String Quartet No. 4 in C major, Sz. 91
Related Artists/CompaniesBéla Bartók
Fortas Chamber Music Concert: Takács Quartet: Bartók Quartets 2, 4, 6 - Wed., Jan. 22, 2014, 7:30 PM
Following their March 2012 Fortas debut in The Music of Budapest, Prague, and Vienna, the Takács returns to perform a not-to-be-missed cycle of Bartók's string quartets, Nos. 1, 3, & 5 (Jan. 21) and Nos. 2, 4, & 6 (Jan. 22).
About the Work
The string quartets of Béla Bartók have long been recognized as one of the peaks of 20th-century chamber music. In these six masterworks, Bartók created a classical sense of harmony and balance using entirely new and non-classical means-an achievement to which few of his contemporaries can lay claim. His non-traditional harmonies can sound harsh and dissonant at first hearing, but he used them in such a coherent and logical way that the ear soon accepts them as a natural idiom, organically evolving from the past.
The five-movement Quartet No. 4 has two thematically related fast movements in the first and fifth place, respectively, two scherzo-type pieces (also related) as movements two and four, and an emotionally intense central slow movement. This symmetrical layout has inspired many analyses and spawned countless imitations, yet is essentially both unexplainable and unrepeatable. No theory can account for the irresistible rhythmic energy that characterizes the first movement, though its patterns can be (and have been) laid bare. Nor could the symmetrical structures produce the impact they do, if they weren't filled out with an extraordinary timbral and textural imagination, with double and triple stops, tremolos, glissandos, and other technical devices adding their dramatic contributions to musical form. The breath-taking coda of the first movement (Più mosso, "Faster") caps a movement that has been powerful and exciting from the start.
In the second movement ("Prestissimo, con sordino") all four instruments keep their mutes on throughout. Much of this dashing and mysterious scherzo, which constantly plays the metric game of having three notes in one instrument against two in another, consists of chromatic scales scurrying up and down. Only in the middle section does a "theme" (a musical idea with a sharp rhythmic and melodic profile) emerge, only to be buried again in a vibrant texture of glissandos, harsh chords, and rapid chromatic scales.
The third movement, the centerpiece of the work, begins with an expressive cello solo, played in a precisely notated rhythm that nevertheless gives the impression of tempo rubato (free rhythm). Commentators have seen in this passage a reflection (though not a direct recreation) of the Romanian hora lung?a, an improvisatory form that was one of Bartók's most cherished discoveries during his ethnomusicological fieldwork. The extended cello solo eventually yields to an anguished passage led by the first violin, reaching an "Agitato" climax. When the original tempo resumes and the cello reclaims its leading role, it receives a counterpoint from the first violin, and the rubato rhythm becomes more regular, as if "tamed" by the intervening events. Yet the last word belongs to the anguished micro-motifs of the first violin.
The fourth movement takes up the ascending and descending scales of movement two, yet the chromatic scale is now stretched out to diatonicism (many of the half-steps widened to whole steps). Again, a special playing technique is called for, but instead of the mutes used in the second movement, this time the four players put down their bows and use pizzicato (plucked strings) throughout. Sometimes these pizzicatos are of the variety known as the "Bartók" pizzicato, in which the string is plucked so strongly that it rebounds off the fingerboard. The rhythmic complexity of the movement is considerable, yet the overall impression is a humorous one.
The last movement, based on the same thematic material as the first, nevertheless regularizes the rhythmic structure so that the melody fits into a dance pattern with phrases of equal length, which was not the case before. The accompaniment, with strong offbeat accents and playful grace notes, greatly enhances the dance mood. The high jinks are only briefly halted by a light and graceful melodic episode; the wild dance soon returns and culminates in a concluding passage that recalls the ending of the first movement almost literally.