Movement 1: Prima parte: Moderato
Movement 2: Seconda parte: Allegro – Recapitulazione della prima parte: Moderato
Movement 3: Coda: Allegro molto
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