Program Notes

BÉLA BARTÓK (1881 – 1945)

I. Moderato
II. Allegro molto capriccioso
III. Lento

This was the first Bartók quartet I learned 20 years ago, and I thought it would be a good starting point from which to introduce audience members who may be skeptical of this misunderstood genius. Bartók is more exotic than Mozart and Haydn, but the emotions spring from the same place.

Listen for surges of sound: the music builds over minutes, reaches a peak, and then slowly falls back only to swell anew. The first movement starts mysteriously with voices sliding in and out of a fog. Bartók uses all four instruments equally; there is no “first violin syndrome.” The second movement is inspired by Bartók’s fascination with ethnic folk music and spins in a kind of crazy peasant dance. The movement ends with possibly the fastest passage in all the quartet literature, sounding like a swarm of killer bees on a rampage. The last movement is suffused with melancholy, as befits a work written during WW I. While Bartók himself did not serve due to ill health, Hungary was not spared the devastation of the war.

Program notes by David Yang