Béla Bartók

Concerto for Orchestra, Sz. 116, BB 123

    Description by Mark Satola

    In 1943, after a year of precipitously declining health, Bartók was diagnosed with leukemia. He had been in the United States for nearly three years, a period in which he had to endure financial hardship, artistic isolation and separation from the source of his inspiration, Hungary, and its wealth of folk music. What income and recognition he did receive came mostly from his appearances as a pianist (or sometimes as duo-pianist with his wife Ditta Pasztory), but poor health prevented him from performing after January 1943. It seemed as if his life had come to a standstill when he received a commission for a large orchestral work from Serge Koussevitzky, music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The funds for the commission came, unbeknownst to Bartók, from his close friends and fellow Hungarian émigrés Joseph Szigeti and Fritz Reiner. Bartók traveled to Saranac Lake, NY, and worked on the Concerto for Orchestra between August and October 1943. The work was first heard in 1944, and though Bartók was unable to attend the Boston premiere, he did hear a subsequent performance in New York City.

    Like the fourth and fifth string quartets (1928 and 1934), the Concerto for Orchestra is in five movements, arranged in what is called an "arch" form, in which the first and fifth movements are related, as are the second and fourth, with the third movement functioning as the keystone of the arch. The Concerto's opening bars present a theme of rising fourths in cellos and basses, answered by tremolando strings and fluttering flutes in Bartók's characteristic "night music" style. Trumpets, pianissimo, chant a pungent, short-phrased chorale on which the theme of the main Allegro vivace is based. A lyrical second theme is introduced by the oboe, but the mood remains dark as the material is developed. Only when brass erupt in a modal fugato section is there the suggestion that things may lighten. Bartók noted that the progress of the concerto was toward light from initial darkness, and that the thematic material of the fugato will return in modified form as the basis of the joyous moto perpetuo finale.

    The second movement is titled "Games of Couples," and presents woodwinds in successive pairs, with close intervallic relationships derived from Dalmatian folk music. The syncopated rhythm that accompanies these games -- performed by side drum without snares -- carries over into the middle section, a soft chorale for brass. Bartók described the keystone third movement, "Elegia," as a "lugubrious death-song," in which unsettled "night music" effects alternate with intense, prayerful supplications (again related to the chorale-like material that pervades the first half of the work). The subsequent "Interrupted Intermezzo" presents the first real carefree moments of the work, with its satiric treatment of the march theme from Shostakovich's "Leningrad" Symphony, which Bartók heard in a radio broadcast. Bartók scholar Elliott Antokoletz notes that the movement's warm, cantabile melody for violas quotes a popular song by Zsigmond Vincze, "You are Lovely, You are Beautiful, Hungary," bringing an unmistakable note of homesickness to the music. The finale opens with a leaping call to order for all four horns unison, followed by a wild moto perpetuo dance, in which the succeeding episodes hardly stop for breath. Bartók provided two endings, the first rather abrupt, the second more traditionally climactic, and making use of the upward-moving minor third motif that served as an intervallic motto for Bartók in many works. The alternate ending is the one that is usually played.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Introduzione. Andante non troppo
    2. Giuoco delle coppie. Allegretto scherzando
    3. Elegia. Andante non troppo
    4. Intermezzo interrotto. Allegretto
    5. Finale. Pesante - Presto

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Pentatone Classics / PentaTone Classics 5186626
    2018 Harmonia Mundi HMM 902262
    2018 Supraphon SU 42502
    2017 Chandos CHSA 5189
    2017 PentaTone Classics PTC 5186247
    2016 RCA Red Seal G010003641701P
    2016 Decca 4789311
    2016 Onyx / Onyx Classics 4138
    2016 Recursive Classics RC 2057001
    2016 Oberlin Music OC 081
    2015 Alpha ALPHA 205
    2015 RCO RCO 15002
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 002894794261
    2015 Warner Classics 552758
    2014 Warner Classics 2564633593
    2014 Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 Orfeo C 881132B
    2013 CPO 777784
    2013 Entertainment Group 6116
    2013 Haenssler / Haenssler Classics / Hänssler Classic 94224
    2013 Decca / Mercury 4785092
    2013 Oehms Classics OC 090
    2012 Naxos 8572486
    2012 Naxos 8571201
    2012 Decca
    2012 Decca 4784577
    2012 Entertainment Group 4020
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 002894770055
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon
    2012 Broken Audio BRAUR 0164
    2012 Decca
    2011 Decca
    2011 Collins Classics RETR0002
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 50999094627224
    2010 Decca 4782358
    2010 Universal Classics & Jazz
    2010 Newton Classics 8802029
    2010 AAO Music UMI_00778325650
    2010 BD Music / Zebralution
    2010 Decca
    2010 Fazer / Finlandia
    2010 Decca
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Decca
    2010 Ars Musici 232183
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Denon Records
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 001660402
    2009 Sony Classical 7561682
    2009 Decca
    2009 Decca 4781142
    2008 EMI Classics 09407
    2008 Warner Classics
    2008 Archipel 0404
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099921503
    2008 EMI Classics
    2008 Antes Edition / Zebralution
    2008 Deutsche Grammophon 4777160
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099951203
    2008 Sony Classical Essential Classics 727987
    2007 ABC Classics 4766329
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon 4777127
    2007 EuroArts 2056098
    2007 Guild 2321
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon 001050702
    2006 Fazer / Finlandia
    2006 Warner Classics
    2006 Philips 4756201
    2006 Philips 000689002
    2006 Haenssler 93184
    2006 Decca 000710902
    2006 BBC Legends 42022
    2006 Telarc Distribution 80618
    2006 Telarc Distribution 60618
    2006 Decca 000771602
    2005 RCO Live 05001
    2005 Media Tag 6
    2005 EMI Classics 76897
    2005 Warner Classics
    2005 Warner Classics 61947
    2005 Ondine 1072
    2005 Sony Classical 94726
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 55094
    2005 Designo 222592
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 72664
    2004 AAO Music / United Audio Entertainment 6501
    2004 Mercury 4756255
    2004 Hungaroton 32187
    2004 Oehms 306
    2004 RCA Red Seal 61390
    2004 Supraphon 36862
    2004 Praga PR54047
    2004 Music & Arts 1146
    2004 Document 221543
    2004 Testament 1336
    2003 Hungaroton 11437
    2003 Decca 000017402
    2003 History 45515
    2002 Pearl 727031017325
    2002 EMI Classics 75620
    2002 Jmc
    2002 Sony Music Distribution 87710
    2002 Decca 470516
    2002 Decca
    2002 EMI Music Distribution 75094
    2001 Orfeo 551011
    2001 JVC Compact Discs 7
    2001 Decca 467686
    2001 Telarc Distribution 80564
    2000 Hungaroton 41002
    2000 Teldec 8573-81965-2
    2000 Angel Records 61754
    2000 Music & Arts 1054
    2000 Music & Arts CD1054
    2000 Q Disc 97015
    1999 Dutton Vocalion 1206
    1999 Philips 456575
    1999 RCA 63309
    1999 Everest 9008
    1999 Sony Classical 63124
    1998 Sony Classical SMK-60730
    1998 Intersound 3844
    1998 EMI Music Distribution 66596
    1997 Conifer 75605 51324-2
    1997 Point Classics 267160
    1997 Finlandia 14909
    1997 Nimbus 1771
    1997 Chandos 9462
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 447443
    1996 Intersound 2529
    1996 Sony Classical 62598
    1996 Carlton 00712
    1996 London 448901
    1995 London 443773
    1995 Philips 442783
    1995 Virgin 561192-2
    1994 Praga 254047
    1994 Hungaroton 31167
    1994 Naxos 550261
    1994 Supraphon 1957
    1994 Deutsche Grammophon 437826
    1994 RCA 61702
    1993 RCA Victor 61504
    1993 Philips 438 812-2PM2
    1992 Nimbus 5229
    1992 Vox 3015
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 48263
    1992 Chandos 8947
    1992 Delos 3095
    1991 Sony Classical 45748
    1991 Mercury 432017
    1990 EMI Music Distribution 54070
    1989 Telarc Distribution 80174
    1988 London 417754
    ABC Classics 4766330
    History 204560
    Sony Music Distribution 47510
    Quintessence 2099
    Denon Records 79044
    Panton Records 811214
    Artists 53
    As Disc 614
    Virgin 59690
    Teldec
    Russian Revelation 10042
    Decca 425694
    BBC Music 288
    London 425694
    London 400052
    Collins Records 1091
    Deutsche Grammophon 429747
    Alto 1052
    London 421443
    Apex 8573 88431-2
    Budapest Music Center 058
    Stradivarius 13614
    RCA Gold Seal 60175
    CBS Records 37259
    Decca 458841
    Denon Records 8175790442
    EMI Music Distribution 63464
    EMI Music Distribution 63321
    Ars Musici 1112
    Decca 97015
    Document 221548303
    Panton Records 1214
    Philharmonia of the Nations 50
    IMG Artists 100