Download Contrasts-Bartok and Music of the Spheres

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Béla Bartók began working on his Contrasts in 1938 as a result of a request by violinist Joseph
Szigeti who was also a friend of the composer. Szigeti was working with Benny Goodman to record
a number of shorter works when the idea to commission a work from Bartók came about. Although
Goodman would eventually pay for the commission, the work was dedicated to both musicians.
For the original recording project, two short movements were needed: One with a cadenza for the
violin and one with a clarinet cadenza. Later, Bartók incorporated an atmospheric middle
movement to balance out the composition structurally. The overall result is a carefully crafted work
of musical carpentry. Folk dance rhythms are paired with melodic material achieving an effect
difficult to mistake for any composer but Bartók. For the final movement, the violin must retune
with altered pitches (called scordatura) to achieve a more rustic sound. This sort of messing about
with the listener’s expectations of sound was in some ways Bartók’s specialty. But the attractive
beauty of his creations are such that they have gained significantly in popularity since the
composer’s death.
Like much of Bartók’s music, Contrasts can be a bit difficult to grasp if one is looking for traditional
harmonic exploitation of dissonant tension. Instead of common practice progressions of harmony,
Bartók preferred several twentieth century means of creating musical drama, including intervallic
axes of inversional symmetry. His structural planning is often based on natural mathematical
principals, including the golden ratio. Although this makes his music sound very contemporary, it
also makes Bartók quite literally a classical composer in his seeking perfection in form, proportion,
and harmony in the philosophical foundation of Greek antiquity.
A fun example of this is in the first movement of this work: If one divides it roughly into an
exposition, development, and recapitulation, the positive golden ratio falls directly on the first
measure of the recapitulation. What is even more, he writes in the score obsessively detailed tempo
markings along with timing marks for each small section to ensure that the temporal golden ratio
occurs at the exact same location when measuring the simple passage of time.
Click here to read about the golden ratio [link:]
[Embed the video at the end of this paragraph here. This next paragraph should go with the video]
The following is a recording of Contrasts performed by Goodman and Szigati with Bartók at the
piano. This recording dates from the first months Bartók spent in the United States. [video url:]
Hear this work along with pieces by Brahms, Saint-Saëns, and Novacek performed by the Music of
the Spheres Society on Monday, February 9, 2015, 8:00PM at Caruth Auditorium on the SMU
Click here for tickets [include link to tickets page]