A Folk Celebration

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bela Bartok using a gramaphone to record folk songs sung by Czech peasants (Paul Griffith’s A Concise History of Modern Music / Wikipedia Commons)

Folk music has served as inspiration to almost every composer in history. But when Béla Bartók came along, he took the folk influence to a whole new level.

Bartók began to take an interest in Hungarian Folk music around the turn of the 20th century. At this time he was in his early twenties and eager to discover his unique musical voice. From May through November 1904, Bartók stayed at a resort in northern Hungary, dividing his time between composing and practicing the piano. It was there that he heard a young woman from Transylvania singing folk songs in the room next door. The composer copied down the songs and later wrote to his sister: "Now I have a new plan: to collect the finest Hungarian folk songs and to raise them, adding the best possible piano accompaniments, to the level of art-song".

This marked a new direction in Bartók, and changed his voice forever. With his mentor, Zoltán Kodály, Bartók toured the villages of his native land, and recorded authentic folk music on the phonograph. Afterwards, he would harmonize and notate the songs. He composed many folk-inspired works and Hungary's influence became prevalent in most of his work. This includes the string quartets, the Concerto for Orchestra, the Seven Choruses with Orchestra Accompaniment, among many others.
This week on the Choral Mix we hear the music of Bartók along with works by Aaron Copland, Mark O'Connor, John Rutter and Veljo Tormis.

What is your favorite folk-inspired choral work?


Old American Songs
Aaron Copland
Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
Salt Lake City, UT

"Let Us Move" from Appalachian Sketches
Mark O’Connor
Gloria Dei Cantores
Elizabeth Patterson, conductor
Cape Cod, MA

Seven Choruses with Orchestra Accompaniment
Béla Bartók
Chamber Chorus of the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music
Budapest Symphony Orchestra
Antal Dorati, conductor
Budapest, Hungary

Songs of the Ancient Sea

Veljo Tormis
Estonian National Male Choir
Olev Oja, conductor
Talinn, Estonia

"O Waly, Waly" from I have had singing

arr.John Rutter
Joseph Jennings, director
San Francisco, CA

"Hark I Hear the Harps Eternal" from Appalachian Sketches
Mark O’Connor
Gloria Dei Cantores
Elizabeth Patterson, conductor
Cape Cod, MA

Comments [3]

Daniel MComas

Oh, could someone please play the Humming Chorus from Madame Butterfly!

Mar. 25 2011 03:53 AM
Sandy MacDonald from New York & Cambridge

As a 8-year-old reluctantly studying piano, I resisted the tidy beauty (or so it seemed to me) of Bach and Mozart. Bartok spoke to my nonconformist nature and opened my ears to the seditious joys of the classics.

Mar. 20 2011 06:58 PM
Michael Meltzer

If we're really talking about folk-inspired original composition (as per Dvorak in the "New World Symphony), not just a re-working of already existing folk music, I'd put Bartok and Vaughan Williams at the top of the list. My favorite work of that genre is the Vaughan Williams "Hodie."

Mar. 20 2011 02:50 AM

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