Béla Bartók

Sonata for 2 pianos & 2 percussion, Sz. 110, BB 15

    Description by Mark Satola

    In 1925, Béla Bartók told interviewer Dezso Kosztolanyi that his first instrument was not, as might have been expected, the piano, but a drum he was given at the age of 2. At the age of 4, he was attracted to the piano, picking out Hungarian folk songs with one finger. These twin instrumental influences converged in one of the composer's most remarkable works, the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (1937), composed on a commission from the Basle chapter of the International Society for Contemporary Music. Bartók had previously explored similar instrumental combinations: the middle movement of the Piano Concerto No. 1, for instance, is a dialogue between the soloist and percussion. In this work, however, Bartók decided that, for purposes of balance, the percussion section was better offset by two pianos. The first movement begins with a long introduction over a soft timpani roll, the two pianos alternately presenting a twisting, chromatic theme punctuated by sharp bursts from the cymbal and startling trills and glissandi from the keyboards. A looming accelerando launches the main Allegro, a barbaric but high-spirited affair whose theme is uttered by the pianos in short-breathed phrases. The keyboard parts are characterized by much interplay and cross-counterpoint, while the xylophone and side drum provide vigorous propulsion. A second theme in quick, limping rhythm is presented in an episode framed by brief passages of drifting chords and timbres. A fugitive figuration in the pianos, highlighted by the triangle, leads to a grim, motoric march in 9/8. A climax featuring big, hieratic chords from the keyboards proceeds to a fugato treatment of the second theme, bringing the movement to an emphatic conclusion. The second movement is a characteristic example of Bartók's "night music," the dark nocturnal weft evoked by pointillistic use of cymbal, triangle and a soft, steady beat from side drum. The pianos present an inward, highly chromatic theme. In the ominous middle section, one piano plays dark, looming octaves while the other presents an urgent six-note motif based on a minor third (a recurrent figure in Bartók's music), joined by xylophone. The nocturnal atmosphere returns, this time colored by sharp cries from pianos and percussion and the return of the minor-third motif. The finale, marked by supremely intricate interplay among pianists and percussionists, features some of Bartók's wildest music. The harmonies become veritably woozy, reeling up and down chromatically as the pace quickens through a series of dance episodes in the composer's burlesque style. As the rhythmic impulse drives toward a climax, the music begins to fragment. Instead of the expected tutti ending, the movement quietly winds down to a final, limpid arpeggiated chord, a pure C major sonority, and an almost inaudible finger tap on the cymbal.


    1. Assai lento - Allegro molto
    2. Lento ma non troppo
    3. Allegro non troppo

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Hyperion CDA 68153
    2016 Decca 4789311
    2016 DG Deutsche Grammophon B002460802
    2016 Warner Classics 0825646480401
    2016 Praga / Praga Digitals PRD 250333
    2015 Alpha 217
    2015 Onyx / Onyx Classics ONYX 4128
    2015 DG Deutsche Grammophon B002364402
    2015 Peral
    2015 Decca 002369302
    2014 Brilliant Classics 94737
    2013 Decca / Mercury 4785092
    2013 Music@Menlo LIVE 201301
    2013 Decca 4785093
    2012 Sony Classical 88691912562
    2012 NCA 60252
    2011 Decca
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 50999094627224
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099907083624
    2011 Decca 4782746
    2011 Decca
    2010 Decca
    2010 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 NEOS / Neos Productions 11032
    2010 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4778847
    2010 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099921503
    2008 EMI Classics
    2008 Audite 23410
    2007 Gega New 310
    2007 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4776650
    2007 Apex
    2007 Haenssler 93194
    2006 Apex
    2006 Sony Music Distribution 78750
    2005 Sony Classical 94726
    2005 Apex 4621182
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 EMI Classics
    2004 Mercury 4756255
    2004 Praga PRDDSD 250184
    2003 Pearl 179
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 574991-2
    2000 Hungaroton 41002
    2000 Eufoda 1296
    1999 Elan Recordings 82404
    1998 Olympia (Classical/Jazz) 644
    1997 DG Deutsche Grammophon 453576
    1995 Mercury 434362
    1995 Philips 446557
    1995 Philips
    1995 Chandos 9398
    1994 Hungaroton 12400
    1994 Delos 3151
    1993 Teldec 92143
    1992 Wergo 6221
    1991 CBS Records / Sony Music Distribution SX11K-48153
    1990 CBS Records 42625
    1988 Teldec 844146
    Ondine 806
    Hungaroton 1232931
    JVC Compact Discs 6510
    Music & Arts 648
    Accord 220327
    Pyramid Records 13504