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Principles of Large-Scale Organization in Bartks Improvisations,

Opus 20
by

Elizabeth Anne Kelly

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment


of the
Requirements for the Degree
Doctor of Philosophy

Supervised by
Professor Robert Hasegawa
Department of Music Theory
Eastman School of Music
University of Rochester
Rochester, NY
2012

""!

Curriculum Vitae
The author was born in New York City, New York on August 19, 1982. She
attended Yale University from 2000 to 2004, and graduated with a Bachelors of Arts
degree, summa cum laude, in 2004. She attended the University of Michigan School
of Music from 2004 to 2006 with the support of an Ellen Marin Memorial
scholarship, and graduated with a Master of Music degree in 2006. She came to the
University of Rochester in 2006 and began graduate studies in music composition.
She received a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship from the United States Department of
Education from 2006 to 2010 and a Robert and Mary Sproull fellowship from the
University of Rochester from 2006 to 2012. She won a Frank Huntington Beebe
Fellowship to study at The Hague Royal Conservatory in the Netherlands in 20102011. She pursued her research in Bartk under the direction of Professor Robert
Hasegawa.
The authors compositions have been commissioned and performed by diverse
ensembles including the Ann Arbor Symphony, Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, New
York Youth Symphony, Netherlands Youth Orchestra, Janacek Philharmonic
Orchestra, Albany Symphony Dogs of Desire Ensemble, California EAR Unit, Asko
Schoenberg Ensemble and Aspen Contemporary Ensembles at venues throughout the
United States and Europe. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards from
the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. In the Netherlands, she
won Second Prize at the 2009 Apeldoorn Young Composers Competition and First
Prize at the 2011 Young Masters XXI Competition.

"""!

Abstract
Improvisations, Opus 20 was the first work that Bla Bartk composed after
the 1920 Treaty of Trianon stripped Hungary of over two-thirds of its territory and
inhabitants. In the eight-movement set for solo piano, Bartk memorializes the forced
dismemberment of his country by including settings of peasant music collected from
the farthest reaches of the former Kingdom of Hungary. While Bartks sketches
indicate that he did not compose the movements in the order in which they appear in
the score, close examination reveals a carefully constructed arch form unfolding in
several dimensions. The first and second parts of the dissertation explore the regional
origins and characteristics of the peasant source materials. The third and fourth parts
of the dissertation focus on the materials that Bartk added to the peasant source
songs, particularly the modernist harmonies that he employs and the contrapuntal
structures that he creates. Pitch-class set analysis is utilized to trace the recurrence
and interaction of octatonic, whole-tone, and diatonic sets throughout the work.

"#!

Table of Contents
Introduction

Part 1

Analysis of the Progression Through Peasant Source Materials


1.1 Regional Origins of Source Materials

1.2 Classification of Peasant Source Materials

1.3 Manifestations of Class A Characteristics


in the Peasant Source Materials

1.4 The Fourth and Sixth Improvisations:


The Class C Source Songs

12

Part 2

Modality, Symmetry and Centricity in the Melodies of Improvisations

14

Part 3

The Harmonizations of the Peasant Melodies in Improvisations

21

Part 4

3.1 Relationship Between the Source Melodies and Harmonies:


The Modal/Atonal Conflict

21

3.2 Strategies for Convergence and Divergence Between


the Melodic Key Centers and Bartks Harmonizations:
A Close Reading of the First Improvisation

23

3.3 Interval Class 1 as Structuring and Confounding


Harmonic Force throughout Improvisations:
The First, Second and Eighth Improvisations

27

3.4 Ic1 in the Third and Fifth Improvisations

29

3.5 Structural Implications of the Tritone, ic6:


Imitative Counterpoint and the Third, Fifth and
Eighth Improvisations

32

3.6 Structural Implications of the Tritone:


Tritone Bass Descent in the Second and
Eighth Improvisations

34

Prominent Pitch Class Sets in Improvisations


4.1 Octatonic Subsets 1: The Major/Minor Tetrachord, [0347]

36
37

#!

4.2 The Role of Whole-Tone Collections and Augmented Triads

45

4.3 Octatonic Subsets 2: The Z-cell, [0167]

48

Conclusion

51

Bibliography

53

Appendix 1: Bartks Catalogue of Improvisations Folk Source Songs

55

Appendix 2: Map of the Kingdom of Hungary before the Treaty of Trianon

56

#"!

List of Tables
Table
Table 1
Table 2
Table 3
Table 4
Table 5

Title
Regional Origins of the Eight Improvisations
3
Table of Old Hungarian Characteristics in Each Source Song 8
Bar Count and Duration Ratios in Improvisations
13
Table of Pitch Centers, Modes and Symmetry
14
Points of Convergence and Divergence Between the
26-7
Pitch Centers of the Peasant Source Melodies and
Bartks Harmonizations

#""!

List of Figures
Figure
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6
Figure 7
Figure 8
Figure 9
Figure 10
Figure 11
Figure 12
Figure 13

Figure 14
Figure 15
Figure 16
Figure 17
Figure 18
Figure 19
Figure 20
Figure 21
Figure 22

Title
Pentatonic Scale on G
The Third Improvisation Source Song:
A Typical Descending Melody
The Seventh Improvisation Source:
A Parlando Transcription
The Second Improvisation Source:
Invariable Dance Rhythm
Hungarian Heptatonic Mode:
Non-Pentatonic but Symmetrical
The Fourth Improvisation Source:
Modifications to the Pentatonic
The Fourth Improvisation:
Pentatonic Grace Note (B-flats) in mm. 7-10
G-Pentatonic Suggestion in the Third Improvisation
Symmetry and Pentatonicism of the Dorian Mode
(Non-Pentatonic Notes Marked with x)
Asymmetrical Mixolydian in Second Source
Pentatonicism and Asymmetry of G-Aeolian
(Non-Pentatonic Notes Marked with x)
Asymmetrical Pentatonicism of C-Aeolian and C-Phrygian
in the Bimodal Seventh Improvisation C-Aeolian of
mm. 1-5 (Non-Pentatonic Notes Marked with x)
D-flat in m. 8 of the Seventh Improvisation Shifts Tune into
Asymmetrical C-Phrygian and a
New Pentatonic Transposition
(Non-Pentatonic Notes Marked with x)
Aeolian Alteration in Eighth Improvisation, mm. 69-74
Dyad as Dominant in the First Improvisation, mm. 1-5
F -major emphasis of the First Improvisation, mm. 5-8
D-minor Emphasis in the First Improvisation, mm. 9-12
Destabilizing D-flat and G-flat of the First Improvisation
Coda, mm. 13-16
The Eighth Improvisation Final Chord with
L.H. B/C Subset
C-sharp/F-sharp to D/G in the Third Improvisation,
mm. 1-4
The Third Improvisation closing with verticalized pedal,
mm. 40-end
Unfurling to [0156] in the Fifth Improvisation, mm. 22-6

5
6
6
7
9
10
11
16
16
17
17
19
19

20
23
24
25
25
28
29
30
31

#"""!

Figure 23
Figure 24
Figure 25
Figure 26
Figure 27
Figure 28
Figure 29
Figure 30
Figure 31
Figure 32
Figure 33
Figure 34
Figure 35
Figure 36
Figure 37
Figure 38
Figure 39
Figure 40
Figure 41

The Fifth Improvisation Final Chord with Bass [0156]


Subset Presenting as F/G/C-sharp/D
Tritone Between R.H./L.H. in the Third Improvisation,
mm. 32-37
Canon with tritone relationship at End of the Fifth
Improvisation, mm. 57-68
Canon at the tritone in the Eighth Improvisation,
mm. 53-60
Octatonic and Whole-Tone Scales as Stacked Thirds
[0347] tetrachords in the First Improvisation, mm. 5-8
Octatonicism in the First Improvisation, mm.9-10
Octatonic Interpenetration of C-Dorian in the
First Improvisation, mm. 5-8
in the Fourth Improvisation, mm. 29-32
[01347] in the Second Improvisation, mm. 37-53
[0347] Tetrachords in the Third Improvisation, mm. 23-30
[0347] in the Sixth Improvisation, mm. 15-18
the Third Improvisation opening harmony
[0347] as Central Harmony in the Seventh Improvisation,
mm. 12-16
[0347] Harmonies in mm. 8-18 of the Eighth Improvisation
[0134567] sonority in penultimate measure of the
Eighth Improvisation
Whole-Tone and Augmented Harmonies in the
Third Improvisation, mm. 19-22
Whole-Tone and Augmented Harmonies in the
Third Improvisation, mm. 26-30
Whole-Tone Implications of Accompanying Scale in the
Fourth Improvisation, mm. 1-4
Whole-Tone Dyads in Aligned Z-Cells
Octatonic Z-cell Pairs in the Eighth Improvisation Finale

32
33
33
34
37
38
39
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
47
49
50

"!

Introduction
On June 4, 1920, the Treaty of Trianon between the Allied Powers of World War
I and the Kingdom of Hungary, successor to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, radically
redrew the Hungarian map. Hungary lost over two-thirds of its territory and inhabitants.
Bla Bartk was devastated. It was now impossible for him to carry his phonograph over
the new borders to collect peasant songs.1
In September 1920, Bartk sent his publisher, Universal Edition of Vienna, one of
the short piano pieces that he would later include in Improvisations. He told his publisher
that he had already written six such pieces and that he would send the set when he had
completed twelve or fifteen of them.2 Ultimately, Improvisations would comprise eight
pieces. In Improvisations, Bartk memorialized the forced dismemberment of his country
by including settings of Hungarian peasant music from the farthest reaches of the former
Kingdom of Hungary, including music from modern Romania, Serbia, Croatia and
Slovenia.3 Most of the pieces manifest ancient Magyar (ethnic Hungarian) origins.
However, two pieces at key junctures in the set suggest influence from non-Magyar
Austro-Hungarian ethnic groups. Perhaps Bartk was mourning the end of the fruitful
ethno-musical exchanges that he had documented during his sojourns in the former

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
1
Bla Bartk in Benjamin Suchoff, Bla Bartk Studies in Ethnomusicology
(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997), xiii.
2
Ivan Waldbauer, Analytical Notes to Bartks Improvisations, Op. 20 and the
Ordering of the Series in Lazslo Vikarius and Vera Lampert, Essays in Honor of Laszlo
Somfai on His 70th Birthday (Lanham, The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2005), 425.
3
Benjamin Suchoff, Bartk: Concerto for Orchestra (New York: Schirmer
Books, 1995), 74.

#!

Kingdom.4 While Bartks sketches indicate that he did not compose the Improvisations
in the order in which they appear in the score,5 an examination of patterns and
progressions through the piece reveals a carefully constructed arch form unfolding in
several dimensions.
In this study, I will analyze Bartks ordering of the peasant source materials in
Improvisations before moving into an examination of his settings of the source tunes.
Part 1. Analysis of the Progression Through Peasant Source Materials
1.1 Regional Origins of Source Materials
When Improvisations was published, Bartk furnished Universal Edition with
transcriptions of the peasant source materials. He annotated each transcription with the
name of the village and county where the song was collected.6 The regional distribution
of the peasant source songs gives the first indication that Bartk carefully chose the
ordering of his eight Improvisations.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
4
Suchoff, Bla Bartk Studies in Ethnomusicology, 138.
5
Waldbauer, Analytical Notes, 431.
6
See Appendix 1 for the transcriptions that Bartk provided.

$!

Table 1: Regional Origins of the Eight Improvisations7


Number
1
2

Region of
Origin/Orientation w/in
Kingdom of Hungary
Tolna (central)
Zala (west)

Szerem (south/central)

4
5

Tolna (central)
Zala (west)

6
7
8

Czik (east)
Udvarhely (east)
Szilagy (east)

Post-Trianon Location
Central Hungary
Southwest Hungary on Croatian/Slovenian
border
Divided between Serbia in east and Croatia
in west
Central Hungary
Southwest Hungary on Croatian/Slovenian
border
Romania (eastern Transylvania)
Romania (eastern Transylvania)
Romania (northwest)

The attacca markings in Improvisations suggest that the piece can be divided into
three sections movements 1-2, 3-5 and 6-8. (In the table above and those that follow,
section 2 is italicized to demarcate it from sections 1 and 3.)
The first two sections manifest a symmetrical regional distribution. In the first
section, Bartk exclusively presents music from regions that remained in Hungary after
the Treaty of Trianon. He opens with music from central Tolna county. In the second
movement, he ventures west to the post-Trianon borderland county of Zala. Bartk opens
the second section with the first piece in the collection based on material collected
outside of post-Trianon Hungary. The Third Improvisation is a setting of a peasant song
from Szerem county, which was divided between Serbia and Croatia after 1920. Settings
of material from Tolna and Zala bring the second section to a close.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
7
See Appendix 2 for a map of counties in the Kingdom of Hungary.

%!

In the third section, Bartk exclusively sets music from post-Trianon Romania,
formerly the eastern Kingdom of Hungary. Thus, there is a large-scale division between
the music from western and central Kingdom of Hungary presented in sections 1 and 2,
and the music from the east presented in section 3.
1.2 Classification of Peasant Source Materials
However, while the source material for Improvisations was thus collected from
highly disparate regions in the former Kingdom of Hungary, much of it from counties
that took on new national identities in 1920, all of the source material was sung in
Hungarian to songs derived (at least in part) from ancient Magyar traditions. Bartk
classified six of the eight source songs (1, 2, 3, 5, 7, and 8) as Class A old Hungarian
peasant music.8 After 1920, Bartk mainly set Class A songs, although these songs
represented less than a third of the total songs that he collected. He was drawn to these
ancient songs, because they were the least touched by Western European influence and
thus, despite their great age, the most novel to Western, classically trained ears.9 The
source songs for the Fourth and Sixth Improvisations have unusual features that led
Bartk to place them in his Class C of songs that manifest both Magyar and foreign
influence. The foreign influence was mainly transmitted by other ethnic groups living
in the former Kingdom of Hungary.10 It is noteworthy that the Fourth Improvisation, one
of the two foreign-influenced pieces in the collection, hails from central Tolna county.
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
8
Vera Lampert, Bartks Choice of Theme for Folksong Arrangement: Some
Lessons of the Folk-Music Sources of Bartks Works, Studia Musicologica Academiae
Scientiarum Hungaricae 24 (1981), 406.
9
Bla Bartk, Hungarian Peasant Music in Benjamin Suchoff, Bla Bartks
Essays. (Faber and Faber: London, 1976), 102.
10
Suchoff, Bla Bartk Studies in Ethnomusicology, 176.

&!

Before borders were erected, the free flow of a wide range of ethnic groups through the
Kingdom of Hungary had facilitated ethno-musical exchange even in the Magyardominated heart of the country.
1.3 Manifestations of Class A Characteristics in the Peasant Source Materials
Bartks Class A old Hungarian melodies manifest similar formal, modal and
rhythmic characteristics. All Class A melodies feature a four-section form with each
section in the melody corresponding to a strophe of the song text. The first and fourth
sections of the melody are always different. Often, all of the sections are different. Each
section is isometric with either six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven of twelve syllables per
line. Class A melodies usually feature the ancient pentatonic scale.
Figure 1: Pentatonic Scale on G

Many Class A Hungarian peasant songs have a descending structure. These


melodies open in the upper tetrachord of their mode before descending to the lower
tetrachord of their mode in the second or third sections. The third peasant song of
Improvisations from Szerem County is a typical example of a descending melody.

'!

Figure 2: The Third Improvisation Source Song:


A Typical Descending Melody11

Class A old Hungarian melodies display three types of rhythms. Many of the
songs are in a highly ornamented parlando rubato, particularly beloved by Bartk, who
considered these songs the most important and uniquely Hungarian.12
Figure 3: The Seventh Improvisation Source: A Parlando Transcription

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
11
Figures 2, 3, 4 and 6 are reprinted from Universal Edition 7079. See my
Appendix 1 for transcriptions of all of the peasant source tunes supplied by Bartk to
Universal.
12
Suchoff, Bla Bartk Studies in Ethnomusicology, 175.

(!

Other Class A songs are in invariable dance rhythm, usually in 2/4.13


Figure 4: The Second Improvisation Source: Invariable Dance Rhythm

An examination of the Class A old Hungarian characteristics present in each


movements peasant source further illuminates the architecture of the collection. The
regional distribution of the songs suggests an arch shape through the first and second
sections with a significant regional shift in the third. However, a closer examination of
the characteristics of the songs themselves demonstrates how the final section strongly
connects to the first to create a larger arch form. The final section also draws together
elements that differentiate sections 1 and 2.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
13
Suchoff, Bla Bartk Studies in Ethnomusicology, 175.

)!

Table 2: Table of Old Hungarian Characteristics in Each Source Song14


#

Class

Pentatonic
Origin?

4section?

Descending
?

# of
syllables/
line

Rhythmic
type

Source
Tempo

Bartk
Tempo

AI

giusto

half=
44-6

Y
(in
sections
3-4)
N

dance

quarter
=
110-20
fast

AI

AI

parlando

slow

slow

*
4

CII

776/
776

dance

quarter
=
93

quarter
= 108
to 132126

AI

dance

fast

7/7/11/
11

fast

adjustable
parlando
with fast,
tempo
giusto
intro and
close
parlando

half=
84 to
92
quarter
=108,
86, 116,
108

*
6

CI

AI

AI

dance

Y
6(melody section
was of
pentatonic
origin)
Y
Y

slow
quarter
=104

fastfaster

quarter
=66,
rubato
quarter
= ~120

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
"%!Information on Class, Rhythmic Type and Tempo and Source Tunes taken from
Vera Lampert, Folk Music in Bartk's Compositions: A Source Catalog : Arab,
Hungarian, Romanian, Ruthenian, Serbian, and Slovak melodies (Budapest: Hungarian
Heritage House, 2008), 149-154.!

*!

All of the songs in sections 1 and 3 are of pentatonic origin. The middle section is
strongly distinguished from the outer sections by its initial departure from this central
collection.
The Third Improvisation source song is in the non-pentatonic Hungarian
heptatonica secunda mode. The heptatonic is symmetrical around the axis of its
midpoint, between the fourth and fifth notes that divide the upper and lower tetrachords.
It is one of very few non-pentatonic songs that fall within Bartks Class A due to its
structural and rhythmic characteristics. The heptatonic mode appears more frequently in
Bartks Class B of newer Hungarian folk music.15
Figure 5: Hungarian Heptatonic Mode: Non-Pentatonic but Symmetrical

TTSTSTT
On the surface, the Fourth Improvisation source song does not appear to be of
pentatonic origin. There is a major third between the first and third scale degrees (Bnatural instead of B-flat). The raised seventh degree (F-sharp) in the first three sections
suggests G major. However, the seventh degree is flattened in the final section, hinting at
the tunes pentatonic origin.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
15
Bla Bartk Essays, ed. Benjamin Suchoff (New York: St. Martins Press,
1976), 410.

"+!

Figure 6: The Fourth Improvisation Source: Modifications to the Pentatonic16

The source song for the Fourth Improvisation falls into Class Cpieces that
manifest non-Magyar influence. Ivan Waldbauer writes that raising the third and seventh
degrees is a common trans-Danubian modification of pentatonic folk songs, inspired by
foreign melodies in major keys.17 Bartk highlights the pentatonic origin of the fourth
source song in his setting by including the B-flat grace note alongside the B-natural in the
melody in mm. 7-10.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
16
Waldbauer, Analytical Notes, 428.
17
Waldbauer, Analytical Notes, 427.

""!

Figure 7: The Fourth Improvisation: Pentatonic Grace Note (B-flats) in mm. 7-10

The Fifth Improvisation source song returns to the pentatonic to transition back to
the completely pentatonic third section.
The sections of the piece are also distinguished by the presence of descending
melodies. Section 1 features no descending melodies. Section 2 features only descending
melodies. Section 3 draws together the first two sections with a non-descending seventh
melody sandwiched between two descending melodies.
The progression of tempi and rhythmic types through the piece further clarifies
the tri-sectional structure and reinforces the conclusive weight of the third section. Each
section moves from slower music to faster music. The first section opens with a slow
tempo giusto piece, the only slow tempo giusto piece of the set, followed by a fast dance
piece. In the second section, there is a slow parlando piece followed by two fast dance
pieces.18 The final section opens with a moderato parlando song couched in fast, episodic,
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
18
Interestingly, the parlando pieces feature dotted cadential patterns similar to the
repeated dotted rhythmic motif in the first piece.

"#!

pentatonic material (mm. 1-5 and 27-end). The seventh movement is a slow parlando
piece. The set comes to a close with a final, fast dance piece. Bartk thus creates a
coherent slow-fast temporal flow through each section. He weights the final section with
two slower pieces, both in his most cherished parlando style. The earlier sections each
feature only one slow movement.
1.4 The Fourth and Sixth Improvisations: The Class C Source Songs
The source melodies for the Fourth and Sixth Improvisations are the only
melodies that Bartk categorized in his Class C in Improvisations. Source Songs 4 and
6 are the only non-isometric songs in the collection. Song 4 is the only melody in the
piece with a 6-section rather than a 4-section structure. Songs 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 and 8 have six
or seven syllables. Song 4 has six and seven syllables. Song 6 is the only tune in the
collection with sections of a different syllable length. While the first two sections are
seven syllables, the second two sections have eleven syllables.
In his Bla Bartk: An Analysis of his Music, first published in English in 1971,
Hungarian theorist Ern Lendvai proposed harmonic and formal analysis of Bla
Bartks works, particularly his later works, derived from the mathematical principle of
the golden section -- .618/1.19 Theorists in recent years have become dubious about the
importance of the golden section in Bartks work. However, it is interesting to note that
the Sixth Improvisation contains the golden section by bar count. The Fourth
Improvisation includes the reverse golden section (1-.618 = .382) by bar count.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
"*!Ern Lendvai, Bla Bartk: An Analysis of his Music (London: Kahn and
Averill, 1971).!

"$!

It is difficult to measure the duration of the work exactly as there is significant


room for fluctuation with the accelerandi, ritardandi and rubato markings. Bartk
himself took significant liberties with the tempi in his performances of Improvisations. In
the table below, the durations are taken from Bartks performances of the work, when
possible.20 According to these calculations, the Sixth Improvisation contains the golden
section by duration.
Table 3: Bar Count and Duration Ratios in Improvisations
#

# of Bars

121
2
3
422
5
6
7
8

16
54
47
40
68
32
33
82

Ratio of
# of Bars in
Movement/
# of Bars in
Collection
0-.043
.043-.188
.188-.314
.314-.422
.422-.604
.604-.69
.69-.78
.78-1

Played
Duration
of Movement
(in min.)

Ratio of
Played Duration of
Movement/
Duration of Complete Set

1.25 min
1 min.
2.25 min
.75 min
1 min.
1.33 min
1.75 min.
1.83 min.

0-.112
.112-.202
.201-.403
0.403-.47
.47-.56
.56-679
.679-.83
.83-1

The special status of the Sixth Improvisation is further bolstered by its position
within the progressions of modes and key centers through Improvisations discussed in
Part 2 of this study. The Fourth and Sixth Improvisations also share an accompanimental
figure unique to these two movements -- scalar figures that wedge out. These figures first
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
#+!Unfortunately, there is no extant recording by Bartk of the Third
Improvisation. Therefore this timing is taken from David Yeomans calculation based on
tempi and performance markings in David Yeomans, Bartk for Piano (Bloomington,
Indiana University Press, 1988), 97.
21
1, 2, 6, 7 and 8 from 1941 Hungaraton Recording.
22
4 and 5 from 1932 Hungaraton Recording.!

"%!

appear in mm. 1-11 of the Fourth Improvisation and return in mm. 13-14 of the Sixth
Improvisation.
Part 2. Modality, Symmetry and Centricity in the Melodies of Improvisations
Table 4: Table of Pitch Centers, Modes and Symmetry of the
Melodies of Improvisations
Number

Pitch
Center

Mode23

Contains
Pentatonic
Subset

Symmetrical
Collection

1
2
3

C
C
D

Y
Y
N

Y
N-Y
Y

Dorian
Mixolydian/Dorian
Heptatonic
major/minor
Modified
pentatonic=
G major

Aeolian

6
7
8

E-flat
C
C

Pentatonic
Aeolian/Phrygian
Dorian/Aeolian
modification at
endDorian

Y
Y
Y

N (nonsymmetrical
return to
same pitch
collection as
1)
N
N
Y

Key Centers
of Melody
through
Movement
C (3 times)
C-E-A-flat-C
D-F-D
G-modified
version that
moves from
F-flat to
D-modified
version that
moves from
A to G
G (4 times)

E-flat
C-G-C
B-D
(modified)E/B-flat
(modified)
C (modified)

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
#$!Information on modes takes from Waldbauer, Analytical Notes, 427-8.!

"&!

An examination of the progressions of pitch centers and modes through the


melodies of Improvisations reinforces the tri-sectional structure that we have already
traced. There is both a large-scale arch structure (reflective of the progression of source
song types) and a small-scale arch structure through the first two sections (reflective of
the regional distribution of source materials).
The progression of pitch centers through the piece elucidates the large-scale arch
form. The piece begins with a C pitch center through section 1. In section 2, there is
movement from a D to a G pitch center reminiscent of a V/V V progression. Bartk
distinguishes the Sixth Improvisation, the movement that contains the golden section by
both bar count and duration, with a detour to E-flat before returning to a governing C
pitch center from Seventh Improvisation through the end.
The Third Improvisation melody has a strong pull towards the G-pentatonic of the
Fourth and Fifth Improvisations melodies not only because its D pitch center is a fifth
above G, but also because of the implications of the internal pitch center movement
between different presentations of the source tune. In the Third Improvisation, Bartk
includes three transpositions of the source tune on D, F and D. The tetrachordal poles of
these transpositions are D-G-A-D and F-B-flat-C-F. The G-pentatonic is a subset of this
collection. In the Third Improvisation, Bartk thus creates a pentatonic structure around
the only non-pentatonic source song of the collection while effectively preparing the retransition to the pentatonic collections of the Fourth and Fifth Improvisations.

"'!

Figure 8: G-Pentatonic Suggestion in the Third Improvisation


These tetrachordal poles spell the G-pentatonic collection (G-Bb-C-D-F) with one added
A (marked with x)

Improvisations begins and ends with Dorian tunes. Many of the modes that flesh
out the basic pentatonic skeleton are symmetrical. The Dorian is such a symmetrical
elaboration of the pentatonic, symmetrical around the axis of its midpoint between the
fourth and fifth notes.
Figure 9: Symmetry and Pentatonicism of the Dorian Mode
(Non-Pentatonic Notes Marked with x)

TSTTTST
Bartk structures Improvisations around moving away from and then returning to
the symmetrical collections with pentatonic subsets although, in typical Bartkian
fashion, he complicates the final return to perfect symmetry in the end of the piece. In
section 1, Bartk starts in the symmetrical, pentatonic C-Dorian collection. In the
bimodal Second Improvisation melody, Bartk begins in the asymmetrical, nonpentatonic Mixolydian collection before returning to the symmetrical Dorian.

"(!

Figure 10: Asymmetrical Mixolydian in Second Source

TTSTTST
E-flat in measure 6 moves the song into symmetrical C-Dorian TSTTTST.
Bartk opens the second section in the non-pentatonic though symmetrical
Hungarian heptatonic. (See Fig. 5.) As discussed in Part 1, the Fourth Improvisation
begins in a modified pentatonic. (See Fig. 6.) Bartks accompaniment suggests a shift
from the asymmetrical G-Ionian in the first two sections of the melody to asymmetrical
G-pentatonic in the final sections. (See Fig. 1.) In the Fifth Improvisation, Bartk sets a
piece in the pentatonic but asymmetrical G-Aeolian.
Figure 11: Pentatonicism and Asymmetry of G-Aeolian
(Non-Pentatonic Notes Marked with x)

TSTTSTT
The Fifth Improvisation does not only represent a full return to the pentatonic. As
Elliott Antokoletz points out in The Music of Bla Bartk, G-Aeolian mode contains the
same pitch-classes as the C-Dorian of the First Improvisation. Thus, the Fifth
Improvisation marks an asymmetrical return to the collection of pitch-classes that opened

")!

the piece.24 (Compare Fig.s 9 and 11.) Bartk bolsters the connection between the First
and Fifth Improvisations in his settings. The First and Fifth Improvisations are the only
two pieces in the first two sections in which all of the statements of the folk source occur
at the same transposition level. These connections do suggest a complete, small-scale
arch form through the first two sections of the piece. However, the asymmetrical G mode
must be resolved to symmetrical C mode in the final section to satisfactorily resolve the
projected large-scale arch.
In the golden Sixth Improvisation at the beginning of the third section, Bartk
moves to the asymmetrical, pure E-flat pentatonic. (By choosing an E-flat transposition
of the mode, Bartk is able to create a completely black-key setting of the melody, which,
as we will see in Table 5, he juxtaposes with a white-key-centric accompaniment
throughout the movement.) In order to complete the arch form that he has set up, Bartk
must now take the piece back to symmetry and a C pitch center. In the Seventh
Improvisation, the return to the C tonic happens in the asymmetrical, though pentatonicbased C-Aeolian and Phrygian modes of the bimodal Seventh Variation tune. The final
return to a symmetrical C collection awaits the final Improvisation.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
24
Elliott Antokoletz, The Music of Bla Bartk (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1984), 59.
.

"*!

Figure 12: Asymmetrical Pentatonicism of C-Aeolian in


the Bimodal Seventh Improvisation C-Aeolian of mm. 1-5
(Non-Pentatonic Notes Marked with x)

TSTTSTT
Figure 13: D-flat in m. 8 of the Seventh Improvisation Shifts Tune into Asymmetrical
C-Phrygian and a New Pentatonic Transposition
(Non-Pentatonic Notes Marked with x)

STTTSTT
In the Eighth Improvisation, Bartk delays the return to the original C-Dorian and
complicates the return when it does occur. The final Improvisation is the only movement
that does not begin with a statement of the folk melody on the movements pitch center.
Instead, Bartk moves from a R.H. statement of the folk melody on B (mm. 5-13) to a
chromaticized and rhythmically altered version of the folk melody on D in the L.H. in
mm. 28-39. In measure 54, the R.H. re-states the theme on E. On the fourth eighth-note
beat, the L.H. enters with the theme on B-flat in stretto. However, there is a significant
alteration to the L.H. melody in measure 58 when scale degree six is flattened (G to Gflat), re-orienting the tune into Aeolian. This alteration is repeated when the melody
finally returns to C-Dorian in measure 69.

#+!

Figure 14: Aeolian Alteration in Eighth Improvisation, mm. 69-74

This Aeolian inflection ties the Eighth Improvisation back to the crucial Fifth
Improvisation, which serves as a sort of asymmetrical apex within the collection. It seems
to jolt the piece back into asymmetry just at the moment when we expect a symmetrical
close. However, as will be discussed in Part 4.3, this alteration allows Bartk to draw
together symmetrical collections that he added to the folk sources throughout
Improvisations.

#"!

Part 3. The Harmonizations of the Folk Melodies in Improvisations


3.1 Relationship Between the Source Melodies and Harmonies:
The Modal/Atonal Conflict
Bartk considered the source folk melodies in Improvisations and the materials
that he added to be almost equal in importance.25 As discussed in Part 2, the folk
melodies used in Improvisations are modal. The harmonies that Bartk employs in his
settings are highly chromatic and prominently feature subsets of the octatonic and wholetone collections, to be discussed in Part 4.
The conflict between the modality of the folk melodies and chromaticism of the
harmonies in Improvisations has led to considerable debate about how the work should
be analyzed. Victor Kofi Agawu discusses the debate in his article, Analytical Issues
Raised By Bartks Improvisations, Opus 20, which I will summarize below.26
Bartk himself advocated a tonal approach to his music. Following Bartks lead,
Hungarian theorists including Lendvai and Laszlo Somfai have suggested a tonal reading
of Improvisations, largely centered on the key center movement of the folk melodies
traced in Part 2.27
Other theorists have suggested a completely atonal approach to some works of
Bla Bartk utilizing the pitch-class set theoretical techniques developed by Allen Forte.
However, as Agawu points out, this sort of approach works better for some of Bartks

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
25
Suchoff, Bartk Essays, 351.
26
V. Kofi Agawu, Analytical Issues Raised by Bartks Improvisations for
Piano, op 20, Journal of Musicological Research 5 (1984): 133.
27
Agawu, Analytical Issues, 134.

##!

more abstract works like Fourths from Mikrokosmos, which is the subject of an atonal
Richard Parks study, than for Improvisations with its clearly modal melodic material.28
Following a line of scholarship traceable to Milton Babbitts pioneering article on
Bartks string quartets,29 other analysts, most notably Elliott Antokoletz, have put forth
readings that draw together tonal and atonal set-theoretic approaches. Like Babbitt and
Antokoletz, I believe that an analytical approach that incorporates both tonal and atonal
set-theoretical techniques is appropriate to the analysis of Improvisations. In the
discussion that follows, I will demonstrate that Bartks harmonizations sometimes
support the modes and key centers of the folk melodies and sometimes seem to directly
contradict the key centers and modality of the folk tunes. In the final Part, I will also trace
several important pitch set collections that are derived from structural characteristics of
the modal materials. Some of these pitch set collections recur throughout the work in
movements with melodies of different modal characteristics and become important
structural motives in the work as whole. I will use terminology derived from tonal and
atonal analytical methodologies to understand Bartks layered compositional practice in
Improvisations. Throughout, I will discuss how Bartks harmonizations and
contrapuntal approach support the tri-sectional arch form discussed in the previous Parts.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
28
Agawu, Analytical Issues, 133.!
29
Milton Babbitt, The String Quartets of Bartok, The Musical Quarterly, Vol.
35, No. 3, (July 1949), pp. 377-385.

#$!

3.2 Strategies for Convergence and Divergence Between the Melodic Key Centers
and Bartks Harmonizations:
A Close Reading of the First Improvisation
Bartk complicates the key scheme for the melodies outlined in Part 2 through his
harmonizations, beginning in the First Improvisation. In mm. 1-4 of the First
Improvisation, the simple dyad accompaniment challenges hearing the C as pitch center.
The presence of the B-flat in the R.H. dyad over the arrival at the final C in measure 4
suggests a dominant seventh chord on C, supported by the seeming resolution to an Fmajor triad in measure 5.
Figure 15: Dyad as Dominant in the First Improvisation, mm. 1-5

In mm. 5-8, Bartk shifts to an F-major emphasis with strong F-major triads on
the first beat of mm. 5-7 and a final C dominant seventh chord, the fully fleshed out
version of the dyad from the end of the first phrase, in measure 8. However, his use of
non F-major triads associated with the octatonic on the weak beats of mm. 5-7 and the

#%!

first beat of measure 8 complicates a simple F-major interpretation. These octatonic


sonorities will be discussed in greater detail in Part 4 of this study.
Figure 16: F-major emphasis of the First Improvisation, mm. 5-8

In mm. 9-12, Bartk shifts to a D-minor emphasis with D-minor triads on the first
beats of measures 9-11. However, again he complicates a D-minor hearing by shifting to
harmonies that are not in D-minor on the weak beats and to a D-flat sonority for the final
measure of the strain, measure 12. As will be discussed in Part 4, these harmonies move
even further away from triadic harmonies and fill out the octatonic collection more
completely.

#&!

Figure 17: D-minor Emphasis in the First Improvisation, mm. 9-12

In mm. 13-16 of the First Improvisation, which function as a coda, Bartk brings
the piece to a rest on the final of the folk source melody, C. However, this final C has
been transformed into a highly unstable harmony as it hovers above the left hand
sonority, another D-flat with a further destabilizing G-flat tritone divide between the top
and bottom of the final melodic fragment.

Figure 18: Destabilizing D-flat and G-flat of the First Improvisation Coda,
mm. 13-16

#'!

The minor second and its inversion, the major seventh, interval class 1, and the
tritone, interval class 6, become critical structural intervals as the pitch centers suggested
by the melodies and the pitch centers of the harmonizations converge and diverge
through the remainder of Improvisations, as summarized in Table 5 below.
Table 5: Points of Convergence and Divergence Between the
Pitch Centers of the Peasant Source Melodies and Bartks Harmonizations
(Points of Convergence in Bold)
#

mm.

Melody
Pitch
Center

Harmonization
Pitch Center

1-8
9-12
13-16
1-9
9-13
14-22
22-29
30-37
37-41
42-49
49-54
1-18
19-31
32-39
40-47
1-16
17-31
32-40
1-12
13-20
21-26

C
C
C
C-B#
Episode
E
Episode
Ab
Episode
C
Coda
D
F
D
Coda
G
Fb-G
Coda
G
G
Episode

F
D
moving to C
B/C-F#
F#-B
D#-D
D-G/Ab
Ab/G-D
D
C
moving to C#
G
E
D
C#/G
G
F-Eb/ A#-Db
Gb/C
G
G
G-Bb/B

27-34
35-42
43-47
48-58
58-68

G
G
Episode
G
Coda

Ab
F
F-Db
Db-F#-Db
G/D-flat

4
5

Contrapuntal
Relationship
B/w Melody &
Harmonization?

Pedal to Wedge-shaped Bass Motion


Pedal to Wedge-shaped Bass Motion
Pedal
Pedal
Wedge-shaped Motion
Pedal
Parallel Motion in Tritones
Pedal

Pedal
Pedal
Wedge-shaped Contrary Motion
Expansion
Pedal
Pedal
Pedal
Canon at Tritone

#(!

mm.

Melody
Pitch
Center

1-5

Introduction

6-11
11-19
20-26
27-32
1-11
12-15
16-21
22-28
29-33
1-12
13-27
28-39
40-52
53-65
65-68
69-82

Eb
Eb
Eb
Eb
C
Episode
G
Episode
C
B
Episode
D
Episode
E
Episode
C

Harmonization
Pitch Center

Contrapuntal
Relationship
B/w Melody &
Harmonization?
Wedge-shaped Contrary Motion
B/w Black Keys in L.H. and White
Keys in R.H.

Eb
black vs. white key
black vs. white key
black vs. white key
C
D
moving to Db
moving to C
D
C-F#
C
moving
F
Bb
F#-B
moving to F#

Contrary motion
Contrary Motion
Contrary Motion
Pedal

Canon at Tritone

3.3 Interval Class 1 as Structuring and Confounding Harmonic Force


throughout Improvisations:
the First, Second and Eighth Improvisations
The final minor second, ic1, between the L.H. bass D-flat and R.H. final C in the
First Improvisation connects to the bold L.H. B/C pedal that begins the Second
Improvisation. Indeed, ic1 pedals initiate the first, second and third iterations of the
Second Improvisation melody. The first iteration of the melody from mm. 1-4 features a
L.H. B/C pedal. In mm. 14-18, the second iteration of the melody initiates from a Dsharp/E conflict between the L.H. and R.H. In mm. 30-34, the L.H. features the inversion,

#)!

a major seventh pedal on A-flat/G. The final iteration, beginning in measure 42, is
doubled at the octave, bringing a measure of clarity to the final iteration. This clarity is
challenged by the final sonority, which features an ic1 conflict between the C-sharp of
the L.H. bass and B-sharp R.H. bass. This final C-sharp/B-sharp is a minor second (ic1)
higher than the initial B/C pedal of the Second Improvisation, effecting a large-scale
minor second move up through the course of the movement. This final C-sharp/B-sharp is
also the enharmonic equivalent of the final D-flat/C between the L.H. bass and R.H. final
of the First Improvisation, creating a coherent arc through the first section of
Improvisations.
The Second Improvisations initiating B/C pedal resonates throughout the Eighth
Improvisation. The B/C is composed out in the opening of the Eighth Improvisation,
which features a statement of the folk source tune with a B melodic center in the R.H.
juxtaposed with a C-based pedal harmony in the L.H. There is also a large-scale B-C
movement from the first to the last statements of the peasant tune. This B/C is also
contained in the final chord of the Eighth Improvisation L.H. Thus ic1 and specifically,
the B/C iteration of ic1 creates a long-term arc from the first section of the work through
the final Improvisation.
Fig. 19: B/C/ Subset in L.H. of the Final Eighth Improvisation Chord

#*!

3.4 Ic1 in the Third and Fifth Improvisations


Like the Second Improvisation, the second section of Improvisations is structured
around ic1 pedals. The Third Improvisation, the first piece of the second section, begins
with an [0156] pedal that prominently features both C-sharp/D and F-sharp/G dyads. This
pedal both sets up a long-range connection with the final movement of the second
section, the Fifth Improvisation, and creates an interesting tonal ambiguity.
The Third Improvisation [0156] pedal is structured so as to give a strong
suggestion of some sort of G pedal with linked fourths on C-sharp/F-sharp as implied
leading tones to D-G.
Figure 20: C-sharp/F-sharp to D/G in Third Improvisation, mm. 1-4

The predominance of this G pedal in the first strain of the peasant source melody
(mm. 1-10) and the move to harmonies unrelated to G or D in the second strain (mm. 1118) complicates hearing the final D (mm. 10-11) as the final of the mode, instead giving
the D an almost dominant feel to the strong G pedal opening. In the final presentation of
the peasant melody (mm. 32-39), this G/D ambiguity is again emphasized with the final
G pedal in mm. 36-38 giving the D a dominant pull. The second strain also notably
features an ic1 conflict between the F pitch center of the melodic material and E pitch
center of the harmonic material.
The Third Improvisation opening pedal recurs with the same pitch classes in the
final measures of the piece (mm. 40-end.) However, the different configurations of the

$+!

chord again destabilize the D final of the peasant source melody. In these final
recurrences of [0156], the two dyads are kept in the same partitioning with the C-sharp/Fsharp in the L.H. (with C-sharp doubled for added emphasis with the exception of m. 46)
and D/G in the R.H. (with D and G doubled in different sections to change the emphasis.)
In the final iterations, the chords are rolled from the bottom up, which, as Ivan Waldbauer
points out, still give the C-sharp/F-sharp a sort of leading tone feel,30 although the
verticalization and doubled bass C-sharp again complicate hearing the upper D as the
final.
Figure 21: The Third Improvisation closing with verticalized pedal, mm. 40-end

In the opening measures of the Fifth Improvisation, the C-sharp/D pedal features
two of the four pitch classes from the Third Improvisation opening pedal tetrachord. In
measure 5, the first two notes of the melody combine with this dyad to form a tetrachord
with only one pitch class different from the Third Improvisation, an F instead of an F!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
$+!Waldbauer, Analytical Notes, 435.!

$"!

sharp. This tetrachord returns in the second iteration of the folk melody in measure 13
when a C is added to the opening C-sharp/D pedal. Eventually, an imitative wedge based
on the fourths inherent in both the Third and Fifth Improvisation pedal chord collections
unfolds into a stacked fifth iteration of [0156] in mm. 25-6.
Figure 22: Unfurling to [0156]
in the Fifth Improvisation, mm. 22-6

[0156]
The F/G/C-sharp/D pedal returns as part of the formation of the final [012569]
harmony in the bass, creating an arc from the Third through the Fifth Improvisations. It is
also of note that the third iteration of the Fifth Improvisation melody features an A-flat
pitch center to the harmonic material, hearkening back to the Second Improvisation third
strain. This bolsters the connection between the final pieces of the first and second
sections.

$#!

Figure 23: The Fifth Improvisation final chord with bass [0156] subset
Presenting as F/G/C-sharp/D

3.5 Structural Implications of the Tritone, ic6:


Imitative Counterpoint and the Third, Fifth and Eighth Improvisations
The tritone, the melodic interval encompassed by the final melodic statement of
the coda of the First Improvisation, becomes associated with imitative contrapuntal
settings as the piece progresses. These contrapuntal episodes are sharply distinguished
from the rest of Improvisations in which the tunes are usually presented with very little
alteration. The tritone makes its first prominent melodic appearance in the first piece of
the second section. In the Third Improvisation, the final iteration of the folk tune features
a constant doubled tritone pedal.

$$!

Figure 24: Tritone Between R.H./L.H. in the Third Improvisation. mm. 32-37

This tritone doubling sets up the final strain of the second section, the Fifth
Improvisation, in which the closing figures of the folk source melody are repeated in a
canon at the minor sixth between the hands. The canon lines up such that the two hands
are always a tritone apart. This relationship persists when the canon shifts in the final
measures
Figure 25: Canon with tritone relationship at
End of the Fifth Improvisation, mm. 57-68

$%!

This canon at the end of the second section strongly connects to the only other
canon in the piece in mm. 53-60 of the Eighth Improvisation The Eighth Improvisation
canon at the tritone ushers in the final tripled statement of the folk tune with altered
rhythmic emphasis. These canons at the end of the second and third sections give weight
to the end of the smaller scale arch through the first two sections and the larger arch
through the piece.
Figure 26: Canon at the tritone in the Eighth Improvisation, mm. 53-60

3.6 Structural Implications of the Tritone:


Tritone Bass Descent in the Second and Eighth Improvisations
As can be seen in Table 5, tritone bass descent also plays an important role in the
harmonizations, most notably in the Second and Eighth Improvisations, further bolstering
the connection between the final pieces of the first and last sections already discussed in

$&!

section 3.3. In his analysis, Ivan Waldbauer elevates tritone bass descent to the level of
unifying structural principle throughout the work.31
The Second Improvisation includes two structural tritone descents, from the B/C
of measure 1 to the F-sharp pedal of mm. 9-19, and from the A-flat/G of mm. 30-34 to
the D pedal of mm. 37-41. The Eighth Improvisation features a smaller-scale tritone bass
descent from the C of the initiating bass pedal to the F-sharp bass pedal of mm. 12-17,
thus following the same B/C-F-sharp trajectory of the first tritone descent of the Second
Improvisation. The Eighth Improvisation also features a larger-scale tritone descent from
the opening C pedal to the final F-sharp chords.
Many analysts have discussed the prominence of the tritone in Bartks
oeuvre. In his axis system, Lendvai posits a tonic axis comprised of a diminished seventh
chord extending from the tonic pitch center. Lendvai suggests that any of the notes on the
tonic axis may function as a tonic. In his work, Hungarian theorist Janos Krpti
suggests that the tritone can often be heard as a mistuned fifth.32 This sort of
mistuning seems most plausible in examples like the final four measures of the First
Improvisation, where the final melodic tritone can be heard as a distortion of the fifth in
the other iterations of the folk tune. In Improvisations, the status of the tritone as a stable
or unstable interval is complicated. The mistuning of the final melodic statement in the
First Improvisation suggests a destabilizing role for the tonic to be resolved through the
rest of the work. The tritone bass movement of the Second and Eighth Improvisations
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
$"!Waldbauer, Analytical Notes, 432.
32
Janos Krpti, Bartks Chamber Music (Stuyvesant: Pendragon Press, 1994),
194.!

$'!

further aligns the interval with a sort of dominant function. However, the prominence
of the tritone at the ends of the Third, Fifth and Eighth Improvisations do suggest some
sort of stable function for the interval.
Part 4: Prominent Pitch Class Sets in Improvisations
In 3.1, I discussed different analysts approaches to the tonal/atonal conflict in
Improvisations. I went on to explore how convergences and divergences between the
pitch centers of the peasant source tunes and added accompanimental materials
complicate the hearing of the C-D-G-E-flat-C key center movement of the melodies
traced in Part 2 and put forth by Lendvai as evidence of Bartks tonal compositional
planning for Improvisations. In Part 4, I will investigate pitch-class sets that recur
throughout the work such that they attain motivic importance in the collection.
In Improvisations, the accompanimental harmonies fluctuate between chords built
on stacked thirds and sonorities built from stacked fourths. These motivic intervals derive
from defining intervals in the modes. As discussed in Part 2, the modes are divided
tetrachordally and this tetrachordal division is reflected in many of the characteristic
melodic constructions, particularly the descending melody. The minor third is a defining
interval of the predominant pentatonic collection while major thirds define the heptatonic
collection used in the Third Improvisation.
Two collections feature prominently in the added materials the octatonic and
whole-tone scales. As demonstrated in Fig. 27, both of these collections are built on
stacked thirds. The octatonic comprises two interlocking diminished seventh chords
while the whole-tone consists of overlaid augmented triads. In the analysis below, I will

$(!

show that octatonic subsets are prominently featured throughout Improvisations while
whole-tone subsets appear most notably in the unique, heptatonic Third Improvisation
and the Improvisations immediately preceding and following.
Figure 27: Octatonic and Whole-Tone Scales as Stacked Thirds

There are significant overlaps between diatonic, octatonic and whole-tone subsets,
which may have drawn Bartk, the atonal tonal composer, to these materials.33 Jnos
Krpti posits a convincing connection between the Dorian and octatonic collections in
his analysis. Krpti suggests that the octatonic can be heard as a mistuned version of
the Dorian as the octatonic can be derived by lowering the upper tetrachord of the Dorian
a minor second and superimposing it on the Dorian lower tetrachord. Bartk initiates
presentation of the octatonic materials with the first Dorian melody, lending credence to
Karptis suggestion. (Compare Figs. 9 and 27.)
4.1 Octatonic Subsets 1: The Major/Minor Tetrachord, [0347]
The first collection that I will trace superimposes a minor and major third --the
major/minor tetrachord, [0347], dubbed the alpha chord by Ern Lendvai. This
harmony recurs in the First, Second, Third, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Improvisations, but
is noticeably absent from the Fourth and Fifth Improvisations, which prominently feature
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
33
The overlap between these materials are well documented in Richard Cohns
article cited in the Bibliography.

$)!

other octatonic subsets, most notably major arrival points at [01369] pentachords on Dflat at measure 29 in the Fourth and measure 48 of the Fifth.
The major/minor tetrachord contributes to the harmonic ambiguity that Bartk
cultivates throughout the work. As Krpti discusses, the major/minor tetrachord also
evokes folk practice, which, according to Bartks own accounts, frequently featured the
simultaneous use of major and minor thirds.34
In mm. 5-7 of the First Improvisation, the second two dyads of each measure
combine to form [0347] tetrachords. The strong beats of measure 8 also combine to form
[0347].
Figure 28: [0347] tetrachords in the First Improvisation, mm. 5-8

The tonally ambiguous progression of major and minor triads precipitated by


these [0347] combinations through the course of the second strain of the First
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
$%!Krpti, Bartks Chamber Music, 173.!

$*!

Improvisation catapult the work from the simple pentatonic world of the first strain
towards the more fully octatonic third strain. Elliott Antokoletz shows how partial and
complete octatonic collections unfold in the second and third strains of the First
Improvisation in his book, The Music of Bla Brtok.
Figure 29: Octatonicism in the the First Improvisation, mm. 9-1035

Figure 30: Octatonic Interpenetration of C-Dorian in the First Improvisation,


mm. 5-836

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
35
Figure 29 taken from Antokoletz, The Music of Bla Bartk, 221.
36
Figure 30 taken from Antokoletz, The Music of Bla Bartk, 221.

%+!

In the predominantly octatonic Second Improvisation, the final episode features a


repeated [01347] sonority followed by a conclusive [01347] sonority in measure 49 to
accompany the final measure of the peasant tune in the R.H. melody.
Figure 31: [01347] in the Second Improvisation, mm. 37-53

In the heavily whole-tone Third Improvisation to be discussed in 4.2, the final


R.H. chord combines with the major third dyad articulated in measure 23 to form an
[0347] sonority. This [0347] tetrachord is repeated in mm. 24-5 with an [013457] trill
figure in mm. 29-30 before the final iteration of the peasant melody.

%"!

Figure 32: [0347] Tetrachords in the Third Improvisation, mm. 23-30

[0347] makes a brief appearance in the Sixth Improvisation in a passage based on


interlocking thirds reminiscent of the second strain of the First Improvisation in mm. 1518. The final three appearances feature [0347] as subset of [01469.]

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Figure 33: [0347] in the Sixth Improvisation, mm. 15-18

The [0347] tetrachord is a central harmony throughout the Seventh Improvisation,


the piece in the collection most heavily dominated by thirds, which is appropriately
dedicated to Claude Debussy. [0347] presenting as C/E-flat/A-flat/B first appears in the
accompaniment for mm. 2-3. F-sharp/A/D/F-natural, another configuration of [0347],
first appears at the end of the first strain in measures 9-11. This configuration of [0347]
serves as the focal point of a chain of interlocking thirds moving in contrary motion in
mm. 12-15.

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Figure 34: [0347] as Central Harmony in the Seventh Improvisation, mm. 12-16

In measure 15, the D of this configuration slides down to D-flat before returning
to D-natural in measure 16. The F-sharp/A/D/F-natural configuration of [0347] returns in
the final three measures of the movement.
In the Eighth Improvisation, after the initiating [0137] pedal point, a series of
[0347] sonorities dominates the texture from mm. 8-18 with a final [0347] in the second
chord of measure 21.

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Figure 35: [0347] harmonies in mm. 8-18 of the Eighth Improvisation

[0347] sonorities return in mm. 43-44 (cf. beat 6 of measure 43) before a final
confirmation of the centrality of the [0347] in the penultimate [0134567] sonority that
combines the [0347] and [0167] z-cells. The centrality of the z-cell will be discussed
more in 4.3.

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Figure 36: [0134567] sonority in penultimate measure of the


Eighth Improvisation

[0134567]
4.2 The Role of Whole-Tone Collections and Augmented Triads
The first suggestion of the augmented triad comes in the pitch center movement in
the Second Improvisation. As discussed in 3.3, the opening B/C dyad is transposed to Dsharp/E for the second iteration (mm. 14-8) and G/A-flat for the third iteration (mm. 303) before the final return to the C source tune (mm. 42ff). The augmented triad reflected
in the progression through the pedals and folk source tune keys foreshadows the
augmented triads that will pervade the Third Improvisation, the first of the two central
folk tunes that feature a major third in the lower tetrachord of their modes, distinguishing
them from all of the other folk source tunes used in the collection. Thus, as Elliott
Antokoletz writes in The Music of Bla Bartk, the whole-tone/augmented emphasis in
the Third Improvisation effectively highlights the major third characteristic of the folk
tune mode.37

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
37
Antokoletz, The Music of Bla Bartk, 60.

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The analysis below summarizes Antokoletzs description of whole-tone


collections in the Third Improvisation.38 In measure 20, the two right hand dyads
combine to form a whole-tone tetrachord, [0246.] In measure 21, the two dyads combine
to form an augmented triad, [048.] In measure 21, the first two R.H. chords again
combine to form a whole-tone tetrachord.39
Figure 37: Whole-Tone and Augmented Harmonies
in the Third Improvisation, mm. 19-22

In measure 26 of the Third Improvisation, there is a return to the whole-tone


tetrachord of measures 20 and 22 before a whole-tone pentachord sounds in the final beat
of the measure. The augmented triad at the bass of the R.H. in measure 26 is linked to
another augmented triad built on a shared A-sharp in measure 27. In measure 28, the first
of a series of augmented triads is sounded in the L.H. Above and below these augmented
triads in mm. 28-30, chromatic material in the R.H. and an F pedal in the bass of the
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
38
Antokoletz, The Music of Bla Bartk, 60-1.
39
Antokoletz, The Music of Bla Bartk, 60-62.

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L.H., which forms a minor 2nd with the R.H. soprano E, re-transition the Third
Improvisation away from a whole-tone/augmented emphasis.
Figure 38: Whole-Tone and Augmented Harmonies
in the Third Improvisation, mm. 26-30
[0246]

[02468]

[048]

[048}
In the opening of the Fourth Improvisation, the scalar accompaniment in the R.H.
features a chromatic scale divided into two whole-tone trichords. This nod to the wholetone collection that dominated the Third Improvisation supports the major third in the
Fourth Improvisation mode before the re-transition to octatonic harmonies, beginning
with the initiating [0358] in measure 16.
Figure 39: Whole-Tone Implications of Accompanying Scale in the
Fourth Improvisation, mm. 1-4
[024]

[024]

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4.3 Octatonic Subsets 2: The Z- cell, [0167]


The second predominant octatonic subset that appears throughout Improvisations
is the z-cell, [0167]. Unlike the collections traced above, the z-cell features no thirds but
it does contain fourths, critical to the tetrachordal construction of the modes, and a
tritone. Because of its intervallic content, [0167] might also be heard as a detuned
version of the [0156] and [0146] initiating pedals of the Third and Fifth Improvisations
discussed in 3.4, which fall more clearly within the modal material of those movements.
Elliott Antokoletz has traced the octatonic z-cell in the accompaniments to all but
two of the Improvisations. The absence of z-cells in the Fifth Improvisation supports its
special position within the piece as asymmetrical apex. The z-cell is also absent from the
golden Sixth Improvisation.
The discussion below summarizes Elliott Antokoletzs most siginificant z-cell
discussion in his book, The Music of Bla Bartk. As he writes, the Aeolian modification
to the final statement of the Eighth Improvisation tune discussed in Part 2 suggests a
background symmetrical z-cell comprised of the one tritone in C-Dorian (E-flat/A) and
the one tritone in C-Aeolian (D/A-flat).40 (Compare Fig. 9 and Fig. 12) With this implied
z-cell and the z-cells that dominate the accompaniment from measure 69 through the final
chord of Improvisations, Bartk is able to connect both the added and folk source
materials of the First and Eighth Improvisations.
The final chord of the Eighth Improvisation juxtaposes two z-cells. When aligned,
these two z-chords produce four sets of whole-tone dyads.
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
40
Antokoletz, The Music of Bla Bartk, 103-9.

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Figure 40: Whole-tone Dyads in Aligned Z-cells41

The top dyads, E-flat/F and B-flat/C, serve as the sole accompaniment to the
melody in the First Improvisation first strain, emphasizing the whole-tone dyads at the
top of the two C-Dorian tetrachords (mm. 1-4). The ornaments of the second strain are
initiated by a reconfiguration of these dyads with the F/C and E-flat/B-flat L.H. figures in
measure 5. The z-cell Eighth Improvisation ending thus elegantly connects to the First
Improvisation accompaniment. In the final measures of the Eighth Improvisation
accompaniment, Bartk also seems to restore the Dorian mode, completing a large-scale
modal arch form. From measure 75 on, the z-cell chords feature A-naturals but no Aflats.
In the Eighth Improvisation, Bartk carefully combines z-cell chords to create full
octatonic collections.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
41
Figure taken from Elliott Antokoletz, Pitch-Set Derivations from the Folk
Modes in Bartks Music, Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientarium Hungaricae 24
(1982), 266.

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Figure 41: Octatonic Z-Cell Pairs in the Eighth Improvisation Finale42

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
42
Figure taken from Antokoletz, The Music of Bla Bartk, 214.

&"!

In the First Improvisation, Antokoletz shows how a complete octatonic statement


unfolds from the gradual development of the whole-tone dyads in measure nine. (cf. Fig.s
29 and 30.) Bartk similarly combines z-cells to form octatonic collections in the Second
Improvisation (c.f. the octatonic episodes in mm. 10-13, 25-30 and 37-42) and the
Seventh Improvisation (c.f. octatonic cadential points in mm. 2-3, 5-6 and 10-11 and the
second statement of the folk subject in mm. 16-21).43
Conclusion
In Improvisations, Bartk creates a fitting tribute to the former Kingdom of
Hungary that successfully foregrounds many of the attributes that connected ancient
Magyar songs from across the Kingdom, while also drawing special attention to certain
songs with unusual characteristics and non-Magyar influence. His ordering of pitch
centers of the melodic presentations and use of symmetrical/asymmetrical melodic modes
effectively create a large-scale arch form from the First Improvisation to the Eighth and a
small-scale arch from symmetry to asymmetry in Improvisations 1-5.
Bartks modernist harmonizations converge with and diverge from the pitch
centers of the melodies. His accompaniments effectively support the trajectories through
the three sections discussed above. Some of Bartks harmonies, derived from key
intervals in the modes and melodies, come to take on motivic importance throughout the
work, particularly two octatonic subsets Lendvais alpha chord and z-cell, the [0347]
and [0167] tetrachords. The whole-tone collection plays a pivotal role in the Second and
Third Improvisations. While the pieces may not have been written in the order in which
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
43
Antokoletz, The Music of Bla Brtok, 222-8.

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they appear, these large-scale principles of organization and connections demonstrate that
Bartk carefully considered the ordering of the set.
The title of Improvisations may be a reference to the folk instrumental practice of
improvising on a well known, sung folk tune. In Improvisations, Bartk acts as folk
instrumentalist, bringing his unique brand of composed contribution to the eight folk
source tunes with extreme re-harmonizations and contrapuntal constructions that
showcase his pianism.

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Bibliography
Score
Bartk, Bla. Improvisations, op. 20. Vienna: Universal Edition, 1922.
Books
Antokoletz, Elliott. The Music of Bla Bartk. Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1984.
!
Lampert, Vera. Folk music in Bartk's compositions : a source catalog : Arab, Hungarian, !
Romanian, Ruthenian, Serbian, and Slovak melodies. Budapest: Hungarian
Heritage House, 2008.!
Lendvai, Erno. Bla Bartk: An Analysis of his Music. London: Kahn and Averill,
1971.
Karpati, Janos. Bartks Chamber Music. Stuyvesant: Pendragon Press, 1994.
Suchoff, Benjamin. Bartk: Concerto for Orchestra. London: Schirmer, 1995.
Suchoff, Benjamin. Bla Bartk: Essays. London: Faber and Faber, 1976.
Suchoff, Benjamin. Bla Bartk Studies in Ethnomusicology. Lincoln: University of
Nebraska Press, 1997.
Yeomans, David. Bartk for Piano. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.
Articles
Agawu, Victor Kofi. Analytical Issues Raised by Bartks Improvisations for piano,
op 20, Journal of Musicological Research 1984, 131-163.
Antokoletz, Elliott. Pitch-Set Derivations of the Folk Modes in Bartks Music,
Studia Musicologia Academiae Scientarium Hungaricae 1982, 262-74.
Atar, Ron. Form Created By Performance: Bartks Recording of his
Improvisations, op. 20, Studia Musicologica 48/1-2, 2007, 103-11.
Babbitt, Milton. The String Quartets of Bartk, The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 35,
No.3 (July, 1949), 377-385.

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Cohn, Richard. Bartks Octatonic Strategies: A Motivic Approach, Journal of the


American Musicological Society 44 (1991), 262-300.
Hyde, Martha M. Neoclassic and Anachronistic Impulses in Twentieth-Century
Music, Music Theory Spectrum, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Autumn, 1996), 200-235.
Lampert, Vera. Bartks Choice of Theme for Folksong Arrangement: Some
Lessons of the Folk-Music Sources of Bartks works. Studia Musicologica
Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 1981, 401-9.
McCandless, William Edgar. "Cantus Firmus Techniques in Selected Instrumental
Compositions, 1910-1960." Ph.D. diss. Music Theory: Indiana University, 1974.
Russ, Michael. Atonality, Modality, Symmetry and Tonal Hierarchy in Bartks
Improvisation, op. 20, no. 8. Irish Musical Studies 1, 1990, 278-94.
Waldbauer, Ivan. Analytical Notes to Bartks Improvisations, Op. 20 and the
Ordering of the Series. Essays in Honor of Laszlo Somfai on His 70th
Birthday. Laszlo Vikarius and Vera Lampert, eds. Lanham: The Scarecrow
Press, Inc., 2005, 425-443.
Wilson, Paul. Concepts of Prolongation and Bartks Opus 20. Music Theory
Spectrum Spring 1984, 79-89.
Recordings
Hungaraton LPX 12333-B. Bartk at the Piano, Vol. I, 1981. Side 16, Band 2, 1941.
Hungaraton LPX 12334-B. Bartk Plays and Talks, Vol. II, 1981. Side 1, Band 10,
1932.

&&!

Appendix 1: Bartks Catalogue of Improvisations Folk Source Songs44

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
44
Reprinted from Universal Edition 7079.

Appendix 2: Map of the Kingdom of Hungary before the Treaty of Trianon45


!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
45
Reprinted from www.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Hungary.

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