A world premiere Bartok recording? Yes, but…

A world premiere Bartok recording? Yes, but…


norman lebrecht

February 17, 2017

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

The unique selling point of this release is what appears to be the first recording of Bartók’s piano quartet in C minor, an unpublished work that the composer began in high school in 1898 and his publishers somehow forgot….

Read on here. And here.


  • Robert Holmén says:

    “… while the Adagio could be decent Dvořák, if only it were by Dvořák …”

    So the problem is not the music but that it wasn’t written by someone else.

    • Max Grimm says:

      No that’s not the problem. I recommend re-reading…

      ” […] why Bartók and his publishers considered it unworthy of inclusion in his mature output.

      The reason, by my best guess, is lack of originality. The Allegro and Scherzo sound like warmed-over Brahms, while the Adagio could be decent Dvořák, if only it were by Dvořák This is not bad music, just not very good Bartók.”

      • Charles Grimes says:

        But then Mr Lebrecht urges the players to record a work of Ligeti which the composer referred to as Bartok #7.

        If “Ligeti that sounds like Bartok” is OK, then what is wrong with stuff that sounds like Dvorak?

        • norman lebrecht says:

          Ligeti 001 bears little resemblance to Bartok. Ligeti, who made the remark in my presence, was being self-belittling.

  • Steinway Fanatic says:

    Well, Chopin’s Trio Op. 8 isn’t bad music, but it’s not very good Chopin.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Almost all of Chopin’s nocturnes are plain imitations of John Field, but he added Bellini to them and the mix became Chopin. Most of the original music of the ‘originals’ of the repertoire arrived at their own voice in the same way: taking bits from here and there, creating a mix, and working it out really very well. For instance, Wagner’s music is a catalogue of theft, up till and including Parsifal (including stealing from himself), but the mix did the trick.

      Originality in art is a mere end product of the personality of the maker, and not an artistic achievement in itself, a serial killer can be very original too. It is a byproduct and never consciously striven after. Also it is mostly something inevitable: Mendelssohn did his very best to correctly imitate ‘classicism’, which he did very well, but you immediately hear after a couple of bars that it is Mendelssohn and not Schubert or Mozart, or Hummel or Spohr. Xenakis was very original, but who cares? It sounds and is awful on all levels, even as conceptual sound art. And the endlessly boring concerti grossi of Joachim Altzheimer were also very original in their time, but they are never played again (even during his lifetime the tiny audiences at the Stuttgart court fell asleep on the spot).

      • Fan says:

        This is counterintuitive and profound, Thanks!

      • James Wagner says:

        “Almost all of Chopin’s nocturnes are plain imitations of John Field, but he added Bellini to them and the mix became Chopin.”
        Given the sophisticated harmonic language and polyphonic structures of the Nocturnes, this is such a simpleton definition of Chopin Nocturnes that the question arises whether you actually know the entirety of these works.
        And the Trump style reaction you display towards other music which differs from your own limited personal agenda shows that you have strong opinions about everything, but somewhat limited knowledge and understanding.
        I guess its a sign of our times…

        • John Borstlap says:

          I repudiate your petulant expostulations…. My comment was mainly metaphorical (“metaphor”: look it up in the dictionary). Expecting musicological elaborations on SD is a bit naive, really, and taking things much too seriously.

          In principle, that is what Chopin did with Field and Bellini: these were his sources of inspiration. Of course he worked it out in his own sophisticated way, transcending his examples. My point was, that he HAD examples which he imitated and made his own. The cult of originality of the last century was neurotic through and through (because of focussing on the musical language as such) and gave a false picture of music history of both the 19th and the 20th century. It was myth making and projecting it backwards into the past.


      • Ruben Greenberg says:

        John: With a name like Altzheimer, one is bound to be forgotten.

      • Fan says:

        Who’s this Joachim Altzheimer, by the way? Can’t find him on Google or in Grove Music.

      • Fan says:

        Who’s this Joachim Altzheimer, by the way? Can’t find him on Google or in Grove Music ….

      • Paul Davis says:

        While agreeing about Wagner’s catalog of theft, (he did exploit the same material much more effectively, notably than Liszt, who had the ideas and revolutionary harmonies, but less talent for shaping melodies), i don’t agree much on the question about Chopin’s originality. Certainly he took the “Nocturne” title from Field, but even if we admit a superficial fleeting resemblance of style in early examples, (op 9/2), the actual music, let alone harmonic & pianistic writing is immediately worlds away from that insipid, conventional composer. Admitted also the admiration and friendship with Bellini, but how then does one explain such works as the 1st Scherzo or 1st Ballade….? Not much Bellini (or Field) there! No, before Chopin arrove, that musical expression didn’t exist or only in glimpses, and i would cite Hummel and possibly Weber as more likely models.

        I notice that there is a Xenakis Day coming soon to a venue which will have to be renamed the Wigbore Hell for the duration. Having overdosed on Xenakis in my misspelled yoof i’ve decided to give it a miss-spell and instead give Zen a kiss!

        • John Borstlap says:

          Good for you….. Xenakis was an architect, resisting the classical tradition, and in the process he lost both ears. I ploughed through ‘Formulized Music’ (1971), the book in which he explores all the underlying processes of the art form with the unscrupulous optimism of the outsider.

          But concerning Chopin: we were talking specifically about nocturnes, and the format was – as far as I know – i.e. the structure, the idea of what right and left hand were doing, an idea of Field. Chopin gave everything he wrote the spectacular style and qualities of his superb musical imagination and masterly craft which still amazes and impresses. With a simple example he could work miracles – who would doubt that? He was a born original, but never tried to be original – he did not need to. But it is the qualities of his works which earned him his place amongst the great.

  • Ruben Greenberg says:

    If it’s written by Bartok, I want to play it or hear it, even if it’s “God Save the Queen” or “Home on the Range”. There’s a Mahler piano quartet; it doesn’t really sound much like Mahler, but if you give it half a chance, it’s not bad at all.

    • Mikey says:

      ugh, that Mahler… I had the displeasure of performing it a few years ago. The score is a mess.

      I have a copy of Bartok’s “opus 1”, a very post-brahmsian piano piece for the left hand. It’s not particularly good.

  • Erwin says:

    Every great composer needed time to develop their particular idiom, writing skills and style. What counts most is not originality, but it’s the “grade of inspiration”, the quality of the musical material that is used.

  • Halldor says:

    So a composer decides not to publish one of his works because it’s atypical and immature.

    A century later, we exhume it against his wishes – and promptly slate it for being atypical and immature.

    • Stuart Rogers says:

      Well, yes. Rossini, for example, wrote the occasional “canata” Il viaggio a Reims, but he reused large portions of it three years later in the opera Le Comte Ory. Though it took until 1984 to piece the original back together, I am glad to have been able to see and hear the original opera, regardless of what Rossini thought about the future prospects of the piece.