Barnabás Kelemen, Katalin Kokas Béla Bartók : Sonata for solo violin, 44 duos for two violins
The Sonata for solo violin is not only a piece unique in its genre, presenting extreme challenges of instrumental technique, written for a virtuoso performer, but also one of the deepest and most abstract works of the composer, whilst the 44 duos of 13 years earlier, consisting of a series of wonderful miniatures, arrangements of folk melodies, lead the violin pupil all the way from his first unsteady steps in music, to a brief concert piece still within the framework of a small form.
Sonata for solo violin
Barnabás Kelemen - violin
Barnabás Kelemen - violin
Katalin Kokas - violin
About the album
Recorded at Phoenix Studio, Hungary on 18-21/10/2005
Recording producer: Ibolya Tóth
Balance engineer: János Bohus
Editing: Mária Falvay
Music publishers: Boosey & Hawkes (Urtext edition); Universal Edition
Portrait photo: István Huszti
Cover / Art-Smart by GABMER
Produced by László Gőz
Executive producer: Tamás Bognár
The recording was sponsored by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, the National Cultural Fund of Hungary and the Artisjus Music Foundation
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Fittler Katalin - Gramofon ***** (hu)
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Béla Bartók: Sonata for solo violin (original version), SZ. 117, BB 124
Béla Bartók: 44 duos for two violins, SZ. 98, BB 104
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Small- and large-scale forms in the spirit of counterpoint:
Bartók’s late music for solo violin
In the work of Béla Bartók (1881–1945), in addition to his own instrument, the piano, a special place is given to the other most important solo instrument of the time, the violin. Bartók met with it very early on, for it was a favourite instrument of music-lovers at the end of the 19th century, and as a student in provincial towns, where he grew up, he regularly had the opportunity to accompany amateur violinists. Later, starting with his studies at the Music Academy in Budapest, he came into direct contact with many young violinists: the Arányi sisters, relatives of Joseph Joachim, the child prodigy Ferenc Vecsey, and Stefi Geyer. Between the wars, at his concerts in Hungary and abroad in the 20s and 30s, he regularly played together with the then young Zoltán Székely and the already world-famous Joseph Szigeti, who lived in America. They were all pupils of the reputable Hubay school. Bartók composed many violin works for his partners. For him as a composer, the choice of the genres of the concerto, the accompanied sonata, and the rhapsody had been natural since his childhood. Thus, regarding genre, both the series of Duos for two violins from 1931 and the Sonata for solo violin of 1944 are in fact unusual. But they are unusual for another reason too: these were the two compositions written for violinists outside the circle of the Hungarian violin school.
Together with the Sonata for solo violin, the 44 duos represent Bartók’s mature works for solo violin, in which he used the violin without a piano or orchestral accompaniment. (Only one of his earlier works was for two solo violins: the crab canon from 1902, which was entirely occasional in nature.) All the more interesting, for it would be difficult to find two compositions less alike. True, they are similar in that they were both written to commission, as were most of Bartók’s works from the beginning of the 30s. But the two commissions were entirely different in nature and resulted in the writing of starkly different compositions. The Sonata for solo violin is not only a piece unique in its genre, presenting extreme challenges of instrumental technique, written for a virtuoso performer, but also one of the deepest and most abstract works of the composer, whilst the 44 duos of 13 years earlier, consisting of a series of wonderful miniatures, arrangements of folk melodies, lead the violin pupil all the way from his first unsteady steps in music, to a brief concert piece still within the framework of a small form. However, as Bartók stated in an interview in 1937, his lighter compositions based on folk melodies and his more serious, abstract compositions are not essentially different, and here too the two works explain, comment on, and complement one another: the large-scale four-movement sonata and the series of 44 brief pieces.
Sonata for solo violin (1944)
After emigrating to America in 1940 Bartók came into close contact with more violinists: Yehudi Menuhin (1916–1999), among others, began to perform the Concerto for violin and orchestra written for Zoltán Székely in 1936–38, and in autumn 1942 he addressed a letter to the composer regarding the studying of the work. They met personally only one year later, in November 1943: the meeting was occasioned by a performance of the First violin sonata (1921). Before the concert Menuhin requested a meeting with Bartók, to get his opinion on his performance of the piece. How well the composer and performer got on is proved not only by Menuhin’s later emotional recollection of the event, but also by a letter of Bartók’s written not long afterwards to a former pupil, Wilhelmine Creel. He wrote: “he is really a great artist […] When there is a real great artist, then the composer’s advice and help is not necessary, the performer finds his way quite well, alone.” At their meeting Menuhin commissioned Bartók to compose a solo sonata. Perhaps because of the relief he felt at having completed the Concerto for orchestra, Bartók accepted the commission.
The Sonata for solo violin is a perfectly unique work. It doesn’t help to know how the choice of a Bachian genre fits into the Neoclassical fashion of the era, and to what extent Bartók was directly inspired by the Menuhin concert at which he heard both his own Violin sonata No. 1 and the Bach C major sonata – in, as he wrote, “a grand, classical style”. Nor does it help to know the special interest he showed in his early years in Reger, who continued the genre, or to find a distant spiritual cousin of the work in Kodály’s early Sonata for cello solo. Bartók of course knew a few of Hindemith’s compositions for solo string instruments, and Zoltán Székely, who was often his partner violinist, had great success with his own Solo sonata (1919/20), which Universal Edition (Bartók’s publisher in the interwar years) deemed worthy of publication. One of his closest colleagues, Sándor Veress, a pupil of Kodály, also composed for the solo violin in the 30s. None of this changes or diminishes the peculiar individuality of the work. The musical complexity, richness and integrity, executed on one single violin, and besides this perhaps the most elusive intellectual characteristic, his late style, make it without peer.
The history of its composition is well documented; the sources are mostly still extant. The main document of the history of its conception, rather similarly to the Concerto for orchestra composed one year earlier, is a “Beethovenian” sketch-book, originally a small-size music book, known as the “Arab field-book”, which the composer used on his collection expedition to the region of Biskra in Algeria in June 1913. He took the book to America with him, and sketched the planned new composition in February–March 1944 in Asheville, North Carolina, where thanks to the American Society of Composers (ASCAP) he was able to spend the winter far from the New York climate. On 28 February he mentioned to his wife that a movement had been completed. Around the middle of March news of the work of composition abounds. On 10 March he mentioned in a letter to his son Péter that “[a]side from my scribbling, copying work I am writing now a solo violin sonata for Menuhin.” In a similar style, he wrote eight days later to his publisher about the completion of the work: “I was rather busy in these last weeks. Parallel with my ‘scientific’ scribbling, I wrote a solo violin-sonata for Menuhin.” He dated the work March 14, so obviously considered it finished on that date. Around this time, (perhaps in several instalments) he sent the autograph of the work to his wife to be copied and forwarded to Menuhin.
Even though, unlike his contemporaries Stravinsky and Szymanowski (who willingly shaped some of their important violin compositions with the participation of a violinist) Bartók composed his violin parts independently, afterwards he always got his violinist acquaintances to look them over carefully regarding performance. Just as he honed many minor details of the soloist’s part of the Violin concerto after rehearsals and discussions with Zoltán Székely, so in the case of the Solo sonata, he discussed technical questions in great detail with Menuhin by letter and in person at rehearsals. This was necessary, for as Menuhin recalled in 1981, when he saw the composition in March 1944, at first he thought it was unplayable. But when they began to correspond about the work over the following months, they only had to agree on a few technical details.
One of the most important technical questions was the use of intervals smaller than the semitone, mainly quarter-tones, in the last movement, which after completing the composition, Bartók called mere “colouring”, and instead of which he also wrote down a simpler semitone version as an alternative solution. But undoubtedly, he would have liked to hear both versions before making a final decision. However, he was not in a hurry to publish, because in return for the 500 dollar commission Menuhin had asked for the exclusive right to perform the work for one year, instead of which, at the composer’s suggestion, they eventually agreed on two years. Thus, although the Solo sonata is Bartók’s last completely finished composition (the last bars of the Third piano concerto had to be completed by Tibor Serly in the orchestral score), the composer was not able to see the work published either. He had planned discussions with Menuhin of the final details for the end of 1945, but, sadly, these could not materialize because of his death on 26 September. Alongside other less significant details, Menuhin’s carefully edited edition sanctioned the semitone version of the last movement for decades. With very few exceptions, this is what violinists have played and recorded. Since the 1980s, several studies have examined the quarter-tone version and urged its publication, and as a result finally in 1994 the first “urtext” edition was published, prepared by Péter Bartók, the composer’s son. This at last gives the original version as the main text, and supplies the details later worked out by the composer as an alternative as a mere ossia. Although Menuhin’s edition is still a valid form of the work, this recording follows Péter Bartók’s edition.
The four-movement cycle, mainly in its structure and a few important basic moods, recalls something of the Baroque four-movement sonata cycle (consistently slow-fast-slow-fast with Bach), which here is clearly crossed with the four-movement tradition inherited from Viennese Classicism, in which the moderately fast first sonata movement and the fast (usually rondo) finale encase a slow movement and a scherzo (either in this order or reversed). The structure then refers to both, but is identical to neither. However, the placing of the fugue as the second movement, and the themes it uses, are in direct relation to the Bach C major sonata that Menuhin performed. The style and musical language, though, are incomparable, and the composer’s own.
Only one of the movements, the Melodia, can be said to be broadly homogenous. The first movement, the fugue and even the last movement are pervaded by some strange melancholy. Although the four movements follow four different traditional formal models (the first movement sonata form, the second fugue, the third a tripartite form and the fourth a rondo), still none of them fit into this structure in the traditional way. One reason for this is the variation of themes, which is generally a characteristic of the composer. Not even in the slow sonata first movement do we find an unchanged recapitulation, thus the return of the main theme in the original key is varied in character and shape. In addition, both here and in the two fast movements, there is much manipulation and combining of separately presented thematic material in the second half of the movements.
In its basic character, the first movement (as shown by the Italian title for the movement, Tempo di ciacona) recalls the Chaconne variation movement from Bach’s D minor partita, but only in its dotted rhythms, which well suit and merge with the elements of the composer’s melody and formations of theme, drawn from folk songs, primarily Hungarian peasant songs. In the melodic structure of the lavishly ornamented, harmonised theme, we can detect the falling pentatonic motive which can be traced back to the motto theme of Duke Bluebeard’s castle. Of the other thematic material in the movement, which contrasts with the closed structure of the opening theme, a flexible rocking melody falling in soft triplets is particularly notable, and shows a certain affinity to not only the main part of the Melodia movement, but also to the theme of the second episode of the finale. The demarcation of form, the beginning of the development and the start of the coda are marked by the appearance of material from the main theme. The basic key of the movement rests on G (thus showing a similarity with another Bach solo sonata, the G minor piece), and is natural for the violin in spite of all the daring harmonies. In the magical closing moments of the movement we hear both bowed (arco) and plucked (pizzicato) notes, recalling Schubert’s chamber music.
In spite of the variety of methods of execution, it is not in the first movement, but rather in the second, that technique becomes a defining means of providing form. The fiery, almost wild theme beginning in C minor, which is a reincarnation of Bartók’s minor third “barbaro”-type themes, is accompanied first in its original form, then in inversion with the most varied modes of execution: tremolo, snapping “Bartók” pizzicatos, and slides (glissandos). The first presentation of the theme is in four parts; later thematic sections are less developed.
If in the second movement counterpoint, and the polyphonic possibilities exploiting the four strings of the solo instrument dominate, by way of stark contrast the main part of the three-part third movement is a broad lilting song: a true “melody”. Analysts have established that this marvellous melody is a descendant of Bartók’s earlier violin themes. It is related to his early violin concerto, but perhaps most directly to the slow movement of the Violin sonata No. 1, which was also played by Menuhin, with its opening for solo violin. The trilling-tremolo, plaintive vibrating central section, whose elements are smoothly incorporated into the varied recapitulation of the first section (played with the mute), forms a transfigured chorale-like contrast with its double stops.
The most important compositional problem in the fourth movement, as analysts have established based on the version in the sketchbook, was that the thematic material first noted down for the movement is the robust G minor “dance finale” theme, distantly related to the main theme of the first movement, and which in the final version is known not as the main theme of the movement, but as material from the first episode. It seems then, that Bartók wrote the perpetuum mobile mysterious buzzing rondo main theme for the Presto movement, developed from the fast repetition of the violin’s lowest note, only later, so that it would change the basic character, distancing the dance finale, as if between quotation marks. The double-stopped return of the rondo theme in open fifths is followed by a new, meditative, tranquillo theme noted down just after the dance theme in the sketches, which merges into a recapitulation of material from the first episode. Finally, however, it is the opposition of the fast, steady-moving rondo theme and the meditative theme of the second episode that lead to the movement’s fortissimo close.
44 duos for two violins (1931)
The name of German violin teacher, Erich Doflein (1900–1977) is just as inseparable from the 44 duos as that of Yehudi Menuhin from the Solo sonata. Doflein sought out Bartók on the occasion of the performance of his Piano concerto No. 1 (1926) in Freiburg im Breisgau on 8 December 1930. He wished to ask for transcriptions of some of the piano pieces For children (1908/09), written two decades earlier, to use in a violin school he planned together with his wife Elma Doflein. He found the pieces particularly suitable for teaching not only because of their simplicity, but because of their artistic value; their main aim, as Doflein stated in a memorandum dated around this time, was for “real music” (not dry exercises) “to become a tool for learning”. The composer decided to compose new pieces, and in spring and summer 1931, while taking a break from composing the second piano concerto (1930/31) he completed the whole series. Since he corresponded frequently with Doflein, and from April 1931 sent the small compositions off in only four instalments for his opinion, the order in which they were composed can be reconstructed fairly well. Interestingly, that the first piece to be completed was the most difficult one, which now closes the cycle, and is not based on a song, but a violin piece: an arrangement of a Romanian dance from Transylvania (“Ardeleana”). The easiest pieces appeared only later, mainly in the third group, while the packet sent last contained the most unusual pieces, including the heartbreakingly soulful Sorrow (No. 28), the Arabian Song (No. 42) based on a piece chosen from the Biskra collection, and the Pizzicato (No. 43).
Doflein commissioned the duos for two new publications he was bringing out through Schott. In the volumes of Das Geigen-Schulwerk in 1932 he published a total of 22 pieces, but only 18 pieces, and differing only in part, were placed in the Spielmusik für Violine collection. Bartók’s own publisher, Universal Edition, reserved the right to publish the complete series, which it did in 1933 organised into four volumes. The pieces in the series must have been very dear to the composer, who a few years later arranged 6 numbers for piano and published them under the title Petite Suite (1936). The piano version is extant on a highly valued recording by the composer.
Formally the pieces are very simple in structure. Most often they have two strophes, for which the two violins change roles during the piece. If a brief prelude, interlude or postlude frames the performance of the folk melody, it is always organic, and bound with musical logic to the melody used. It should be noted, however, if we compare the series to the compositions of the earlier For children, to what extent counterpoint had become an important element of Bartók’s later style. Doflein obviously reflected on this contrapuntal novelty, when he wrote to Bartók just after looking over the earliest duos: “Firstly allow me to say how much I like the pieces. First it surprised me, then after more thorough study I was filled with an increasing satisfaction on the recognition of how the change that has occurred in your way of writing since you wrote your earlier easy piano pieces also shows its effect in these new easy folk song arrangements. And what inner necessity justifies every harsh sound, every clash of melody. The pieces naturally demand a very fine ear.”
No other single composition of Bartók’s shows the ethnic diversity with which he worked as a researcher: alongside the Hungarian, Romanian, and Slovak folk melodies there are folk dances and songs from his Ruthenian, Serbian and Arab collections. Two pieces, however, Nos. 35 and 36 from the end of Book 3, even in their themes are Bartók’s own imitation of peasant music: the former uses a typical Ruthenian kolomejka rhythm, and the latter is an imitation of a folk bagpipe drone. The series, almost kaleidoscopic in its diversity, creates a wide range of musical-emotional types, from lament, through joy, to jesting. For example, the song “Ugyan édes komámasszony” is a teasing song both in its original folk form and in its scherzando arrangement. This opens the third book of pieces (No. 26). But aside from the range of feelings, there is another aspect to the collection which shows a similar diversity: the types of folksongs and the varied role they play in folk life: it is no accident that so many of the titles refer to this. The Játék (Play song) for example is a Slovak children’s song. Bartók used the tune, which lies on a range of five notes (major pentachord) in such a way that the beginner on the violin can play the melody higher and higher, but with the same fingering on different strings (No. 9). We find a lullaby from Bartók’s collection from county Zólyom in 1915 (No. 11). But we also come across a Wedding song, a Bride’s farewell, a Soldier’s song (whose setting to music expresses the soldier’s homesickness), marches and, of course, dances (pillow dances, whirling dances).
In this special respect, this series of pedagogical compositions reveals Bartók’s basic intention. The pieces are not only simply based on original folk melodies, the majority of which the composer-ethnomusicologist learnt from the mouths of peasants themselves. Neither are they merely unusual arrangements, conceived in an avant-garde style suffused with characteristics from eastern European folk music, so foreign and unusable to earlier western European music; a music with its peculiarities of rhythm, melody and scale. For, with this series of pieces, Bartók preserved something of the disappearing life surrounding the songs.
By “coding” the musical side of eastern European primitive peasant existence into his compositions, Bartók gave, in addition to musical connections, an (often latent) extramusical perspective to his own music, thus in these miniatures too. In his compositions with both pedagogical purpose and artistic inspiration, this is their higher – or deeper – educational content.
Translated by Richard Robinson
Barnabás Kelemen has established himself as one of the leading violinists of his generation, appearing regularly as a concerto soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician at many of the world’s major musical venues and festivals. He has toured extensively throughout Europe, North and South America, South Africa, Japan and Taiwan.
In addition to having performed with all the major orchestras in Hungary, Kelemen has also performed with the Belgian National Orchestra, the Liverpool Philharmonic, Holland’s Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, the Limburg, Arnheim, Lahti, and Saarbrucken Radio Symphonies, the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, the Flemish Radio Orchestra, the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, the Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and more. Festival appearances have included Colmar, Cambridge, Delft, Capetown, IMS Prussia Cove, Budapest, Prague, Salzburg and Grand Teton. He has collaborated with conductors such as Lorin Maazel, Sir Neville Marriner, Dennis Russel-Davies, Eiji Oue, Robert Spano, Zoltán Kocsis, Michael Stern, Péter Eötvös, Tamás Vásáry and Rumon Gamba.
Kelemen has performed at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, London’s Wigmore Hall, and New York’s Carnegie Hall where his debut was reviewed as “a dazzling performance” (American Record Guide). Highlights for next season include solo engagements with the Munich Philharmonic, the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, the North Netherlands Orchestra, the Strasbourg Symphony, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the Erkel Chamber Orchestra, and the Danubia Youth Symphony. He will give recitals and chamber performances in the United States in Indianapolis, Washington, D.C., and Dallas, as well as Budapest, Liege (Belgium), Turku and Lahti (Finland), Beyt Meri (Lebanon), and Munich (Germany). Kelemen will also be a guest artist at the Jerusalem Festival (Israel), the Paganiniana Festival (Italy) and the Moritzburg Festival (Germany).
In addition to winning the Gold Medal at the 2002 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis and six of the eight special prizes, Kelemen has won prizes at many international competitions including second prize at the 1997 Szigeti Competition, first prizes at the 1999 Mozart Competition in Salzburg and the International Piano Trio Competition in Kuhmo, and third prize at the 2001 Queen Elisabeth Competition.
In recognition of his talent and achievements, Barnabás Kelemen was awarded the ‘Rózsavölgyi’, the ‘Jelenlét’ and the ‘Franz Liszt’ prizes by the Hungarian Government. In 2003 he was named Classical Musician of the Year by Gramofon magazine (Hungary) and his recording of the Brahms Sonatas for violin and piano (Hungaroton) with pianist Tamás Vásáry won France’s Diapaison d’Or. His double CD, The complete works for violin and piano by Franz Liszt, with pianist Gergely Bogányi, won the International Liszt Society's 2001 Grand Prix du Disque.
Kelemen’s repertoire spans from early Baroque to contemporary music. He performed the Hungarian premieres of the Ligeti and Schnittke Violin concertos and gave the Hungarian premiere of Gubajdulina’s violin pieces, and the world premiere of Kurtág’s.
As a chamber musician, he has appeared with, amongst others, Steven Isserlis, Zoltán Kocsis and Dezső Ránki and performs regularly with Katalin Kokas (violin/viola), Miklós Perényi (cello), Dénes Várjon, Péter Nagy and Gergely Bogányi (piano).
Born in Hungary, Kelemen started his violin studies with noted Hungarian teacher Valéria Baranyai at the age of six. He entered Eszter Perényi’s class at the Franz Liszt Music Academy at the age of 11. In 2001 he received his diploma and was also awarded the Sándor Végh Prize by the Sándor Végh Foundation in Budapest. In addition to his primary teachers, Kelemen has participated in master classes with Isaac Stern, Ferenc Rados, György Kurtág, Igor Ozim, Lóránd Fenyves, Dénes Zsigmondy, György Pauk, Sergiu Luca and Thomas Zehetmair. From September 2005, he took an appointment as Professor of Violin at the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Budapest and teaches regularly as a guest professor at the Bloomington Indiana University.
He performs on the 1683 Ex-Gingold Stradivari violin and Tourte bow on loan to him for four years for winning the 2002 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis.
Katalin Kokas was born in 1978 in Pécs, Hungary. She began to play the violin at the age of 5 in Kaposvár. At the age of 11 she attanded the preliminary class of the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Budapest and studied with Ferenc Halász and Dénes Kovács. From the age 16 she was awarded full scholarship at the Toronto Royal Conservatory where she studied with Lóránd Fenyves. From 1997 she worked with Eszter Perényi at the Liszt Academy in Budapest where she got her honours degree. She attanded masterclasses of Ferenc Rados, György Kurtág, György Pauk, Dénes Zsigmondy, Igor Ozim, Tibor Varga, Endre Wolf, Jaime Laredo and Leon Fleischer.
After winning many national competitions she has won the First Prize at the Usti and Orlice International Violin Competition in the Chech Republic in 1994. In 1996 she won the Concerto Competition in Toronto. She won the Bartók and the Martinu Competitions in Semmering-Austria in 1997-98.
In 1999 Katalin Kokas has won the Carl Flesch International Violin Competition and in 2002 she has won the First Prize at the prestigous Joseph Szigeti International Violin Competition in Hungary.
Katalin Kokas – as a violinist or violist – has collaborated with musicians such as Zoltán Kocsis, Miklós Perényi, Dénes Várjon, Philipp Cassard, Péter Nagy, Thorlief Thedeen, Michael Stern, the Chilingirian Quartet, János Rolla and the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, and performed with symphonic orchestras of Poznan, Kosice, Bratislava, Johannesburg, Durban, Taiwan, Geneve, Rio de Janeiro and most of the Hungarian orchestras.
She has been invited to music-festivals such as Delft, Prussia-Cove, Seville, Budapest Spring Festival, Paris Louvre Auditorium, Vienna, major cities of South Africa, South- and North-America and after winning the Szigeti Competition, she has got many engagements from important concert-venues of Europe and the USA including one at the Recital Hall of the famous Carnegie Hall in New York City in 2003.
She was awarded by the Ferenc Halász Prize and the Annie Fischer Scholarsip in 2004, 2005. Lately she played a tour in Taiwan with the Taiwan National Symphony and played the very first violin concerto in the new National Concert Hall in Budapest with Zoltán Kocsis and the Hungarian National Symphony, the Sibelius Violin concerto.
Currently she is a Professor of Violin at the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Budapest since 2004.