When Bartók and his wife arrived in New York as refugees in 1940, Serly greeted them at the docks, and through the remainder of Bartók’s life spent much of his time supporting and visiting the older composer. In addition to his completions of Bartók’s Viola Concerto and Third Piano Concerto, he also arranged and edited several other Bartók scores (including a suite from the collection of piano pieces Mikrokosmos
), and lost few opportunities to proselytize on behalf of the music of his great elder compatriot. As a result Serly’s own music—his works include two symphonies, a viola concerto (composed in 1929), a concerto for violin and wind instruments, chamber and vocal compositions—has tended to be overshadowed by his advocacy of Bartók. In a sense his Rhapsody for viola and orchestra also dwells within that shadow. It was composed in 1946–8: just at the time, therefore, when Serly was working on his realization of Bartók’s Viola Concerto. And its subtitle is, in fact, Rhapsody on Hungarian Folk Tunes harmonized by Béla Bartók; for the themes are taken from some of the folksong transcriptions that appear in Bartók’s piano cycle For Children
. Serly sets them skilfully within interludes and elaborate decoration, and gives the overall conception a purposeful shape, with a rollicking finale.
from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2010