The vibrant hum of nature blends with distant, ghostly echoes from ancient Hungarian villages in Béla Bartók’s Out of Doors (Szabadban).
Written in 1926, the work is a collection of five brief and atmospheric pieces for solo piano. Taken together, the movements unfold in a symmetrical arch form, a structure Bartók used in multiple pieces, including the Fourth and Fifth String Quartets, Concerto for Orchestra, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, and the Second Piano Concerto. Bartók described this technically demanding collection as “five fairly difficult pieces.”
The first piece opens with a depiction of pounding drums (in the piano’s lowest register) and wind instruments (in the middle register). With Drums and Pipes erupts with a brash and startling enthusiasm and an exhilarating rhythmic edginess. It quotes the Hungarian children’s folksong, Gólya, gólya, gilice. This recording of the song gives us a sense of the kinds of “drums and pipes” which Bartók imagined. The text dates back to an ancient Hungarian shamanistic tradition.
The melody of the Barcarolla emerges over continuously weaving eighth note lines. Listen carefully to the exotic chromatic and modal scale fragments which rise and fall, hypnotically. The rocking, off-balance rhythm evokes a Venetian gondola ride, which gave rise to the barcarolle.
The third piece, Musettes, depicts the creaking, out-of-tune moan of bagpipes. In the opening bars, we hear the village piper winding up, with air filling the bag. As the music progresses, the complex rhythms and wild modal scales of folk music erupt. This music originated as an episode from the finale of Bartók’s Piano Sonata.
The eerie, nocturnal hum of nature emerges in the fourth piece, The Night’s Music. Bird songs, cicadas, and the call of the Unka frog transport us to the middle of a remote pasture on a Hungarian summer night. We enter this mysterious, atmospheric soundscape, known as “Night music,” throughout Bartók’s works.
The final piece, The Chase, erupts with the unrelenting, demonic ferocity of the pantomime music from Bartók’s ballet score, The Miraculous Mandarin. (That work’s riotous premiere took place the same year Out of Doors was written). Throughout the piece, the pianist must play three notes in the right hand and five in the left, simultaneously. Amid jagged rhythms and a roaring, machine-like intensity, The Chase brings the collection to a terrifying, heart-pounding conclusion.
Here is a recording by the Hungarian pianist, Zoltán Kocsis:
- Bartók: Out of Doors, Sz 81, Zoltán Kocsis Amazon