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Analysis of Bartok's String Quartet No. 1

Autor:   •  October 18, 2018  •  687 Words (3 Pages)  •  397 Views

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in 1907. He even composed a special musical gesture for her: a stack of thirds—two major, one minor—nicknamed the “Stefi” motif. It is heard using the pitches D–F-sharp–A–C-sharp in his Violin Concerto of 1908. The two movements of that piece were intended to represent the hot and cold sides of Stefi’s personality, which perhaps explains why she ended her relationship with the composer at the time of his completion of the First String Quartet.

In one of his letters, Bartók described the first movement of the quartet as funereal. For Malcolm Gillies, the music bears the influence of Beethoven, specifically the opening fugue of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14. But Wagner is also in the mix. Bartók’s first movement recalls the bitter, dissatisfied longing of the title characters in Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Listen closely, however, and the comparisons fall away. Bartók’s dense corkscrew of notes cannot be likened to the slacker constructions of his Romantic predecessors.

From this tense state, the second and third movements progress to a more lighthearted ending. Much has been made of the influence of different folksong traditions in Bartók’s mature works, and the First String Quartet is seen as a transition into the folkloric syncretism and abstraction of his later years. The third movement offers a simple example of this influence in the emphasis on five-note, “pentatonic” gestures. Other passages suggest the rhythmic flex, or rubato, of folk singing. Gillies reminds us, however, that even here—in the bustling village of the third movement—Bartók’s affair with Stefi Geyer left its mark. The cello mocks a popular Budapest song titled, in translation, “Just a Fair Girl.”


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