie  and also powerfully rhythmic.  Stanley Kubrick used a portion of this 3rd movement in the movie – The Shining.  Skip to 2:05 in the video if you’re tempted.  Recognize it?

3. The Miraculous Mandarin (1918-19)

Bartok read the scenario for this ballet in a Hungarian literary magazine and immediately set out to set the grisly tale to music.  This is probably his most agressive and spectacular orchestral score, swirling with energy and jagged rhythms and both sensuous and sinister at the same time.  The first performance of the suite was given in 1928 in Budapest under the baton of Ernö Dohnányi. The first staged performance of the entire ballet did not take place in Hungary until December of 1945, two months after the composer’s death.  Read more about the story HERE.


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