Concerto for Orchestra (Bartók)

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Concerto for Orchestra is the title of a work for orchestra by the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. It is one of the most famous orchestral pieces of the mid-20th century.

Several composers have written works to which they gave the title “Concerto for Orchestra”. It is an unusual title because a concerto is normally a work for one solo instrument and an orchestra. The soloist is given a lot of opportunity to show off his (or her) talent. In a “Concerto for Orchestra” there is no soloist, but the composer thinks it is different from a symphony because a lot of the instruments in the orchestra are treated like soloists during the piece. This is what happens in Béla Bartók’s concerto.

The work was written in 1943 and it was first performed on 1 December 1944 in the Boston Symphony Hall by the Boston Symphony Orchestra with the conductor Serge Koussevitzky. It was immediately a great success. Koussevitszky asked Bartók to write this piece. Bartók had just arrived in United States from Hungary. He had to flee because of World War II. Bartók had no money and so he was glad to get some work.

The music[change | change source]

Bartók often uses ideas from the Classical music period in this work. He also uses ideas from folk music from central Europe, especially Hungarian music. Quite often the music is not in a major or minor key. He uses folk scales which have different kinds of scales called modes. Sometimes tunes sound like folk music. At other times there are drones in the horns and strings.

The orchestra needs 3 flutes (one doubling piccolo), 3 oboes (one doubling cor anglais), 3 clarinets (one doubling bass clarinet), 3 bassoons (one doubling contrabassoon), 4 French horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, side drum, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, tamtam, 2 harps and strings

The five movements[change | change source]

The first movement, called Introduzione by Bartók, is a slow introduction which sounds like music describing the night. This is something Bartók did several times in his works. It is in sonata form.

The second movement is called "Giuoco delle coppie" which means "Game of pairs". Pairs of instruments take it in turns to play a tune, each pair playing music which is separated by a different interval.

The third movement, called Elegia by Bartók, is another slow movement, typical of Bartók's night music.

The fourth movement, called Intermezzo interrotto by Bartók, has a flowing melody with a time signature which keeps changing. There is also a theme which pokes fun at the march tune in Dmitri Shostakovich's "Leningrad" Symphony (No. 7). There is a very difficult bit for the timpani where the player has to play lots of different pitches in a very short section.

The fifth movement, called Finale is a very fast movement with lots of energy and plenty of folk tunes.

References[change | change source]

  • Score of Concerto for Orchestra, Boosey and Hawkes
  • The Life and Music of Béla Bartók, Halsey Stevens, OUP 1964.