Work: Dance Suite for Orchestra, Sz 77
About This Work
Like so many of Bartók's works, whether for orchestra or for smaller forces, Dance Suite has a folk-like character in its many themes. Yet, as was often the case, all of them are both original and manage to avoid sounding like ersatz folk
creations. The work was written to mark the 50th anniversary of the unification of the once-separate Hungarian cities of Buda and Pest. Dance Suite quickly gained widespread popularity, and in response to the favorable reaction Bartók fashioned a version for piano solo (Sz. 77, BB 86b) in 1925. But it is the orchestral version here that has achieved the greatest attention over the years.
Cast in six short movements and lasting a little over a quarter-hour, the work is colorfully orchestrated, effectively capturing the often exotic flavors and rowdy moments in the score. Marked Moderato, the first movement exudes some of those exotic characteristics in the Arabic-tinged melody introduced at the outset by the bassoon. The music has a carefree, somewhat humorous quality throughout most of this chapter before turning serene and playful at the close.
The Allegro molto second movement exhibits the aforementioned rowdiness, particularly in the sassy trombone writing. But Bartók invests the music with a sense of urgency, too, though in the latter half the tempo slows and the mood tempers, falling into a mysterious haze near the end. The third movement (Allegro vivace) exudes both Hungarian and Rumanian thematic character, opening with a colorful, vivacious melody, probably the best known in the score. It alternates with another lively theme of similar festive character, and both are dressed in masterful orchestration.
The fourth movement (Molto tranquillo) conveys a mysterious, dreamy manner in its mixture of exoticism and Bartók's characteristic "night music" instrumentation. The string writing foreshadows the orchestration in the second movement of the composer's 1930-1931 Piano Concerto No. 2.
The fifth and sixth movements are played as one, with an agitated, tension-building transitional episode leading to a lively closing section, wherein themes from the first three movements reappear in different guises. Again, a rowdy, colorful manner predominates here, though a brief calm episode at the center of the final movement offers contrast and sets the stage for the brilliant, lively close.
-- Robert Cummings, All Music Guide
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