Week 3

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Modernism and Folk Culture: Stravinsky and Bartok

In this session we investigate why so many composers and artists of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries were drawn to folk music, and examine the contrasting ways in which Bartok and Stravinsky made use of folk sources to create their own music. We examine music by these two composers in which the original character of the folk music is retained, and pieces in which its character is radically transformed.

Simple folk melodies and polytonality are demonstrated as the basis of the cellular motivic technique which is such a feature of The Rite of Spring and the mature string quartets of Bartok; and students learn to recognise these motifs in order to analyse this music.

We also compare this music with the classical and romantic paradigms which had dominated western art music for so many years.  Did the modernists ‘liberate’ music or did they acquire folk music and make it a part of their ‘art’?  What had nationalism to offer music, art and philosophy?

Preparatory Listening

Rite of Spring performance at the BBC Proms (starts as 11:20): http://bobnational.net/record/218533

Riot at the Rite on Box of Broadcasts:


Examples of Eastern European folk music:

Monti Csárdás (Czardas) Szalai Hungarian Gypsy Band: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJphp3nU1PA

Also Songlines CD.  Contrast this with Vaughan Williams ‘The Vagabond’:



‘Modern’ versions?:

Gogol Bordello:


Too Many Zooz:

And in a more ‘natural’ environment:

Mix this with String Quartets (see their history from Haydn to Beethoven to Bartok) and you have a potent mix:

Bartok recording and score (also off-line):

Preparatory Reading

  • Salzman, E., 2001. Twentieth Century Music 70-74
  • Bartok, B., 1931, ‘The Influence of Peasant Music on Modern Music’ in Kostelanetz, R. and J. Darby (eds.) Classic Essays on Twentieth-Century Music (pp.125-128), (1996) New York: Schirmer
  • Hill, P., 2000. Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring, pp.3-25, 35-39

Questions for you to consider

  • What motivated composers of the early twentieth century to borrow from folk music?
  • How does the modernist treatment of folk sources differ from that of a more traditional composer (e.g. Vaughan Williams).
  • Is it significant that Stravinsky rarely acknowledged his sources when he borrowed from folk music, whereas Bartok usually did?
  • Is it a paradox that in composing The Rite of Spring, Stravinsky had created the most modern of music by invoking the most primitive and archaic?

 Indicative Seminar Activities

  • Examine the original folk material used (but not acknowledged) by Stravinsky in The Rite of Spring and demonstrate how it is the source of an interconnected web of motivic ideas.
  • Analyse several of Bartok’s 44 Duos for two violins, comparing those which support and those which usurp the tonality of the original folk melody; and we start to analyse Movement V of Bartok’s String Quartet No.4.