Beethoven and Bartók
The Sarasota Orchestra Masterworks Series returns with a special performance of the works of Hungarian composers Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók. Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 gives guest pianist Jeremy Denk the chance to show off his virtuosity. The highly praised Keith Lockhart is conducting. The performance runs from March 12th to March 15th.
Lockhart and Denk
Keith Lockhart is the conductor for the Boston Pops Orchestra and a guest conductor for the BBC Concert Orchestra. He was a performer at the 2018 World Series and Super Bowl XXXVI. In 2017, he received the Commonwealth Award for cultural achievement by the state of Massachusetts. Jeremy Denk is a nationally preeminent classical pianist. He is a recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and the Avery Fisher Prize for Instrumentalist of the Year.
Zoltán Kodály was a Hungarian ethnomusicologist. His most beloved works are based off of folk music from the rural locales of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Kodály was close friends with Béla Bartók in life and often sent him musical samples for inspiration. Bartók wrote of him, “If I were to name the composer whose works are the most perfect embodiment of the Hungarian spirit, I would answer, Kodály.”
Dances of Galánta (Galántai táncok) was a piece written by Kodály on special commission for the Budapest Philharmonic Society’s 80th Anniversary. The piece is a symphonic poem that remembers a famous gypsy band from his boyhood town of Galánta. The composition premiered in Budapest on October 23, 1933.
Ludwig van Beethoven is monolithic in classical musicology. He was an inspiration to both Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók as they sought to develop their own compositional style while paying homage to the old masters and their Austro-Hungarian roots. Just as Beethoven had become a national music icon for Germans, Kodály and Bartók sought to create a Hungarian national unity through their music. Bartók confessed in an interview, “The vision of an educated Hungary, reborn from the people, rose before us. We decided to devote our lives to its realization.” Beethoven himself composed a number of pieces influenced by folk songs, either German or Irish.
Piano Concerto No. 4, the featured Beethoven piece at this performance, was premiered as part of a marathon concert in 1808 at the Theater an der Wien. Notably, the concert signifies the last appearance of Beethoven as a soloist for an orchestra. The composition was dedicated to Archduke Rudolph of Austria.
Béla Bartók was a Hungarian composer with close ties to Hungarian ethnomusicologists and nationalists. His dreams of Hungarian unity turned to ash, however, as a pro-German government swept into power. In 1940, Bartók permanently resettled in the United States. In addition to a decline in health and scant financial assets, he lost much of his previously-held prestige in the United States.
All was not lost. Bartók found a steady job researching Serbo-Croatian folk music for Columbia University. While serving in this function, he conducted frequent lecture tours on musicology and Hungarian ethnomusicology. This position allowed him to springboard into a commission for the Koussevitzky Music Foundation in 1943. This commission created a magnum opus of sorts, the Concerto for Orchestra.
Bartók’s notes on the composition describe a “sternness of the first movement and the lugubrious death-song of the third, to the life-assertion of the last one.” Concerto for Orchestra marries his lifetime devotion to Hungarian folk music with later experiences in the United States. The piece reflects Bartók’s lifetime of achievement and, as one scholar suggests, his declining health. The transition from “sternness” to “lugubrious” resembles a Kübler-Ross model for the stages of grief in orchestral composition. Regardless, Bartók turned tragedy into triumph. The piece premiered in 1944 at Boston to much acclaim.
Zoltán Kodály and Béla Bartók reunite alongside Beethoven at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Their lives and triumphs are revisited.
For more information on Kodály and Bartók read: “Bela Bartok: Finding a Voice Through Folk Music.”
For tickets and more information on this concert visit www.sarasotaorchestra.org