Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion
Béla Bartók wrote his Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, Sz. 110, BB 115 in 1937 and it was premiered by him and his second wife, Ditta Pásztory-Bartók, with the percussionists Saul Goodman and Henry Deneke, at the International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) anniversary concert of 16 January 1938 in Basel, Switzerland. It received enthusiastic reviews and has since become one of his most performed works.
The score requires four performers, two pianists and two percussionists, who play seven instruments between them: timpani, bass drum (gran cassa), cymbals, triangle, snare drum (both on- and off- snares), tam-tam (gong) and xylophone. In the published score the composer provides highly detailed instructions for the percussionists, stipulating, for example, which part of a suspended cymbal is to be struck with what type of stick. He also provides precise instructions for the platform layout of the four players and their instruments.
The work consists of three movements:
Assai lento - Allegro troppo
The first movement is in a modified version of traditional sonata form. There are clearly delineated sections – introduction, exposition, development, recapitulation and coda – but Bartók eschews the customary relationships between keys, beginning the movement in F sharp and ending in C major, with excursions into several unexpected keys in between. The rhythm of the movement is varied within an overall 9/8 time. The movement is also untypical of classical sonata form in that it constitutes half the playing time of the whole work.
This segment of Bartók's Sonata for two pianos and percussion features pedal glissandos during a timpani roll.
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Lento, ma non troppo
Allegro non troppo
The third movement is a rondo-like dance, starting and finishing in C major. The pianos introduce the movement, followed by the xylophone. At the end of the work the last notes of the pianos die away, there is a concluding duet for snare drum and cymbal, and the sonata ends extremely quietly.
In 1940, at the suggestion of his publisher and agent, Heinsheimer, Bartók orchestrated the sonata. The parts for the four soloists were essentially unchanged. The world premiere was given at the Royal Albert Hall, London, at a Royal Philharmonic Society concert on 14 November 1942, with Ernest Gillegin and Frederick Bradshaw (percussion), Louis Kentner and Ilona Kabos (pianos) and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. The composer and Ditta Pásztory-Bartók were piano soloists in a performance in New York in January 1943, with the New York Philharmonic under Fritz Reiner. This was Bartók's final public appearance as a performer. He died of leukemia in 1945.
- Laki, Peter (1995). Bartók and his world at Google Books, page 11. ISBN 0-691-00633-4.
- "Saul Goodman", Percussive Arts Society, accessed 23 April 2013
- Kárpáti, János; MacNicol, Fred; Steiner, Maria (1994). Bartók's Chamber Music at Google Books, pp. 393-432 (ISBN 094519319X) contains material relevant to this article.
- Cross, Lowell. Notes to Music and Arts CD 648 (1990)
- Peters, Rainer. Notes to Neos CD 20901, "Concerti I: Mozart – Liszt – Bartók" (2010)
- "Concerts", The Times, 14 November 1942, p. 8
- "Music Notes", The New York Times, 21 January 1943 (subscription required)