Violin Concerto No. 2, BB 117, 1st movement, part 2
In this masterclass, Professor Barnabás Kelemen and Sarah Bayens discuss phrasing, bowing, and character in Béla Bartók’s second violin concerto. Kelemen cautions against changing too many of the original bowing because it can alter Bartók’s intended phrasing. He works with the student to correct any unnecessary changes and find solutions to the ones that don’t work. In general, he encourages her to closely follow all the written markings. According to Kelemen, all musical decisions about pacing, tempo, dynamics, and articulation should be based on what the composer wrote, and until those are mastered the performer should not take too much personal liberty with a piece.
In addition, Bayens works on playing a smoother vibrato that is not interrupted by the bow, and to correctly capture the specific rhythms that characterize Bartók’s music. Finally, the pair works on bringing out the right emotions in the piece and making necessary contrasts.
Maintaining the original bowing and phrasing when possible.
Creating a smooth legato.
Understanding folk rhythms.
Eliciting the right emotions and characters.
Making pacing and musical decisions based on the written markings.
Bartók’s second violin concerto was one of the last pieces he wrote before migrating to the United States to avoid the impending threat of fascism in Europe. It was written for his friend and long-time collaborator, Zoltán Székely, who had to convince the composer that he would make time to play it. Initially, Bartók planned on writing the concerto as one movement in a theme and variations form, but Székely insisted that he write a complete three-movement concerto. It has now become touted as one of the most important twentieth century violin concertos. The piece does not use traditional folk melodies, but the music is still quintessentially Hungarian, with rhythms and melodies that evoke folk music just the same.
The first movement, Allegro non troppo, opens with a rapturous first theme in the violin which is later contrasted by a more chromatic second theme, which incorporates all twelve pitches without becoming fully atonal. Bartok uses the second movement, Andante tranquillo, to incorporate his intended theme and variations. It begins with a dreamy theme, varied over the course of six variations, some of which maintain the calm atmosphere, while others demonstrate magnificent virtuosity. The final movement, Allegro molto, also calls for impressive technical skill from the soloist, who must navigate through frenzied scales and whirling figures. At points, however, the music becomes quite elegant and cheery, though the final sequence revives the energy and drives to a dramatic finish.
Aim for excellence! You can improve your skills with expert advice. Download the annotated sheet music of this violin masterclass. Please note that this piece has been annotated in accordance to Barnabás Kelemen’s feedback and comments.
He won first prize at the Salzburg International Mozart Violin Competition in 1999 and at the Indianapolis International Violin Competition in 2002.
Barnabás Kelemen has performed at some of the most famous concert halls in the world with his virtuoso technique and dynamic, passionate playing style. Versatile and open-minded, he is an outstanding soloist and chamber musician, as well as an Artistic Director of various festivals, and a teacher at renowned institutions. In recent years, he has also worked professionally as a conductor.
His repertoire is very diverse, including works from early Baroque, Classical, Romantic works, as well as pieces from the twentieth century. Additionally, he is a devoted advocate of contemporary music.
He regularly performs at the world’s most prominent concert venues, including Carnegie Hall, the Concertgebouw, the Royal Festival Hall, the Palais de Beaux Arts, Suntory Hall, and the Berliner Philharmonie. He is a frequent guest of such eminent ensembles as the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Estonian National Philharmonic Orchestra, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and Hannover’s NDR Radiophilharmonie, to name but a few.
Barnabás Kelemen has worked with conductors such as Lorin Maazel, Sir Neville Marriner, Vladimir Jurowski, Marek Janowski, Michael Stern, Krzysztof Urbanski, Zoltán Kocsis, Péter Eötvös, and Iván Fischer. He is also an avid conductor himself – in recent seasons he has directed the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Israeli Chamber Ensemble, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra, and the symphonic orchestras of the Hungarian cities of Szombathely, Győr, and Pécs. On top of all this, he is a sensitive and experienced chamber musician who has played with artists of the calibre of Dezső Ránki, Steven Isserlis, Miklós Perényi, Alina Ibragimova, Vilde Frang, José Gallardo, and Andreas Ottensamer.
Together with Katalin Kokas, he is the Founder and Artistic Director of the Festival Academy Budapest Chamber Music Festival, which regularly features artists such as Vilde Frang, Maxim Rysanov, Shlomo Mintz, and Joshua Bell.
Hungarian composer Béla Bartók was born on March 25th 1881 and is considered one of the most famous Hungarian musician and composer along with Franz Liszt. Bartók was interested in music early on, and his parents quickly recognized it. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest and composed his first major work in 1903. His early works were influenced by Richard Strauss and Johannes Brahms; large-scale orchestral music that was well-received. Soon after, he traveled extensively in Europe to study local folk music. Around this time, he was married to his first wife and had a son, born in 1910.
Eventually, the composer and his second wife (his first marriage ended in divorce) emigrated to the USA due to the Nazi party coming into power and the advent of the Second World War. In America, Bartók continued to work, both composing and collecting traditional music from his native region. When he fell ill in 1940, he wrote his most notable work The Concerto for Orchestra, and died five years later in New York City from leukemia, at age 64.
He left behind a great legacy of modern music influenced by both classical and folk themes, and that continues to fascinate audiences to this day thanks to a mixture of intellectualism and lyricism.