Hyperion Records

String Quartet No 3, Sz85

'Bartók: String Quartets' (CDD22003)
Bartók: String Quartets
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Movement 1: Prima parte: Moderato
Track 4 on CDD22003 CD1 [5'30] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) — Archive Service
Movement 2: Seconda parte: Allegro – Recapitulazione della prima parte: Moderato
Track 5 on CDD22003 CD1 [9'19] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) — Archive Service
Movement 3: Coda: Allegro molto
Track 6 on CDD22003 CD1 [1'57] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) — Archive Service

String Quartet No 3, Sz85
Ten years separated the Second Quartet from the Third (1927). The war had changed Europe for ever. The United States was now a world power, its riches creating conditions in which all arts could flourish. Some changes were almost alarmingly sudden. Radio, the cinema, gramophone records, the rise of Communism – the world shrank as Europe’s centuries-old institutions crumbled and altered. Few could have remained aloof from these events, but Bartók was not an artistic ‘reporter’, a social-realist, ‘reflecting’ life. He knew there is no life in a mirror. The ‘changes’ apparent in his Third Quartet are purely artistic ones, yet they are those of a living organism – his life’s work. In Bartók’s Third we find the widest range of effects in string writing used in any quartet up to that time. It is the shortest of his six Quartets, yet as a single movement it is his largest instrumental structure whose concentration upon motivic cells virtually removes thematic and tonal factors. It returns to basics, but is far from primitive: it is a natural, passionate life force, curbed and directed by a great artist’s creative intelligence. The ‘new order’ of Bartók’s Third Quartet is not a social one for public display: it is a summation and refinement of his recently-evolved musical directions, standing as a unique work of art which anticipates aspects of his final masterpieces.

The concentration in the Third Quartet perhaps challenged Bartók to flex his new-found powers differently, but not so differently as to abandon the fruits of the Third, which was completed in September 1927. Three months later Bartók was in the USA and entered the work for a competition by the Music Fund Society of Philadelphia. In October 1928 he learned that he had won joint first prize with Alfredo Casella. By this time he had already composed his Fourth Quartet in which intervallic germinal material flowers more fully, the rhythmic structure being more fluid but no less percussive and each instrument more interdependent. This germinal ‘flowering’ produces more recognizable ‘themes’, and with them a greater tonal feeling. The frequent use of double- and triple-stopping produces a noticeably fuller texture, certainly in the first movement, which appears to begin the work where the Third Quartet ended. Bartók’s use of the structural functions of texture (a feature of late Debussy) is most apparent in the Fourth Quartet, but this is not a colouristic device – it comes from the music itself.

On publication in 1929 the score carried an analysis by Bartók which emphasized the work’s traditional elements at the expense of its originality, and claimed the nucleus to be the slow movement (which the Third Quartet, for all its slow-fast-slow-fast form, lacked): ‘the other movements, as it were, bedded around it’. Structurally, the Fourth is unlike the Third. It is arch-shaped in five movements, with the fulcrum the slow movement and two Scherzos which address us in non-traditional guise. The outer movements, balanced in time-scale with the finale utilizing material from the opening movement, have widely differing characters.

from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 1996

Track-specific metadata
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Details for CDD22003 disc 1 track 6
Coda: Allegro molto
Recording date
26 November 1992
Recording venue
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Arthur Johnson
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Bartók: String Quartets (CDA66581/2)
    Disc 1 Track 6
    Release date: June 1993
    Deletion date: September 1996
    2CDs Superseded by CDD22003
  2. Bartók: String Quartets (CDD22003)
    Disc 1 Track 6
    Release date: September 1996
    Deletion date: July 2004
    2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) — Archive Service
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