Concerto for Orchestra (Bartók)

Concerto for Orchestra (Bartók)

Concerto for Orchestra, Sz. 116, BB 123, is a five-movement musical work for orchestra composed by Béla Bartók in 1943. It is one of his best-known, most popular and most accessible works.[1] The score is inscribed "15 August – 8 October 1943", and it premiered on December 1, 1944 in Boston Symphony Hall by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Serge Koussevitzky. It was a great success and has been regularly performed since.[1] It is perhaps the best-known of a number of pieces that have the apparently contradictory title Concerto for Orchestra. This is in contrast to the conventional concerto form, which features a solo instrument with orchestral accompaniment. Bartók said that he called the piece a concerto rather than a symphony because of the way each section of instruments is treated in a soloistic and virtuosic way.[2]

The piece is also known for a scathing parody of the "invasion theme" of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony, a work which Bartók disliked for a number of reasons, located within the Intermezzo fourth movement.



The work was written in response to a commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation (run by the conductor Serge Koussevitzky) following Bartók's move to the United States from his native Hungary, which he had fled because of World War II. It has been speculated that Bartók's previous work, the String Quartet No. 6 (1939), could well have been his last were it not for this commission, which sparked a small number of other compositions, including his Sonata for Solo Violin and Piano Concerto No. 3.[1] Bartók revised the piece in February 1945, the biggest change coming in the last movement, where he wrote a longer ending. Both versions of the ending were published, and both versions are performed today.

Musical analysis

The second theme of the first movement (measure 155). The harp, which plays a quarter note (F sharp) in the last measure, is omitted.

Bartók makes extensive use of classical elements in the work;[1] for instance, the first and fifth movements are in sonata-allegro form. The work combines elements of Western art music and eastern European folk music, especially that of Hungary, and it departs from traditional tonality, often using non-traditional modes and artificial scales.[1] Bartók researched folk melodies, and their influence is felt throughout the work; for example, the second main theme of the first movement, as played by the 1st oboe, resembles a folk melody, with its narrow range and almost haphazard rhythm. The drone in the horns and strings also indicates folk influence (see example).[1]

The piece is scored for 3 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (one doubling cor anglais), 3 clarinets (one doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (one doubling contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, side drum, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, tam-tam, 2 harps and strings.[3]

I. Introduzione. Andante non troppo - Allegro vivace

The first movement, called Introduzione by Bartók, is a slow introduction of Night music type that gives way to an allegro with numerous fugato passages. This movement is in sonata allegro form.[2]

II. Giuoco Delle Coppie. Allegretto scherzando

The second movement, called Game of Pairs (but see note below), is in five sections, each thematically distinct from each other, with a different pair of instruments playing together in each section.[2] In each passage a different interval separates the pair—bassoons are a minor sixth apart, oboes are in minor thirds, clarinets in minor sevenths, flutes in fifths and muted trumpets in major seconds.[3] The movement prominently features a side drum which taps out a rhythm at the beginning and end of the movement.

While the printed score has the second movement as Giuoco delle coppie (Game of the couples), Bartók's manuscript had no title at all for this movement at the time the engraving-copy blueprint was made for the publisher. At some later date, Bartók added "Presentando le coppie" (Presentation of the couples) to the manuscript, and addition of this title was included in the list of corrections to be made to the score. However, in Bartók's file blueprint the final title is found, and because it is believed to have been the composer's later thought, it is retained in the revised edition of the score.[4] The original 1946 printed score also had an incorrect metronome marking for this movement. This was brought to light by Sir Georg Solti as he was preparing to record the Concerto for Orchestra and the Dance Suite. Solti writes:

When preparing these two works for the recording I was determined that the tempi should be exactly as Bartók wrote and this led me to some extraordinary discoveries, chief of which was in the second movement of the Concerto for Orchestra. The printed score gives crotchet equals 74, which is extremely slow, but I thought that I must follow what it says. When we rehearsed I could see that the musicians didn't like it at all and in the break the side drum player (who starts the movement with a solo) came to me and said "Maestro, my part is marked crotchet equals 94", which I thought must be a mistake, since none of the other parts have a tempo marking. The only way to check was to locate the manuscript and through the courtesy of the Library of Congress in Washington we obtained a copy of the relevant page, which not only clearly showed crotchet equals 94, but a tempo marking of "Allegro scherzando" (the printed score gives "Allegretto scherzando"). Furthermore Bartók headed it "Presentando le coppie" (Presentation of the couples), not "Giuoco delle coppie" (Game of the couples). I was most excited by this, because it becomes a quite different piece. The programme of the first performance in Boston clearly has the movement marked "Allegro scherzando" and the keeper of the Bartók archives was able to give us further conclusive evidence that the faster tempo must be correct. I have no doubt that thousands of performances, including my own up to now, have been given at the wrong speed![5]

III. Elegia. Andante non troppo

The third movement, called Elegia by Bartók, is another slow movement, typical of Bartók's so-called "Night music". The movement revolves around three themes which primarily derive from the first movement.[2]

IV. Intermezzo Interrotto. Allegretto

The fourth movement, called Intermezzo interrotto by Bartók, consists of a flowing melody with changing time signatures, intermixed with a theme parodying and ridiculing the march tune in Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 "Leningrad".[6] The theme is itself interrupted by glissandi on the trombones and woodwinds. In this movement, the timpani are featured when the second theme is introduced, requiring 12 different pitches of the timpani over the course of 20 seconds. The general structure is "ABA–interruption–BA."[2]

V. Finale. Presto

The fifth movement, called Finale by Bartók and marked presto, consists of a whirling perpetuum mobile main theme competing with fugato fireworks and folk melodies. This is also written in sonata allegro form.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Cooper, David (1996). Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521485053. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Bartók, Béla. "Explanation to Concerto for Orchestra," for the Boston premiere at Symphony Hall.
  3. ^ a b Bartók, Béla (2004). Concerto for Orchestra (Score). New York: Boosey & Hawkes. ISBN 0851621899. 
  4. ^ Peter Bartók, "Preface to the Revised Edition, 1993", in Béla Bartók, Concerto for Orchestra: Full Score, revised edition, [iii–v] (London, New York, Bonn, Sydney, Tokyo: Boosey & Hawkes, 1993). The citation is on p. [iv].
  5. ^ Sir Georg Solti, Liner notes from London LP LDR 71036, Bartók Concerto for Orchestra and Dance Suite, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, recorded January 1980.
  6. ^ Griffiths, Paul (February 22, 1999). "A Peacetime Hearing of the Shostakovich 'Leningrad,' Forged in War". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 March 2010. 

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