Hungarian composer Béla Viktor János Bartók [1881–1945] wrote six string quartets. He was not exactly a contemporary of the JSQ, having died while they were still in the process of putting a quartet together. The Third Quartet, composed in 1927 is not particularly long and has been variously played with three or four movements. This post is part of the JSQP.
An atonal opening features a smeared accompaniment to several morbid violin lines. One of these lines is repeated with a variation and portrays a fine mood. All instruments are now prominent and the music changes to a march-like tempo with strong chords. A brief pause leads into a section with a glissando violin over a marching background. Now a conversation unfolds between violin and ensemble, although the march-like feeling still has more left to say. A strong cello allows the violins to express freely and supports them with a strong, arco passage – this is a beautiful piece of writing.
A sustained violin tone allows the viola and cello to express freely, in a rhythmic manner, before the ensemble regather forces and project a very powerful passage. The violin takes over and duets with another to present some complex sounds, slightly chaotic. This leads into a resolute pizzicato accompaniment with what I believe is my first mention of the term Bartok pizzicato where the strings are to be plucked so hard they strike the fingerboard leading to a harsh sound. Bartok certainly has his own sound-world and a deep arco cello accompanies this particular moment. Further, moderate glissandi form part of a pleading violin passage.
I must have missed the first to second movement transition on my remaster, but I do hear the third movement starting. A wall of violin sounds gives way to another rhythmic passage which borders on chaos – this is marvellous music for 1927. The energy is palpable and the climax is powerful, with several violin sweeps.
When I first encountered Bartok, some 35 years ago, I found his music to be somewhat impenetrable. This has now changed and I rejoice in his abstract soundscapes. Along with Shostakovich, he deserves to be among the most popular 20th century string quartet composers.
This concert was recorded on August 9th, 1951 and also featured Mozart’s Quartet in D minor, K. 421 and Beethoven’s Third Quartet of Opus No. 59. This represents two centuries of composition and the Julliards make them all worthwhile.
The complete concert can be found here.
Listenability: A wonderful early modern work.