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Bela Bartok's Farewell to Hungary

Hulton archive
Hungarian composer and pianist Béla Bartók listens to folk music on a phonograph with villagers, 1907.";

After publicly resisting the growing fascism in Europe in the 1930s, Hungarian pianist and composer BelaBartok eventually fled his homeland. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, he wrote his Violin Concerto No. 2 not long before emigrating to the United States.

Violinist Gil Shaham

Radio Script: 

MUSIC: Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2

Susan Lewis: Bartok’s Second Violin Concerto reflects his affection for the music of his homeland.

Gil Shaham: I think many musicologists have suggested that this piece was Bartok’s farewell to Hungary.

SL: Violinist Gil Shaham says the violin is such a traditional part of Hungarian culture.

GS: I remember hearing stories of people going to taverns, to restaurants in Hungary where there are lots of violins everywhere. There are lots of violins but no violin cases. People would just walk in and pick up a fiddle and start a little czardas [PLAYS]

SL: Bartok wrote a  three movement concerto  at the request of violinist ZoltanSzekely; but also used the form to explore theme and variations, incorporating elements of folk music and jazz.  

GS:  And there is something so beautiful about this piece – the juxtaposition of very folk-like material, beautiful Hungarian melodies, the orchestra – the violin - instruments  imitating traditional Hungarian instruments, and this juxtaposition with something completely new - modernity, new harmonies, new rhythms, new textures.

SL:  Bartok’s second violin concerto was premiered on April 24, 1939 by Szekely and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra. Bartok left Europe for the US the next year. 

Listen to violinist Gil Shaham talk with WRTI's Susan Lewis about Bartok's Second Violin Concerto, using his violin to illustrate ideas from the work he says is truly iconic.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.