Bartok's Viola Concerto: The Remarkable Story of His Swansong

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Oxford University Press, Mar 4, 2004 - Music - 240 pages
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When Bela Bart?k died in September of 1945, he left a partially completed viola concerto commissioned by the virtuoso violist William Primrose. Yet, while no definitive version of the work exists, this concerto has become arguably the most-performed viola concerto in the world. The story of how the concerto came to be, from its commissioning by Primrose to its first performance to the several completions that are performed today is told here in Bart?k's Viola Concerto:The Remarkable Story of His Swansong. After Bart?k's death, his family asked the composer's friend Tibor Serly to look over the sketches of the concerto and to prepare it for publication. While a draft was ready, it took Serly years to assemble the sketches into a complete piece. In 1949, Primrose finally unveiled it, at a premiere performance with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. For almost half a century, the Serly version enjoyed great popularity among the viola community, even while it faced charges of inauthenticity. In the 1990s, several revisions appeared and, in 1995, the composer's son, Peter Bart?k, released a revision, opening the way or an intensified debate on the authenticity of the multiple versions. This debate continues as violists and Bart?k scholars seek the definitive version of this final work of Hungary's greatest composer. Bart?k's Viola Concerto tells the story of the genesis and completion of Bart?k's viola concerto, its reception over the second half of the twentieth century, its revisions, and future possibilities.
 

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Contents

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Page 16 - ... the score has to be written, which means a purely mechanical work, so to speak. If nothing happens I can be through in 5 or 6 weeks, that is, I can send you a copy of the orchestral score in the second half of October, and a few weeks afterwards a copy (or if you wish more copies) of the piano score. Many interesting problems arose in composing this work. The orchestration will be rather transparent, more transparent than in the Violin Concerto. Also the sombre, more masculine character of your...
Page 16 - ... Concerto, intended for William Primrose, and a new— and uncommissioned— Piano Concerto. It had been many years since he had worked simultaneously on two major scores; now his desperate activity seems to have been prompted by a realization of the gravity of his illness. On 8 September he wrote to Primrose: I am very glad to be able to tell you that your Viola Concerto is ready in draft, so that only the score has to be written, which means a purely mechanical work, so to speak. If nothing...
Page 16 - ... The orchestration will be rather transparent, more transparent than in the Violin Concerto. Also the sombre, more masculine character of your instrument executed some influence on the general character of the work. The highest note I use is 'A,' but I exploit rather frequently the lower registers. It is conceived in a rather virtuoso style. Most probably some passages will prove to be uncomfortable or unplayable. These we will discuss later, according to your observations. The Viola Concerto...
Page 14 - ... August, a letter that remains only as an incomplete fragment, apparently never posted: About mid July I was just planning to write you a rather desponding [sic] letter, explaining [to] you the various difficulties I am in. But, then, there stirred some viola-concerto ideas which gradually crystallized themselves, so that I am able now to tell you that I hope to write the work, and maybe finish at least its draft in 4-5 weeks, if nothing happens in the meantime which would prevent my work.

About the author (2004)

Donald Maurice wrote one of the major revisions of the Bartok viola concerto. He is Professor of Music at the New Zealand School of Music, violist with the New Zealand Piano Quartet, and treasurer of the International Viola Society.

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