Bartók’s ultimate masterwork is equally effective as a concert piece, ballet music, or, in excerpts with film. The first of three commissions of Paul Sacher, it has every ingredient of Bartókian success. The frozen symmetry of the first and third movements is counterpoised with the sonata-form second movement and a fast-paced medley of tunes in the finale, preceding Bartók’s grand apotheosis. The use of percussion here, and in the following Sonata (1937), is as creative and exposed as it would ever be in Bartók’s hands. In programmes, the Music contrasts well with such works as the Suite No.2 (1905-7) or the Violin Concerto No.1. On chamber-orchestra or sinfonietta programmes it makes a contrasting companion to Grieg’s Holberg Suite or even a Mozart symphony, and – looking forward – matches well with chamber works of Ligeti or Lutoslawski, both of whom were influenced by this work, in particular.
Note by Malcolm Gillies