Bela Bartok: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Sz 106

Over the years, several pieces of music have caught my attention on first hearing. It’s almost as if they resonate with some pre-wired part of my being. Sarasate’s Zigeunerwisen, for example, makes me go all weak-kneed and Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodie Number 14, always seem to make my Hungarian blood boil.

Bartok has that effect on me. Today’s piece, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta used to get a lot of air play on the phone-in request shows. It is considered by musicologists almost more important a work than his Concerto for Orchestra, which is his most popular piece.

The part that always sent chills down my spine, was the one in which Bartok tried to capture the feeling of night. He was fascinated by trying to capture the restless quiet of that time of day and in this piece he has the violinists slide their fingers up and down the string to give an eerie tone and which is now imitated all the time in horror movies. Another movement is a musical palindrome: at midpoint, Bartok reversed the notes and it this device gives the amazing sense of time going backwards or water receding. I can’t think of a more atmospheric piece of music or a more fun one, to boot.


Thinking About A Presidential Election

In the Fall of 1976, I had the opportunity to vote in my first presidential election. My parents had always voted Democrat. They had worshipped John and Robert Kennedy and been devastated by their deaths. The election of Richard Nixon had devastated most people I knew and when he resigned I didn’t know anyone who didn’t rejoice. When Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon, we thought that was a crime, too and rejoiced even more to see Chevy Chase found his career by portraying Ford as a bumbling boob on “Saturday Night Live.” From out of nowhere, Jimmy Carter appeared with a home-spun charm and a message of reform. Of course, I wanted him to win.

I have already written about how my politics leaned to the left. In my junior year we had to read Marx and Engels, and spending most of my free time in the coffee houses of Bloomington brought me in contact with a number of their disciples from all over the world. At most college events, the Socialist Worker’s Party set up a booth and distributed copies of their newspaper. I met a girl once who sat at one of these and took a fancy to her. I was quite happy when she invited me along to a meeting at the house of one of the local firebrands.

When I got there, a number of people sat around playing backgammon and listening to music. The firebrand showed up and talked about a rally he had attended and told us about the next one. The girl batted her long, dark eyebrows at him the whole time and almost had an orgasm when he suggested they put on an album by Jackson Brown. I picked up the lyrics. There was a touching song about one of his roadies who had died of a drug overdose. I left the meeting feeling something was not quite right with that picture, and ended up never joining any other alternative party. Oh I went to some protest marches, but they were one off affairs.

Call me sentimental. Call me nationalistic. Call me an ugly American. But first time I went into the voting machine and pulled the lever to close the curtains behind me, I felt like I was doing something almost sacred. Over the years, I have become somewhat cynical about politicians, but aside from 1980, when I was living in Italy, I have never missed voting in a presidential election. People talk about how similar the republicans and democrats have become–both doing the bidding of the special interests who give them the most money. For example, most Americans want gun control and universal health coverage, but almost every bill aimed at these failed to pass because of intense lobbying by the gun and health insurance lobbies. Yet I still feel deep down that the democrats at least give lip service to the little person and the rights of workers. Forgive me if I am naïve, but that is important to me. Perhaps it’s too late. All indications are that big business has created a world where the focus in on consumerism and instant gratification. Reining in big business would be bad for the economy, we’re told. Yet the percentage of poor people has not significantly declined. Why is that?

Sorry, I hadn’t intended to get on my soapbox. Especially on the day I intended to write about one of my favorite composers-Bela Bartok



About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

2 Responses to Bela Bartok: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Sz 106

  1. I’m afraid to say that I was put off Bartok’s music by a book of hidieous (or so they seemed at the time) violin studies that I had to learn while developing as a musician. They probably did me good, but I have never since been drawn back to his work – I’ll give it another go on the strength of this post. And as for something which makes you go weak at the knees? That’s got to be worth a listen! Finally, I love American politics – totally fascinating to this outside observer, and very important for the whole world of course. So it is interesting to hear your take. As I type this, the radio tells me that 70% of Britons would vote for Obama, as would I.


    • kurtnemes says:

      Thanks. Also listen to Bartok’s Roumanian Dances (there’s a version for piano and another for orchestra). I wish that Britons could vote in the US election! Keep your fingers crossed. Best.


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