Five Examples of Bartók’s “Night Music”

Strange, haunting, nocturnal sounds emerge throughout the music of twentieth century Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. These passages, which are known as “Night music,” evoke the hum of insects and other distant murmurs we might hear in a lonely field on a summer night. Bartók held a spiritual reverence for “Nature, Art, and Science.” But the “Night music” doesn’t offer the kind of poetic tone painting we hear in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Instead, these moments contain something more vague and terrifying. They surround …

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Remembering Robert Mann

Violinist, composer, and teacher Robert Mann, a founding member of the Juilliard String Quartet, passed away on Monday at his home in New York. He was 97. Born in Portland, Oregon, Mann began taking lessons at the age of 9. Early on, he was attracted to chamber music, which he described as “the social phenomenon of making music among equals.” Cooperation and service to the music over virtuosity and technical display remained central …

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Bartók’s Surprising Influence on Jazz

There are some fascinating connections between jazz and the music of Béla Bartók. Both have a pristine, highly-ordered sense of structure. Both are built on complex rhythmic grooves which grow out of a folk tradition. Jazz pianist Dániel Szabó delves into this subject in a recent article where he writes, Whenever I hear the second movement of Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, the extraordinarily tight rhythm, the shifts in emphasis, inserting 3/8 phrases …

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“Concerto for Orchestra”: Bartok’s Triumphant Swan Song

In the autumn of 1943, Béla Bartók was in deep physical, emotional, and financial distress. With the rise of the Nazis, Bartók had been forced to flee his native Hungary and settle in the United States, leaving behind friends, as well as royalties and other sources of income. He was hospitalized for an undetermined illness. (The illness, eventually diagnosed as leukemia, would take his life two years later). His compositional career seemingly on the …

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The Chiara Quartet: Bartók by Heart

Here are some excerpts from the Chiara String Quartet’s recently released album, Bartók by Heart. The two-disc set features all six string quartets by the twentieth-century Hungarian composer, Béla Bartók. The Lincoln, Nebraska-based quartet was formed in 2000. As the album’s title suggests, the Chiara String Quartet has begun performing all repertoire completely by memory, a practice which one member of the group has compared to “flying without a safety net.” In a recent interview with Richmond Public Radio’s …

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Composers on Holiday: Five Pieces Written on Summer Vacation

Summer is here. For professional orchestral musicians, that means a brief respite from the weekly routine of the main concert season. Soon it will be time for summer seasons and music festivals, many featuring outdoor concerts in such idyllic locations as Chautauqua, Vail, and the Tetons. Summer has typically been a productive time for composers. Gustav Mahler, one of the most prominent conductors of his time, retreated to isolated rural settings in …

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Four Musical Ways to Say Goodbye

Earlier in the month, we listened to the final movement of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, a song cycle about death, renewal, and immortality. Written in the final years of Mahler’s life, Das Lied von der Erde, along with the Ninth Symphony (completed in 1909), were Mahler’s swan songs. (He completed one movement of a Tenth Symphony before his death in 1911). Both completed works leave us with a sense of finality, …

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