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.



Saturday Morning Listening: Khachaturian Excerpts

Good morning, everyone, at least it was morning when I started writing.   I thought I would post a little weekend listening of a few non-piano pieces of Khachaturian.  Please enjoy at your leisure!  Would love to hear your thoughts.

1.  “Sabre Dance”  from his ballet “Gayane”   

Many of you will know this and I’m sure many circus performers and gymnasts do as well! I think it would make a great “tap along” piece for a student’s understanding of a VERY STEADY beat.

2.  “Masquerade Waltz”  from his ballet “Gayane”   

Perhaps one of the greatest waltzes of all time (at least in my humble opinion).  This piece always uplifts me when I hear it.  I need to place a conductor’s baton in my students’ hands and have them conduct this.  What a way to feel one beat per bar!

In 1941 Khachaturian was asked to write music for a production of the play, Masquerade, by Russian poet and playwright Mikhail Lermontov.  It is better known in the form of a five-movement suite.

And a lovely piano transcription here!

It’s available in THIS COLLECTION.  I immediately thought of how fun this would be as a piano duet.  Found one HERE on Sheet Music Plus.

3.  “Adagio”  from his third and final ballet “Spartacus”  

One of my all-time favorites.  His last internationally- acclaimed work completed in 1954.

Came across this passionate piano arrangement you must listen to….

What a discovery!  I found it available for purchase HERE!






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