Continuing on from the previous post, where I outlined Bartok’s biography, this post will focus on his personal interpretation of the sonata form in the first movement of his String Quartet No. 4 (1928). I also listened to Bartok’s other quartets, which are included in my listening log here.
As I have outlined in Part A, Bartok’s music is known for its unique absorption of a broad range of seemingly disparate musical paradigms, including traditional Hungarian folk music, as well as the more objective procedures of modernism. His series of six string quartets, which constitute one of his most significant achievements in the eyes of critics and scholars, reflect Bartok’s eclectic compositional interests, stretching from some being more Romantic and folk-influenced to others that are more modernist in their use of ‘palindromes’ and ‘polymodal chromaticism’, which I wrote about in Part A. His String Quartet No. 4 belongs to the latter category structured like a mirror or arch in which the stand-alone third movement is surrounded by the thematically-related second/third and outer first/fifth movements – altogether forming the palindrome pattern. Furthermore, this quartet contains intensive use of dissonance, which was influenced by Berg’s Lyric Suite (1926), but rather than fully abandon tonality as the composers of the second Viennese School, the chromaticism is re-structured in relation to Stravinsky’s ‘poles of attraction’ resulting in Bartok’s unique polymodal chromaticism.
Centering my discussion now on the first movement of the composition, it represents a modernist re-working of the Classical sonata form. To this end, while the main divisions follow the traditional exposition-development-recapitulation structure, the harmonic and motivic features are distinctly modernist in an almost aggressive, dissonant polyphonic weaving of phrases with coloristic effects that are often extended techniques for the string quartet. It is interesting that the shapes of notation themselves seem very conventional, however, the tonic functions are not literal, but analogical – so that the tonic-dominant polarity of the Classical sonata is reframed into Stravinsky-like poles of C-F# and Eb-A. Similarly while horizontally, the first movement is characterized by chromatic/octatonic motifs, the vertical, harmonic structures, defined by superimposed major 2nd/9th, result in the whole tone scale. As such, the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the piece function separately.Continue reading “Research point 5.1, Part B: Sonata form in Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4 (1928)”