MUZSIKÁS, Márta Sebestyén
Takács String Quartet
USA tour 2003-2004

Bartók Kodály and the traditions

Our collaboration with the Takacs Quartet can be dated back to the Aspen Music festival in 2001. Although we knew each other from the time when Takacs lived in Hungary, Joseph Horowitz made the two goup to meet, the joint concert was his idea. The idea was to show the direct connections of some music of Brahms and Liszt to the gypsy "csárdás" music, and for the second part of the concert the connections between the folk music and the compositions of Bela Bartok. Both Muzsikas and Takacs liked more the second part of the concert. Therefore we decided a different concept for the future: "Bartok, Kodaly and the traditions". Joe Horowitz also liked this concept, and after Muzsikas and Takacs agreed with the program, Joe wrote a scientific background of the whole project. We would like to express our thanks for it.

Muzsikas, 2003.


Muzsikas     Szászcsávási táncok (Dances from Transylvania) string band
Muzsikas     Pásztornóták hosszúfurulyán (Long Flute Melodies) long flute, Marta vocal
Muzsikas     Kanásztáncok két heged n (Swineherd's Dances) two violins
Muzsikas     Ugrós és friss (Transdanubian Ugros and fast Csardas) string band
Takacs         Bela Bartok: String Quartet No. 4 (1928) I. Allegro
Muzsikas     Moldvai övestánc (Dance Music of Moldavia) flute, lute, drum
Takacs         String Quartet No. 4, II. Prestissimo, con sordino
Sebestyen    Fujnak a fellegek (Peacock Melody) flute, Marta vocal
Takacs         String Quartet No. 4, III. Non troppo lento
Muzsikas     Gyimesi táncok (Dances of Gyimes) violin, gardon
Takacs         String Quartet No. 4, IV. Allegretto pizzicato
Takacs         String Quartet No. 4, V. Allegro molto

-------------------------------------- Intermission ------------------------------------------

Takacs         Zoltán Kodály: String Quartet No. 2: fragment of the 2nd Movement (1908-09)
Muzsikas     Marosszéki Táncok (Dances of Marosszék) string band, Marta vocal
Sebestyen    Dudautánzás énekhangon (Vocal imitation of the bagpipes) Marta vocal
Takacs         Béla Bartók: Sonatina (1915; transcribed by Endre Gertler) Bagpipes
Takacs         Béla Bartók: Sonatina, Bear Dance
Muzsikas     Gyimesi medvetánc és héjsza (Bear dance from Gyimes) violin, gardon
         Béla Bartók: Violin Duos (1931), with source tunes:
Playback      Ardeleana (from Bartok archive)
Jointly         Violin duo No. 44 (played by Mihaly Sipos, Muzsikas and Karoly Schranz, Takacs Quartet)
Sebestyen    Pejparipam rezpatkója (The shoe of my horse) Sebestyen, vocal
Jointly         Violin Duo No. 28 (played by Mihaly Sipos, Muzsikas and Karoly Schranz, Takacs Quartet)
Sebestyen    Jocul Barbatesc
Jointly         Violin Duo No. 32 (played by Mihaly Sipos, Muzsikas and Karoly Schranz, Takacs Quartet)
Muzsikas     Máramarosi táncok (Dances of Maramaros) violins, guitar, drum

Muzsikas     Pakulár ballada (Ballad of the murdered shephard) flute, violin, Marta vocal
         Béla Bartók: Rumanian Folk Dances (1915, tanscribed for strings by Arthur Willner) with source tunes:
Muzsikas    Bota and Invertita (Bota and Invertita) string band
Takacs        Béla Bartók: Rumanian Folk Dances I. Joc cu bata (Dance with Sticks)
Takacs        Béla Bartók: Rumanian Folk Dances II. Braul (Waistband Dance)
Muzsikas    Pe loc (Pe Loc) Peter Eri flute
Takacs        Béla Bartók: Rumanian Folk Dances III. Pe Loc (Stamping Dance)
Takacs        Béla Bartók: Rumanian Folk Dances IV. Buciumeana (Hornpipe Dance)
Takacs        Béla Bartók: Rumanian Folk Dances V. Poarca Romaneasca (Rumanian Polka)
Muzsikas    Méhkeréki táncok (Dances of Méhkerék) string band
Jointly        Béla Bartók: Rumanian Folk Dances VI. VII. Maruntel (Quick Dance)

By Joseph Horowitz
Artistic Advisor to the Takacs/Muzsikas collaboration

Western classical music has frequently drawn inspiration from folk and vernacular music. But for few composers did the music and dance of peasants figure as decisively as for Bela Bartok. Bartok was in fact a leading ethnomusicologist who spent a good part of his professional life collecting and analyzing peasant tunes. During his most intensive period of field research, before 1920, he transcribed nearly 10,000 of them. He once called this work "the happiest part of my life." The studios of famous musicians have typically displayed pictures and busts of other important musicians. Bartok's workplace typically contained a single portrait of Beethoven amid peasant embroideries, pottery, instruments, and furnishings -- including a Transylvanian table upon which was were carved the words "Bela Bartok."

Previous to the field research of Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly, "Hungarian" music had referred to what gypsy bands played in restaurants and cafes. The well-known Hungarian Dances of Brahms employ actual gypsy tunes; Haydn, Weber, Schubert, and Liszt were similarly influenced by what musicologists today term the style hongrois. In comparison, the rural music Bartok and Kodaly recorded at the source, tangy and untamed, had never reached Budapest or Vienna. Bartok wrote: "In the so-called cultured urban circles, the unbelievably rich treasure of folk music was entirely unknown. No one even suspected that this kind of music existed." And also: "It lives untrammeled among the people themselves. If he allows himself to surrender to the impressions of living folk music, and if he can mirror the effect of these impressions in his works, then [the composer] has recorded a piece of life."

Bartok not only insisted on the significance of peasant music; he insisted that it be experienced at first hand. "It was of the utmost consequence to us that we had to do our collecting ourselves, and did not make the acquaintance of our melodic material in written or printed collections. The melodies of a written or printed collection are in essence dead materials. . . . one absolutely cannot penetrate into the real, throbbing life of this music by means of them. In order to really feel the vitality of this music, one must, so to speak, have lived it - and this is only possible when one comes to know it through direct contact with the peasants."

The present program presents a rare opportunity to hear what Bartok heard - both as recorded by Bartok himself on primitive phonographs and as recreated by the contemporary Hungarian folk ensemble Muzsikas. The Muzsikas musicians, an outgrowth of Hungary's "Dance House" movement of the 1970s, have themselves researched and collected in remote regions of Hungary. With their folk string, percussion, and wind instruments, and with the participation of the singer Marta Sebestyen, they offer music as different from café strains as Bartok's dances and rhapsodies are different from those of Brahms and Liszt.

In a famous 1931 essay, Bartok defined various degrees of folksong appropriation, beginning with the simple practice of adding an accompaniment, a prelude and a postlude - as in the folksong arrangements for voice and piano that he and Kodaly created. How close are, say, the well-known Bartok Rumanian Folk Dances (1915) to their sources? To hear Muzsikas's Peter Eri play "Pe loc" on a wooden flute - a rendition based not on Bartok's composed "Pe loc" but on the original tune as Bartok collected it in the village of Irgis in 1912 -- may or may not suggest an answer. The "mumbling" style of performance - Eri blows and sings at the same time - creates an earthy, buzzing resonance no piano could simulate. Bartok's original piano version faithfully follows the tune. But (unlike Muzsikas) he adds an atmospheric bagpipe drone - a simple chordal accompaniment smeared by the sustaining pedal. In the string transcription we hear the Takacs Quartet play, double stops in the cello recreate the bagpipe effect.

Muzsikas's version of the first Rumanian Dance, the stick dance "Joc cu bata," is based on a 1912 Bartok field recording. Bartok's composed version is less stylized, more specific: the pulsating accompaniment acquires relative harmonic sophistication; the tune is invested with details of articulation and dynamics. (Bartok's own performance of this dance, as recorded around 1920, interpolates ornaments not to be found in his composed version - but played by Muzsikas. In all six Rumanian Dances, Bartok's piano style - if the piano roll can be trusted - is notable for such "peasant " traits as firm rhythm, loud accompaniments, and the absence of all sentimentality and prettiness. More revealing of Bartok the pianist, and again suggesting folk influence, is a live 1940 performance of Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata with Joseph Szigeti - the earthiest, most explosive rendition of this music I have ever encountered, bristling with raw feeling and - from the magnificent violinist - raw tone.)

At the furthest remove from the Rumanian Folk Dances is the Fourth String Quartet of 1928 - a famous instance of Bartok the high modernist. What kind of relationship may be drawn between this singular chamber music, which virtually abandons traditional tonality, and the peasant strains Bartok adored? There is no simple answer (nothing about Bartok is simple).

Attempting a closer look: Bartok's admiration for peasant life did not preclude idealization. He began his ethnological investigations as a Romantic nationalist who despised urban "frivolity" and modern-day capitalism. He hated the noises of the city. He admired individual peasants for their organic relationship to nature, feeling, and expression. But his prolonged exposure to actual peasant life, while vicarious, was often dank and muddy. His letters abound in complaints about foul weather, bad food, and unfriendly villagers (he at least once felt the need to arm himself with a knife). However, he also wrote (in Karcfalva, in 1907): "I feel so strange here . . . I come and go with frequent excitement. . . . If I wanted to analyze this feeling, I might even claim it was happiness." Hungarian scholars have analyzed this "happiness." A strangely withdrawn and fastidious man, Bartok was in no way a candidate to participate in a communal rural lifestyle. In the remote countryside he rather experienced an act of detachment, of withdrawal into himself in concert with nature. He typically traveled with cigar boxes filled with insects which he scrupulously and compulsively collected. He could study a beetle for an hour. The impressions thus absorbed - of people and customs, worms and moths - signified for Bartok "reality" and "truth." He pertinently wrote, in 1909 from Slovakia:

It is strange that in music the basis of motivation has so far been only enthusiasm, love, sorrow, or, at most, despair - that is, only the so-called lofty feelings. It is only in our times that there is place for the painting of the feeling of vengeance, the grotesque, and the sarcastic. For this reason the music of today could be called realist because, unlike the idealism of the previous eras, it extends with honesty to all real human emotions without excluding any.

"Real human emotions" were emotions unrefined by city norms. Stylistically, too, peasant music was something true and pure: "It is impulsively created by a community of men who have had no schooling; it is as much a natural product as are the various forms of animal and vegetable life." As sound, as feeling, peasant music (like the performances of Muzsikas; unlike the "Hungarian music" more slickly purveyed by gypsy entertainers) was for better or worse unvarnished: never sentimental, never rhetorically inflated.

If these are mainly subjective impressions, the objective materials of folk music were, for Bartok, at least absorbing. Though he cherished the "spirit" of folk performers, he also confessed that the melodies could grow tiresome. His interest was "scientific." He categorized modes and rhythms. He studied and adapted unconscious techniques of construction -- in particular, techniques of variation. Bartok's aversion to literal repetition and sequential progression correlates with the spontaneous transformations of music improvised in performance.

These remarks furnish one listening context for the Fourth Quartet. In place of "lofty feelings," a savage intensity invades the concert room. The four instruments emit high-pitched screeches and grotesque, swooping slides. Some sounds - the dense, dissonant multiple stops; the "snapped pizzicato" of the fourth movement, in which the string rebounds against the fingerboard - distinctly evoke the harsh twang and intonation of peasant fiddling. In the slow third movment - the eye of the storm - the cello eloquently sings something like a peasant song (in our performance, Muzsikas suggestively prefaces this music with a "Peacock" melody from ???[DANI]). Here the selective vibrato of the drone accompaniment - Bartok asks for an alternation of "non-vibrato" and "vibrato" pianissimo chords - is another folk feature [DANI: do you agree?]. The "insect sounds" that intervene midway through are a typical example of Bartokian "night music" - a spectral genre, original to this composer, inspired by companionship with nature. The nervous twitter and whir of the eerie second movement is a more abstract variant of the same aural sensation. Other folk connections are less obvious. The scholarly literature informs us that the raucous motoric rhythm of the finale derives from a Bulgarian dance. In the first movement, Bartok's tight interweaving - like a village quiltmaker? -- of two- and three-note motivic cells may correlate with his admiration of peasant music as "the classical model of how to express an idea musically in the most concise form, with the greatest simplicity of means, with freshness and life, briefly yet completely and properly proportioned."

The tense, cramped compactness of this opening music is one premise of the work; the contemplative slow movement, amid nature's stillness, loosens the discourse; the wildly throbbing finale, with its longer, more diatonic lines, is an unbuttoned variant of movement one ending with the same six-note exclamation: a physical release. Bartok himself furnished this useful blueprint:

The work is in five movements . . . The slow movement is the kernel of the work; the other movements are, as it were, arranged in layers around it. Movement four is a free variation of two, and one and five have the same thematic material; that is, around the kernel, metaphorically speaking, one and five are the outer, two and four the inner layers.

The miracle of this music, of "middle Bartok" generally, is the interpenetration of peasant and city, instinct and logic, the visceral and cerebral. Its folk roots never seem denatured by urban sophistications; its intellectual poise never seems violated by rustic energies.

Our program also features, with attendant folk sources, three of Bartok's 44? Duos for two violins, the well-known "Bear Dance" (from [DANI: what Bartok work?]) and "Bagpipes" (from [DANI:what Bartok work?]), and a sampling of Kodaly. * * *

Tonight's concert is twice timely. As an alternate concert template, it carries forward a type of programming initiated by the Brooklyn Philharmonic at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the 1990s. One such Brooklyn Philharmonic program, "Csardas!", was the germ for the present collaboration; others - always with the participation of performers from outside classical music - investigated the influence on concert composers of flamenco, of Indonesian gamelan, of Russian folk song and dance, of African-American plantation song and jazz. (Bartok, who famously collaborated with Benny Goodman, in 1928 advised white Americans to pay more attention to jazz , and also to black music "in its unspoiled, natural state.")

A stirring feature of such programming is the synergy of musics and performers. And there is a second rationale. These are transitional times for Western classical music, times of new borders crossed and old boundaries blurred. "World music" and "global music" have attained unprecedented popularity and influence, not least among composers. Such sui generis stylists as Steve Reich and Philip Glass are unthinkable absent the music of Africa and Asia. An important new generation of Chinese-American composers - including Bright Sheng, whose [Ed: what's the name of his quartet?] was commissioned by the Takacs String Quartet - has pioneered in crafting a personal symbiosis of East and West. This new diversity can lead in profitless directions. The Cornell University ethnomusicologist Marc Perlman warns: "musical borders can be crossed, but the value of crossing them depends on the degree to which you respect them." To which the composer/ethnomusicologist Michael Tenzer, a specialist in Balinese music, adds: "We may hope to distinguish between hybrid musics that are exploitative and those that are genuine, those that are slapdash and those designed with care, those that are experimental novelties and those with the potential endure." It is no wonder that, for composers such as Bright Sheng, Bartok serves as a model.


"The nature of collecting meant that I could turn only to older people, mainly to older peasant women, because only they knew the old songs. They had to sing into the phonograph, and I made notations. The Hungarians and the Szekelys quickly understood what it was all about. They smelled money, but they didn't ask. Out of modesty, out of pride. But how difficult it is to persuade an old woman to sing. Why should she sing, just to be mocked by men from the city? Every one of them suspected something, a trap, which they didn't want to fall into. We had to resort to cunning, to talk and talk. Finally the old peasant woman would give in. She would begin to sing, but in the middle she would suddenly give up. She changed her mind. She wouldn't sing after all. What for? Then we had to begin a new line of attack, another tack with other pretexts, until the recording succeeded. Everywhere the peasants are reserved before the upper classes. Collecting goes somewhat more easily among the Slovaks, but with the Rumanians even the young people could hardly be persuaded to sing. With these two peoples, however, the song had a "fixed price." As soon as I arrived, news got out that a "traveling agent for songs" was among them, and they made sure they were paid properly. It went most smoothly with the Arabs - in 1913 I collected in Biskra - I had a letter of introduction to the sheik, who ordered his subjects to sing. They belted out the songs like opera singers."

-- from a 1925 newspaper interview, translated by David E. Schneider, as published in Peter Laki (ed.), Bartok and His World (Princeton University Press, 1995).

(Artistic Advisor)

Joseph Horowitz is an artistic consultant, teacher, and author. His five books, including Understanding Toscanini (1987) and Wagner Nights: An American History (1994), offer a detailed history and analysis of American symphonic culture, its achievements, challenges, and prospects for the future. As Executive Director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, he implemented a programming strategy stressing thematic content and inter-disciplinary scope. He pioneered in juxtaposing orchestral repertoire with folk and vernacular sources, engaging gamelan orchestras, flamenco performers, and Russian and Hungarian folk artists. He currently serves as an artistic consultant for various American orchestras and is completing two books: a Young Readers book on Dvorak in America (part of an NEH-supported National Education Project including a DVD), and a history of classical music in the United States. He most recently taught at the Eastman School.


The Takacs/Muzsikas joint concert was already reviewed, it seems that it generates interest not only in musicians and audience but in the musical experts, journalists, too. We are extremely thankful for the reviews, They help us in further developing our joint concerts.

The first concert was in Pittsburg, in the beautiful Carnegie Music Hall on thw 26th of March. The review were published in Pittsburgh Post Gazette on March 28 by Jane Vanish, Bartok tribute is a stroke of brillance.

The other review tiled Taste or more of Hungary by Susan Isaacs Nisbett is about our concerts in Ann Arbor is here .