Bartok – Dance Suite

by Max Derrickson

Bartok – Dance Suite


Bela Bartok (1881-1945) is one of Hungary’s greatest gifts to music.  His accomplishments spanned from composer, virtuoso pianist, conductor, teacher to ethnomusicologist.  His early musical career seemed headed toward being one of the 20th century’s finest pianists.  Having graduated from the Budapest Conservatory in 1903, and already mastering his talent of composition, Bartok rather quickly became recognized as a great young performer.   [. . .]

Bartok’s enthusiasm for folk music, however, never left him.  Beginning in 1906 with his close colleague Zoltan Kodaly, many summers were spent combing the countryside and recording and transcribing folk songs.  Their travels ventured to Romania [. . .] What results in his concert music, however, is a brimming of folk influences. A case in point:

The Dance Suite (1923) was commissioned for a concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of the union of the cities Buda andPest.  Kodaly’s music was also played, as well as that of another famous Hungarian musician Ernst von Dohnanyi.  The Dance Suite is a six movement work and fittingly is festive in nature.

The tunes are quite folk-like in their feel, as Bartok said, [. . .]  As exacting a mind as Bartok had, however, his music, especially the Dance Suite, is exuberant and unpredictable.  The third movement, [. . .]  Tempos speed and falter, rhythms get obliterated in syncopation, cacophonous brass utterances interrupt; tenderness sneaks in upon a triangle beat with muted strings, harps stroke like slight waves…. like, [. . .] perhaps, a Hungarian folk song, but altogether the uniquely original composition of Bartok. [. . .]