AST Journal / February 2015 /Bartók’s Rhapsodies: A Violinist’s Guide to Building an Authentic Interpretation

Bartók’s Rhapsodies: A Violinist’s Guide to Building an Authentic Interpretation

by Daniel Sender

Imagine for a moment that musicologists have just made a monumental and history-defying discovery. Imagine they have unearthed a great number of recordings, letters, and essays by J.S. Bach, documenting with sound and word exactly how the old master intended his music to be played. What a discovery that would be! Such sources would be invaluable to scholars and would provide performers with a new basis for authentic interpretation. Sadly, we will never hear Bach play his own works. Distanced now by a few hundred years and devoid of an aural legacy, we must continue to rely on contemporaneous treatises and other documents as our stylistic guidelines for Baroque music. From the German Baroque, fast-forward to 20th-Century Hungary and one is confronted with an equally foreign musical style deserving of the same level of attention to research-based authenticity.

In this Issue

Due to Hungary’s linguistic isolation, geographic position, and intermittent periods of political oppression, few of the country’s finer cultural assets, including its folk music tradition, were ever exported westward. As Bartók’s music is steeped in that very same folk tradition, it should come as no surprise that many performers today have difficulty understanding the true nature of his music. Simply put, in order to understand Bartók’s music, one must first understand the folk idiom that inspired it. Only then can an authentic interpretation of Bartók’s music be achieved. This is especially true when dealing with compositions such as the Rhapsodies for Violin, where the folk idiom is presented in some of its purest forms. Beyond the virtuosic technical demands of the Rhapsodies, the assimilated folk style (and the idiosyncratic notation used to communicate it) creates the most complex set of challenges for the performer. The purpose of this article is to bridge the gap between scholars and performers, with the hope that a more authentic and thoughtful interpretation of the Rhapsodies might be possible. To continue reading the article, please download the PDF.

Daniel Sender enjoys a diverse musical career and has appeared in concerts throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and China. Sender currently serves as concertmaster of the Charlottesville Symphony and Ash Lawn Opera, and is a member of the performance faculty of the University of Virginia’s McIntire Department of Music. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Budapest and attended the Franz Liszt Academy of Music as a student of Vilmos Szabadi. He was formerly the first violinist of the Adelphi String Quartet, which held a fellowship residency at the University of Maryland, and was for four years the violinist of the Annapolis Chamber Players. Sender has recorded for the Centaur and Sono Luminus labels. A native of Philadelphia, Sender attended Ithaca College, the University of Maryland and the Liszt Academy.