Popular Classics
41 of 224
Béla Bartók

Béla Bartók (1881-1945)

Nationality: Hungarian
Born: March 25, 1881, Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary Died: September 26, 1945, New York City, NY (age 64)

String Quartet No. 4, BB 95 Sz. 91

(for 2 violins, viola and cello)
5:55 I. Allegro
2:54 II. Prestissimo con sordino
5:32 III. Non troppo lento
2:58 IV. Allegretto pizzicato
5:32 V. Allegro molto
Duration: 24 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1928, July through September. (age 47)
Premiere: February 22, 1929. London radio broadcast by the Waldbauer-Kerpely Quartet. IMSLP: 1929-3-20 in Budapest: Waldbauer-Kerpely Quartet
Published: 1929, Universal Edition (age 47-48)
Dedication: To the Pro Arte Quartet (Quatuor Pro Arte)
8 recordings, 34 videos
autoopen autoplay
5:54
Takács Quartet
I. Allegro
3:01
Takács Quartet
II. Prestissimo con sordino
5:28
Takács Quartet
III. Non troppo lento
2:56
Takács Quartet
IV. Allegretto pizzicato
5:41
Takács Quartet
V. Allegro molto
6:11
Vermeer Quartet
I. Allegro
3:09
Vermeer Quartet
II. Prestissimo con sordino
5:14
Vermeer Quartet
III. Non troppo lento
2:48
Vermeer Quartet
IV. Allegretto pizzicato
5:50
Vermeer Quartet
V. Allegro molto
5:55
Juilliard String Quartet
I. Allegro
2:53
Juilliard String Quartet
II. Prestissimo con sordino
5:52
Juilliard String Quartet
III. Non troppo lento
3:00
Juilliard String Quartet
IV. Allegretto pizzicato
5:31
Juilliard String Quartet
V. Allegro molto
5:49
Amati Quartet
I. Allegro
2:58
Amati Quartet
II. Prestissimo con sordino
5:50
Amati Quartet
III. Non troppo lento
2:47
Amati Quartet
IV. Allegretto pizzicato
5:45
Amati Quartet
V. Allegro molto
6:14
Mikrokosmos String Quartet
I. Allegro
2:56
Mikrokosmos String Quartet
II. Prestissimo con sordino
5:20
Mikrokosmos String Quartet
III. Non troppo lento
2:48
Mikrokosmos String Quartet
IV. Allegretto pizzicato
5:43
Mikrokosmos String Quartet
V. Allegro molto
27:06
Quatuor Ebène
9:00
Novák Quartet
(part 1 of 3)
8:34
Novák Quartet
(part 2 of 3)
5:48
Novák Quartet
(part 3 of 3)
6:00
Alban Berg Quartet
I. Allegro
2:51
Alban Berg Quartet
II. Prestissimo con sordino
5:21
Alban Berg Quartet
III. Non troppo lento
2:55
Alban Berg Quartet
IV. Allegretto pizzicato
5:35
Alban Berg Quartet
V. Allegro molto
From Kai Christiansen

Belá Bartók (1881-1945)

String Quartet No. 4, Sz. 91, 1928

Belá BartókIn a manner often compared to Beethoven, the string quartet was absolutely central to the creative lifeblood of Béla Bartók. After an early quartet written at the age of seventeen, Bartók produced a monumental cycle of six mature quartets over a span of thirty years. Plans for a seventh quartet remained unfulfilled by his death in 1945. Uniquely among 20th century works, Bartók's quartets have become essential to the repertoire defining an important chapter in the history of this indefatigable genre of musical thought and expression. Of the six quartets, each a distinctly individual milestone in Bartók's evolutionary journey, the fourth is the most celebrated. The Bartók scholar Halsey Stevens wrote, "The fourth quartet comes close to being, if it does not actually represent, Bartók's greatest and most profound achievement."

Written between July and September of 1928, Bartók's fourth quartet is a tour de force of sound, expression, technical innovation and formal construction. Despite the fact that Bartók was not a string player (or, perhaps, because of this), the string quartet is deployed with a battery of fresh sonic effects. It simply sounds completely different that any string quartet before it. The music prominently features sliding notes (glissando), glassy tones by bowing close to the bridge (ponticello), mutes (con sordino) plucking, strumming and slapping (pizzicato), and even striking the strings with the wood of the bow (col legno). These coloristic effects are equally matched by the novel musical content, the actual notes being played. Bartók's musical lines undulate chromatically in a narrow compass exhaustively exploring the nuances of tiny intervals. The music is dominated by motives rather than melodies and a dense contrapuntal style of imitation and linear writing pursues these motives with obsessive, multi-threaded textures. In the outer movements in particular, Bartók celebrates harsh dissonance unabashedly. Combined with an equally powerful and disruptive rhythmic thrust, the music, definitive and occasionally violent, has a nearly overwhelming impact. This is the sonic surface of music. Beneath lies a meticulous and equally novel formal design.

Bartók's fourth quartet is constructed using a perfectly symmetrical "arch" or "bridge" form. Its five movements comprise two sets of matching movements with the central slow movement serving as the keystone, itself a three-part form containing the dead center of the quartet. Unusually, Bartók described his own music:

"The work is in five movements; their character corresponds to Classical sonata form. The slow movement is the kernel of the work; the other movements are, as it were, arranged in layers around it. Movement IV is a free variation of II, and I and V have the same thematic material; that is, around the kernel (Movement III), metaphorically speaking, I and V are the outer, II and IV the inner layers."

The outer movements describe a kind of bristling husk around the kernel, both movements dominated by strong dynamics, muscular rhythms and an omnipresent six-note motive subjected to numerous "classical" transformations. Curiously, the motive itself is an arch with three notes rising and three notes falling. The next layer of pairs (movements II and IV) comprises two brilliant scherzi, animated but somehow softer than the outer husk. The second movement is like muted, quicksilver Mendelssohn, if he were from outer space. The fourth movement is famously obsessed with pizzicato as if evoking a rough but meticulously coordinated band of folk guitarists. The central third movement, the kernel, is, by contrast, serene, lyrical and lonely, a nocturne suspended in an impressionistic haze punctuated by rustling and chirping, the distinctive sounds of Bartók's "night music."

Repeated hearings of the fourth quartet promise the listener a similar layered experience, the powerful, colorful surface yielding to inner layers of contrapuntal logic, symmetry and formal elegance. Despite its undeniable 20th century modernism, Bartók's music eventually reveals an exquisite classicism.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Related Composers

1900 2000 WWI WWII Hans von Koessler (1853-1926) Claude Debussy (1862-1918) Richard Strauss (1864-1949) Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) Ernő Dohnányi (1877-1960) Béla Bartók (1881-1945) Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967) Ernő Balogh (1897-1989) Tibor Serly (1901-1978) Ahmed Saygun (1907-1991) Violet Archer (1913-2000) Jack Beeson (1921-2010)
Hans von Koessler (1853-1926)
Teacher
Nationality: German | Hungarian
Born: January 1, 1853, Waldeck, Fichtelgebirge Died: May 23, 1926, Ansbach (age 73)
Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Teacher
Nationality: French
Born: August 22, 1862, St. Germain-en-Laye Died: March 25, 1918, Paris (age 55)
Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967)
Teacher
Nationality: Hungarian
Born: December 16, 1882, Kecskemét Died: March 6, 1967, Budapest (age 84)
Ernő Dohnányi (1877-1960)
friend, colleague
Nationality: Hungarian
Born: July 27, 1877, Pozsony (now Bratislava) Died: February 9, 1960, New York (age 82)
Tibor Serly (1901-1978)
Student
Nationality: Hungarian | American
Born: November 25, 1901, Losonc Died: October 8, 1978, London (age 76)
Ahmed Saygun (1907-1991)
colleague
Nationality: Turkish
Born: September 7, 1907, Izmir Died: January 6, 1991, Istanbul (age 83)
Jack Beeson (1921-2010)
Student
Nationality: American
Born: July 15, 1921, Muncie, IN Died: June 6, 2010, New York (age 88)
Violet Archer (1913-2000)
Student
Nationality: Canadian
Born: April 24, 1913, Montreal Died: February 21, 2000, Ottawa (age 86)
Ernő Balogh (1897-1989)
Student
Nationality: Hungarian
Born: April 4, 1897, Budapest Died: June 2, 1989, Mitchellville, MD (age 92)