Béla Bartók: 44 Violin Duos
These short pieces – only a handful over two minutes long – do not comprise a systematic violin method, in terms of technical development. Rather than technical studies, the Duos are études in musicianship and the integration of folk song in Bartók’s personal idiom. All but two of the themes are traditional – culled from tunes Bartók had gathered in his field work. The Duos present challenges to intonation, articulation, phrasing, and rhythmic acuity almost from the beginning.
The craft and imagination lavished on these little pieces are of the highest order. The collection could almost be called “The Art of the Canon,” so prevalent is the contrapuntal device in all its multifarious glories. Bartók’s love of variation is also apparent throughout, in skillful, organic permutations.
Above all, these are fully musical expressions, as well as pedagogical and ethnological wonders. The moods are as various as the human experience, from the sustained pathos of “Sorrow” (No. 28) to the exuberant spin of the “Rumanian Whirling Dance (No. 38). There are four very different Duos labeled “New Year’s Song,” an obsessively buzzing, muted “Mosquito Dance” (No. 22), a supple “Fairy Tale” (No. 19) mainly in a 3+3+2 meter, and several counting and game songs. Whatever the nature of the source material, sonority and spirit are perfectly matched in music of elemental poise.
Adapted from program notes by John Henken Copyright harmonia mundi usa.
Luciano Berio: Duetti per Due Violini
Italian composer Luciano Berio is one of the 20th century’s pioneers of experimental and electronic music. But he composed his 34 Duetti per Due Violini as a set of exercises in the spirit of Bartók’s 44 Violin Duos. The pieces offer an opportunity for students to play music with a contemporary rhythm that is not too technically demanding. Each of the duets is named for one of Berio’s close musical friends; composers, artists, and teachers including Béla Bartók, Pierre Boulez, and Igor Stravinsky. The duets display Berio’s trademark aesthetic concerns: the juxtaposition of folk influences and the serial tradition, suggestion, lyricism, and, always, an understanding of the instrument’s performance tradition.
Edmund Rubbra: Phantasy for 2 violins and piano, Op. 16
British composer Edmund Rubbra is known primarily as a symphonist and for his orchestration of Brahms’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel. While he was a major figure of British musical life during the second half of the 20th century, his music is not very well known abroad.
Rubbra wrote Phantasy in 1927, at the age of 26, and dedicated it to his composer friend Gerald Finzi. This is only his second work of chamber music, but he was already beginning to find his own compositional voice, one that rejected standard large-form musical architecture—such as sonata form—in favor of counterpoint and his own musical logic. He presents two related themes, first in the piano and second violin, and then in the first violin, developing them with much use of canon.
Béla Bartók: Romanian Folk Dances
Bartók, one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, is considered a founder of ethnomusicology. Bartók was particularly drawn to Romanian musical traditions because he felt that they had been more isolated from outside influences and were therefore more authentic. The material for his Romanian Folk Dances, Romanian tunes from Transylvania, was collected in 1910 and 1912; the original title was “Romanian Folk Dances from Hungary.”
This suite of six short pieces was written for piano in 1915 and later orchestrated by the composer for small ensemble in 1917. Hungarian violinist and composer Zoltán Székely created arrangements of the pieces for violin and piano that have become staples of the violin repertoire; for this program, Angela and Jennifer Chun have arranged the works for two violins and piano.