Abstract and Introduction
My work on Bartók’s First Sonata functions as a case study of the kind of engagement implicit in what T. S. Eliot calls an artist’s ‘historical sense’. I develop an interpretation of the work over the period of research. To this end, I approach the sonata from three angles: (1) a close study of the violinst-collaborators of the Hungarian school who played a formative role in the composition of the work (Jelly d’Aranyi, Joseph Szigeti, and Zoltán Székely); (2) study of the treatises that informed the violin playing of the time of its composition, especially within the Hungarian school; and (3) video-recorded and analysed sessions with three mentors who represent this tradition in its current state (György Pauk, Yair Kless, and András Keller). I recorded Bartók’s First Sonata four times as a means to chart the evolution of my own performance practices.
(1) As a pianist, Bartók’s conception of string sound was not borne of the kind of intimate experience of a professionally trained string player. Nevertheless, close friendships and working relationships with a number of violinists helped him to better understand the mechanics, and more importantly the distinct sound-world, of violin playing. In this regard, Bartók’s conception embodies the spirit of violin playing from the early part of the twentieth century. My guiding hypothesis here is that the technique, sound, and musicianship of Bartók’s key violinist-collaborators are constitutive elements of the musical dialect of Bartók’s violin works.
(2) The evolution of violin playing in Bartók’s lifetime was quite dramatic, and these changes are reflected in the treatises written by several practicing violinists, in particular Joseph Joachim, Joseph Szigeti, and Carl Flesch.
(3) I consulted with Pauk, Kless, and Keller not simply to unearth historical performance details. I also use the music as a focal point for broader questions about musical language, technique and interpretation.