bartok viola concerto – a tale of three editions

It’s been a few days since I first posted on the quandary that violists find themselves in when approaching the various editions of the largely incomplete Bartók Viola Concerto.  Let’s take an example from a passage from the end of the first movement (just before the Ritornello that transitions from the first to second movement).

Here’s how it looks in Bartók’s manuscript:

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It’s a little hard to make out, but the passage to pay attention to is highlighted in the red box (in this minimal score, the music is divided into two systems, each consisting of three staves: the solo viola part and the piano score version of the accompaniment, with an empty stave in between them).

Now let’s take a look at what Tibor Serly made of this passage in his version:

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If you look closely at the manuscript, you can see that Bartók has put the notation 8va above the 2nd measure of the line.  This means that the pitches should be played an octave higher than notated.  Serly chose to put the passage in the original octave, perhaps because the 8va notation appeared to have been partially erased.  In addition, Bartók does not fill in the passage, merely indicating that it should continue from where it leaves off to the next printed notes.  Serly sets himself a problem with his initial octave decision, as he causes a major jump upwards in tessitura to be necessary to get to the G (marked mf) in the octave necessary to make it fit into the low register of the viola.

Here’s the solution as arrived at by Nelson Dellamaggiore and Peter Bartók:

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It solves the register issue towards the end of the passage, but presents the challenge of a huge register jump from the lowest stopped note on the instrument (almost, it’s a low ‘D’) to the highest note in the concerto, a high ‘G’.  It works, but it’s a bit jarring, and I prefer Serly’s solution to the Peter Bartók in this case, even with the necessity of the octave displacement.  it’s a more elegant solution.

Finally, let’s see what Csaba Erdélyi does in his recent edition:

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He takes nearly the same tack as the younger Bartók in this case, with slurred articulation in the second measure of the downward run. He gives some performance advice with the liberamente marking at the top of the run, implying that there should be time taken over the bar line before the extreme leap, and also that an accelerando should be taken on the way down to the low ‘D’.

More coming soon…

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