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Bartok Second String Quartet

Bartok stands as one of the most significant composers of the twentieth century.

His work I ethnomusicology alone helped define what the field was to become. He was a

jack-of-all-trades with in music. Bartok was a composer, ethnomusicologist, pedagogue,

and pianist. He exceled at all these disciplines despite numerous obstacles in his way.

One of the many set backs was that he was frequently, if not always, sick. Another

problem was the amount of wars that were going on at the time. World War I was one of

these wars. It ravaged eastern Europe to the point that no one had seen so far in the world.

This was particularly disturbing for Bartok because he studied folk melodies from eastern

Europe and with what happened in the war a lot of those folk melodies would be lost to

time. After World War I he was prohibited to study folk music outside of Hungary.

Somfai, 1996, 18.Bartoks second string quartet was written in 1917. This was in the

middle to late portion of World War I. It was written and dedicated the Waldbauer-

Kerpely Quartet. They performed in on March 3. 1918. This was three years after he

started composing the piece. It features more exploration in terms of pushing the

boundaries of tonality.

Bartoks second string quartet does not follow tonality like his previous

colleagues. Beethoven and others would use harmony and cadencial motion to give

structure to the music. This is for the most part thrown out by Bartok in the second string

quartet. Instead he uses rhythm and contrast to bring out the impression of a cadence As

well as musical structure.

The first movement is marked as moderato. Like many string quartets, this one

also starts off as a sonata form. The difference with this is that keys centers do not show
when the theme arrives. Because of his progressive way of writing one cannot simply

look for the dominant to find the second theme. Instead themes are found by looking at

the motifs that are used and where they are used in relation to the work. There is no

introduction in this work. It starts off with the first theme. The first theme goes all the

way until measure 19. This is marked by a dramatic at forte. It is at the highest register

that one has seen so far in the work. Then the transition comes in. It is marked by the

cello and viola in unison. This continues on until measure 32. It is hard to tell whether

this is the second theme or not. It only becomes clear later with in the work. Then at

measure 61 the closing theme comes in. This is shown with a scalar theme of five notes.

The development starts at measure 70. This is shown through a tempo change as well as

with the amount of voices that start the section at phase one. At measure 82 phase 2 starts

and then measure 94 phase 3 starts. Measure 103 could be considered Phase 4 or more of

a preparation to get back to the recapitulation. At measure 117 the piece enters the

recapitulation. It is marked by a new tempo and the reappearance of the first theme. At

measure 135 the transition comes. It is marked with an a tempo mark. Then at measure

141 the second theme comes in. It again is accompanied with a new tempo. Then at

measure 156 the closing theme comes in. an finally the coda starts at measure 162 and

goes on till the end.

The first theme is made up of around three motives. The first three notes mark the

first motive. The C# to G# marks the second motive and the G# to the Bb marks the third

motive in the theme. The first phrase is seven measures. It is then ends with its cadence

and breath marks. It should be noted that the first measure has the intervallic structure of

a major third and a perfect fourth from Bb (Bb, D, Eb). In the second beat of sixth
measure that same interval structure is inverted in the bottom three voices before they

resolve. The second phrase starts at measure 7. The cello takes the first iteration of the

first motive. This time the intervals are expanded but the rhythm stays the same. Instead

of a major seventh in range it is a 12th. Then the 1st violin takes over the first motive in

bar 8. Like the cello the motive is expanded. More important is Bartoks of the second

motive in measures 8-18. It is a diminution in rhythm from the first appearance of the

second motive. The interval is first expanded to a fifth in measure 9. Then in the next two

measures it is a minor seventh. In measure twelve it is expanded again to a major seventh

and then is inverted in the second part of the measure. Finally in measure 14 it is

expanded to an octave. Through out this section the register is climbing until it reaches its

climax at measure 18 on the G#. Another important point in the first theme is the rhythm

that is going on. There are not many strong down beats. It is further complicated in

measures 14-17 when is syncopated in the accompaniment. This all leads to the

preparation of the cadence in measure 18 when it falls on a strong beat.

The first theme ends on a G in the 1st violin. When the transition comes in the

cello on viola have their themes start on C. This helps move the piece in a dominant tonic

relationship. The transition uses the first motive as its thematic material. In this Bartok

uses stretto to contrast the earlier section that was mainly homophonic. In measure 24 F#

starts entering as an important note along with the C that was earlier in the transition.

Through the use of epition of the second motive inverted the F# becomes an important

pitch. In measures 28-29 A becomes an important note through the use of a pedal and

then Db or enharmonically C# becomes important in measure 30, through the same

method. This is all pushing to the note of C# in the second theme at measure 32. It should
be noted that the sixteenth note triplets that start entering at measure 21 are from the

accompaniment in measure four. The difference is that it is a diminution of measure 4s


The second theme starts with an inversion of both pitch and rhythm on the second

motive in the violins. This section starts to establish the importance of thirds. Measure 35

shows that minor and major thirds are important with the C# to E# and A to C. At

measure 38 the second theme changes and is developed till measure 60. This idea is

developed out of previous material from measure 5 and 26. Bartok uses a three note

scalar pattern. Then he starts inverting it as well as making it longer. The five note

patterns that show up at measure 39 are actually referencing material that is to come. It is

a variation on the closing theme, which is part of the folk melody. If the first two notes on

this theme are inverted it would be the folk melody. This helps prepare the listener for

that theme when it comes. The cello and viola are referencing the violin from measure

15. This shows that Bartok was using an additives process when composing this piece. In

measure 43 the cello and viola are using the idea from measure 4 and 5 in the violin.

They are using a chromatic scale but are instead inverting it. At measure 50 Bartok has

all the strings play together. They play A, C ,A#, and C#. This does two things. First it

shows the importance thirds, being that there is both major and minor 3rd in there. It also

helps the listener understand the juxtaposition in the piece between diminished and

augmented, which is one of the main themes of the piece.

At measure 61 the most important theme of the piece enters as the closing theme.

Every thing in the piece is moving toward this five note melody. It is clearly folk tune.

There are two major clues. One is that it is the first singable melody in the piece. The
other and more important reason is that parallel fifths become extremely prominent in the

cello. Considering that the fifth is not one of the main interval structures in the piece it

would make one draw the conclusion that its just to reference folk music. It should also

be noted that the two most important notes in this section are C# and F#, which also make

a perfect 5th.

At measure 70 the development starts. This brings the entrance of the first two

motives again. As would be expected Bartok develops these ideas further. From measure

70 to 82 he starts with just one instrument and slowly stats putting them al together to add

tension. Along with this he is also extending the range between the instruments. This is

mirroring the first 19 bars of the piece in terms of the register. Once he gets to measure

82 he starts the second phase with the third motive, which has previously not been

worked on with in this work. This area is marked by a tempo change, which is similar to

a lot of Bartoks sections in this piece. He also starts using a two note semitone figure in

this section. This is citing a figure in measure 8 that becomes more and more important in

the piece. Ex This figure is also a reference to the accompaniment in measure 4 that is

constantly going up and down by step. This continues until measure 94. Measure 94 is

the start of the third phase. Register becomes important in this section again as the is a

vast space between the 1st violin and cello. There motivic material also comes from the

semitone material from the accompaniment and measure 8. The difference that Bartok

uses to disguise this is octave displacement. The rhythm is similar to the second movtive.

Sixteenth notes become important in this phase to reach the transitional section at

measure 103. The sixteenth note material has the same contour as the folk motive in the

closing theme. He uses rearticulations of the notes to make it more ambiguous. Bartok
also uses inversions of it so that it goes back and forth. At measure 103 the strings are

playing together again. It is similar to measure 50 in intervallic structure, but not

identical. At measure 109 the accompaniment is diminished chords. This helps strengthen

his idea of the juxtaposition of diminished and augmented chords in this piece. Measure

103 to 116 as similar to regular sonata pieces that have pedal tone in the dominate to

return to the tonic. In this case Bartok uses B as an important note in preparation to go to


The recapitulation starts at measure 117. This is not an exact copy of the first

theme. Most notable is that the third motive was taken out. This is probably due to the

fact that it was just extensively worked out in the development. Besides the first phrase

the 1st theme is note all that similar. By measure 119 it already is working out other ideas.

One of these ideas is the three-note figure in the first violin. It is a reference to the

accompaniment in the exposition. This is important because the accompaniment in the

recap does not use the three note figure so the melody could take it instead. Similar to the

exposition the 1st theme lasts 19 bars. Also in contour it is similar to the first theme. At

the end of the 1st theme it reaches its highest point. This shows that Bartok was trying to

help the listener know at what point of the piece they are in by these landmarks. At

measure 136 Bartok gets to the transition. It is not all that similar to the previous

transition in any way. At measure 138 the 2nd violin has an interesting line. It is a

combination of the semitone motive. He alternates between inversions and regular ideas

of it. The all the parts take it at measure 140. However, this time the rhythm is augmented

to eighth notes.
At measure 141 the 2nd theme returns. Besides gesture and general senorities of

this section it does not have much similarity with the 2nd theme in the exposition. Breath

marks in the score help the listener with identifying that his is the 2nd theme. At measure

145 Bartok works out a bit more of the sixteenth note triplet idea. At measure 149 he

starts bringing back the 1st motive. This is interesting because it does not happen in the

exposition. It in a way acts as a transition to the next section, which is the most important

section with in the piece. He uses the 1st motive in a expanded form and no the original

interval of a 7th. He also starts inverting it at measure 152. He overlaps it to gain

intensity. Finally at measure 154-154 Bartok states the theme completely unaltered. All

the strings are playing in complete unison. This the only time in the piece that they play

in unison so it must mean that this is one of the most important if not the most important

points in this movement.

The closing theme starts at measure 156. The key center of this area is A. One

important note of this area is that the melody has C while the accompaniment has C#.

This brings prominence to the juxtaposition of major and minor 3rds in this movement.

The closing theme is the folk tune in its entirety. The eighth notes against the triplets are

reminiscent of folk music. All the instruments work together in this section compared to

the rest of the piece where everything is in constant struggle with each other. Almost

nothing lines up in the entire piece until this section. This is another reason why this is

the most important section in the entire movement.

Finally the coda is reach at measure 162. This section starts with a stretto of the

folk melody motive. At measure 164 he starts work out a bit of the 1st and 2nd motive of

the piece. At measure 169 the 1st violin is referencing the ideas from measure 103. At
measure 171 all the strings are playing off the interval structure of 103. This is important

because Bartok in this section makes a big point to reference the intervallic structure of

this movement in the coda. At measure 175 till the end he furthers this idea bringing in an

F augmented chord. The strings have this chord rise in many different voicings till the

end. While this is going on the cello is playing the folk motive in a minor. He does this

because A is the central note in this movement. Then F, F#, C, and C# are the other

important notes. It is no coinsidense that these notes were also key centers in other

themes and sections of the work. This is how he ties the entire piece together because the

piece is based off of minor and major.