The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

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piston
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The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

Post by piston » Sat Oct 24, 2015 7:28 pm

Go to youtube and google "Concerto for orchestra." Bartok prevails, by far, page after page! In fact, googling "concerto for orchestra" yields a wiki page on Bartok's work. It's not that he's the only one to have called a work by that name. Many have followed in his footsteps: Lutoslawski (Poland), Shchedrin (Russia), Sessions and Higdon (America), Jacques Hétu (Canada), Miyoshi (Japan), Tan Dun (China), etc. Shchedrin composed five of them! Except for his first, "naughty," one, Shchedrin composed them in the spirit of a (commissioned) gift to an orchestra (NYP, Chicago, Suntory/Japan, BBC Proms). They also become more elaborate and, with the fifth of them, it's clearly a whole "concerting" orchestra.

Is this Bartok's greatest legacy? Bartok's first love certainly was not teaching. In your mind, is the concerto for orchestra just another name for a 20th-century symphony? Or is there real instrumental substance to such a name?
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

John F
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Re: The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

Post by John F » Sun Oct 25, 2015 12:26 am

piston wrote:Is this Bartok's greatest legacy? Bartok's first love certainly was not teaching. In your mind, is the concerto for orchestra just another name for a 20th-century symphony? Or is there real instrumental substance to such a name?
I don't understand. Is what Bartok's greatest legacy? The Concerto for Orchestra as an individual work, just its title, or something else? I don't get it.

The title "symphony" carries a lot of freight and arouses expectations which I suppose Bartok didn't want. A "concerto" is a large orchestral form that features a lot of soloistic, virtuosic writing; in a concerto for orchestra (the title is somewhat self-contradictory), members of the orchestra are the soloists. This fits Bartok's second movement but not the others, I'd say. If Bartok had wanted to use an existing, historically defined title, one was available: sinfonia concertante, symphonie concertante as with Szymanowski, or as with Prokofiev, symphony concerto. But these involve a defined soloist or group of soloists, which Bartok's piece doesn't have. And then there's concerto grosso, but this implies neoclassicism which was foreign to Bartok. So I suppose all he meant by "concerto for orchestra" is that it's a showpiece for the virtuosity of the entire orchestra - and that it certainly is, among other things.

As for whether the concerto for orchestra is Bartok's greatest legacy, that would be wrong. It's Bartok's most popular and most often performed piece, but to single it out from Bartok's large and varied oeuvre is not justified.
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piston
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Re: The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

Post by piston » Sun Oct 25, 2015 6:49 am

The name "concerto for orchestra," in distinction to the other names mentioned above, is an invention of the mid-twentieth century, coinciding with a "Back to Bach" movement and referring to the original use of the word "concerto" as a combination of instruments, such as in the first and third Brandenburg concertos. Hindemith may have been first to use that term, in 1925, followed by Petrassi in 1933. But these works did not catch on with the public and I don't even know if Bartok was aware of them. Not so with Kodaly's Concerto for Orchestra (1941), of course, especially given the fact that it was written for the 50th of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and premiered shortly after Bartok arrived in the USA. I'm guessing that, like Shchedrin after him, Kodaly intended that work to showcase the various sections of the orchestra and to allow these sections, on such a commemorative occasion, to engage in a dialogue with each other. In Petrassi's case, the first concerto for orchestra, a neo-classical piece, has little in common with the six subsequent ones, beginning in the fifties, in which he really applied himself to explore the orchestral possibilities of this new form.

With Bartok's work, the form of the concerto for orchestra becomes widely adopted by numerous composers during the second half of the century. Part of the reason why is that Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra was one of the rare mid-20th century work to be included in the regular repertoire of a great many orchestras after World War II and for decades to come.

I submit that it was Bartok's greatest legacy to offer his profession an example of a modern work that was readily adopted, alongside the conventional repertoire, in a form that drew its roots back to the baroque period and that offered far greater inter-sectional possibilities than either the symphony or the concerto.

I realize that Bartok wrote much more than that, including a lot of fascinating chamber music, but he was not really a teacher like, say, Shostakovich, and did not have a noticeable following at the time of his death. Other than Maconchy, can you think of a Bartok "school" in the second half of the century?
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

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Re: The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

Post by diegobueno » Sun Oct 25, 2015 8:32 am

I think Bartók, for whatever reasons, just didn't want to use the word "symphony". He knew he was making brilliant use of the different orchestral instruments in different sections, though, so Concerto for Orchestra seemed a logical title. There are a couple of works before his that use that title, but the popularity of the title among post-WWII composers can surely be traced to Bartók's example, particularly the wonderful Concerto for Orchestra by Lutoslawski written in a very Bartókian style.

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Re: The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

Post by John F » Sun Oct 25, 2015 11:12 am

piston wrote:I submit that it was Bartok's greatest legacy to offer his profession an example of a modern work that was readily adopted, alongside the conventional repertoire, in a form that drew its roots back to the baroque period and that offered far greater inter-sectional possibilities than either the symphony or the concerto.
What a perverse and weird thing to say. Bartok's legacy, the riches he left to his profession and to the world, is the whole body of music he composed. He would be deeply and rightly insulted to hear that somebody values a prosaic title of one of his works above the music of the work itself, let alone all of his works put together. Sheesh!
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piston
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Re: The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

Post by piston » Sun Oct 25, 2015 11:53 am

I guess, John, you just can't think historically today. And your choice of words --such as "perverse"-- to counter a simple proposition frequently stiffles discussion. So I'm done with this thread.
In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned....(Paul Valéry)

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Re: The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

Post by diegobueno » Sun Oct 25, 2015 12:52 pm

Jacques, you know what would be interesting would be if you were to do a study of string quartet programming like what you did with orchestral programming in the other recent thread you started. My perception of the standard string quartet program is that it consists of 1) A classical period work (Mozart, Haydn, sometimes Beethoven) 2) a Romantic period work (Beethoven also works here, but there's also Brahms, Dvorak, Smetana, whatever), and 3) a 20th century work.

My perception is that 75% of the time, the 20th century work is one of Bartók's six quartets. That percentage may have been reduced in the past couple of decades as Shostakovich's quartets have risen in esteem. It would be interesting to be able to quantify this.

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Re: The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

Post by barney » Mon Oct 26, 2015 6:32 am

I've just finished the marvellous book Indivisible by Four by the first violinist of the Guarnieri Quartet. He refers to the nine composers who formed 90 per cent of their repertoire. Bartok was there, Shostakovich was not. But that book is 17 years old, and I now hear more Shostakovich than I do Bartok at recitals.

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Re: The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

Post by John F » Mon Oct 26, 2015 7:18 am

barney wrote:I've just finished the marvellous book Indivisible by Four by the first violinist of the Guarnieri Quartet. He refers to the nine composers who formed 90 per cent of their repertoire. Bartok was there, Shostakovich was not.
I'm sure that's true of just about every string quartet outside Russia.
piston wrote:I guess, John, you just can't think historically today. And your choice of words --such as "perverse"-- to counter a simple proposition frequently stiffles discussion. So I'm done with this thread.
If finding the title of a musical work more significant than the music itself is your idea of "thinking historically," then I definitely don't do that. I do think about musical matters that really are historically significant, as anyone who reads my posts here knows, but evidently I set the bar higher for significance than you do. As for "perverse," one definition of the word is "contrary to the accepted or expected standard or practice." I call 'em as I see 'em.

Bartok himself explained the title he gave to the piece. "The title of this symphony-like orchestral work is explained by its tendency to treat the single instruments or instrumental groups in a concertant or soloistic manner." I get the feeling that while he thought of the piece as essentially a symphony, he wanted not to call it that.
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Re: The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

Post by maestrob » Mon Oct 26, 2015 11:20 am

A small point: "Concerto for Orchestra" is certainly more sellable than the ordinary sounding "Symphony No. 1 by Bartok," at least IMHO.

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Re: The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

Post by John F » Mon Oct 26, 2015 1:00 pm

Good point - "concerto" has a more informal image than "symphony," in every way. Now I think of it, there are plenty of symphonies that "treat the single instruments or instrumental groups in a concertant or soloistic manner," going back to early Haydn. And except in the second movement, I wouldn't say the CfO is exceptional in this regard.
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Re: The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

Post by josé echenique » Tue Oct 27, 2015 10:56 am

The important thing is that it´s a masterpiece, and a showpiece for a great orchestra in the best sense of the word.

mikealdren
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Re: The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

Post by mikealdren » Sat Oct 31, 2015 4:12 am

barney wrote:
I've just finished the marvellous book Indivisible by Four by the first violinist of the Guarnieri Quartet. He refers to the nine composers who formed 90 per cent of their repertoire. Bartok was there, Shostakovich was not.

I'm sure that's true of just about every string quartet outside Russia.
John, I don't think so. Every quartet outside Russia and Europe perhaps?

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Re: The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

Post by John F » Sat Oct 31, 2015 8:22 am

I don't know of any top-flight non-Russian European string quartet that plays Shostakovich's quartets more often than Bartok's. But then, I'm not sure who the top-flight European quartets are these days, as measured by major-label recordings and frequency of international tours. What do you think?
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Re: The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

Post by diegobueno » Sat Oct 31, 2015 11:09 am

Until we see some accurate statistics, we can't really say anything meaningful about the prevalence of Shostakovich vs. Bartók. I think -- and this is just armchair speculation -- that it will take a major shift in taste before we see Shostakovich quartets performed more than Bartók. But my observation is that there is a definite uptick in the number of Shostakovich performances in the past 15 years or so. It used to be that if you heard any Shostakovich quartet at all, it was the 8th. The 8th still predominates, but there are quartets trying out other ones. I saw a chilling rendition of the 12th Quartet by the Juilliard Quartet, and saw an announcement of a quartet doing the Shostakovich 4th quartet. On November 7th, the Michelangelo Quartet is doing a program at the Library of Congress that includes the Shostakovich 3rd quartet. I've also heard the 15th in concert. That could mean something or it could be nothing. That's why I'd like to see statistics.

mikealdren
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Re: The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

Post by mikealdren » Sat Oct 31, 2015 3:27 pm

I'm not sure about 'top flight quartets', but the Shostakovich quartets are in the repertoire of many British quartets and have been since the 70s. The Brodsky, Sorrel and Fitzwilliams all recorded complete cycles and I don't think they recorded the Bartok quartets. This is certainly not to denegrate Bartok but I suspect that Shostakovich has had a much higher profile in the UK than in the US.

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Re: The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

Post by John F » Sat Oct 31, 2015 10:12 pm

I know of the Fitzwilliam cycle, but not the others. None of them have the international standing I mean by "top-flight," as the Amadeus String Quartet alone among British-based quartets used to have.

There's no question but that Shostakovich's quartets are easier for most audiences and, I'd guess, easier to play than Bartok's, which are pretty thorny. Yet when the Emerson String Quartet played the 6 Bartoks as a marathon program (with two intermissions), an exhausting 3 hours for the players and listeners alike, the nearly 3000 seats in Avery Fisher Hall (as it then was) were all taken. I didn't see that kind of attendance for any concerts in the Emersons' Shostakovich cycle a few years later. But I expect that in Moscow, those statistics might be reversed.
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Re: The Concerto for Orchestra: Bartok's great legacy!

Post by diegobueno » Mon Nov 02, 2015 4:08 pm

Incidentally, the Borromeo Quartet is going to present the Bartok Quartet cycle in one evening on Dec. 18 at the Coolidge Auditorium in the Library of Congress. The program is free, but you have to get tickets in advance.

I found this review of them when they performed the cycle in 2012:
David Patrick Stearns wrote:Compared to the Emerson Quartet's famous Bartok marathons at Carnegie Hall in the 1990s (one of which I attended), Borromeo's at Field Concert Hall had musicians, music, and audience contained in a smaller room that, over the three-hour-plus concert, became laudably claustrophobic: The performances never coasted or let you coast. While the 1990s version of the Emerson Quartet used vibrato so unceasingly as to form a safety curtain between your ears and the music's intensity, the Borromeo Quartet is much more judicious about such matters, giving performances with more nuanced contrasts of light and shade, as well as more open windows that your ear can't help but enter. The music's mystery, violence, and sorrow become absolutely inescapable.

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