Many years ago I had the opportunity to see the great violinist Isaac Stern in recital at what was then called the Civic Auditorium -- now the Keller Auditorium. It was of course an evening of great music making, but I only remember one piece that was played. After the intermission, I returned to my seat as Mr. Stern and his accompanist launched in to Béla Bartók’s second sonata for violin and piano. I had never heard music like this before and was mesmerized -- I think my jaw may actually have dropped! This was the beginning of my love of Bartók and my introduction to the music of the twentieth century.
Bartók was born in 1881 in the village of Nagyszentmiklós in the Hungarian Empire -- today, the town is part of Romania. He spent time in his early career traveling the countryside recording folk tunes of Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria -- music that would inspire much of his later work.
So what continues to fascinate me about this music after 40 years? Certainly its folk-inspired nature. But more than that, I think it’s simply the raw energy in pieces like his first two piano concertos, his fourth string quartet, and Contrasts -- a piece for violin, clarinet and piano, which was commissioned by Benny Goodman.
Bartók toured the United States in 1927-28 and as part of his west coast travels he made an appearance in Portland. Here is an image of the program from that evening. This image and other images of early concerts in Portland can be viewed in Multnomah County Library's The Gallery.