|Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta|
|by Béla Bartók|
The composer in 1927
|Catalogue||Sz. 106, BB 114|
|Date||January 21, 1937|
Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Sz. 106, BB 114 is one of the best-known compositions by the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. Commissioned by Paul Sacher to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the chamber orchestra Basler Kammerorchester, the score is dated September 7, 1936.
As its title indicates, the piece is written for string instruments (violins, violas, cellos, double basses, and harp), percussion instruments (xylophone, snare drum, cymbals, tam-tam, bass drum, and timpani) and celesta. The ensemble also includes a piano, which may be classified as either a percussion or string instrument (the celesta player also plays piano during 4-hand passages). Bartók divides the strings into two groups which he directs should be placed antiphonally on opposite sides of the stage, and he makes use of antiphonal effects particularly in the second and fourth movements.
The piece is in four movements, the first and third slow, the second and fourth quick. All movements are written without key signature:
The first movement is a slow fugue with a constantly changing time signature. The movement is based around the note A, on which the movement begins and ends. It begins on muted strings, and as more voices enter, the texture thickens and the music becomes louder until the climax on E♭, a tritone away from A. Mutes are then removed, and the music becomes gradually quieter over gentle celesta arpeggios. The movement ends with the second phrase of the fugue subject played softly over its inversion. Material from the first movement can be seen as serving as the basis for the later movements, and the fugue subject recurs in different guises at points throughout the piece.
The second movement is quick, with a theme in 2
4 time which is transformed into 3
8 time towards the end. It is marked with a loud syncopated piano and percussion accents in a whirling dance, evolving in an extended pizzicato section, with a piano concerto-like conclusion.
The third movement is slow, an example of what is often called Bartók's "night music". It features timpani glissandi, which was an unusual technique at the time of the work's composition, as well as a prominent part for the xylophone. It is also commonly thought[by whom?] that the rhythm of the xylophone solo that opens the third movement is based on the Fibonacci sequence as this "written-out accelerando/ritardando" uses the rhythm 1:1:2:3:5:8:5:3:2:1:1.
The last movement, which begins with notes on the timpani and strummed pizzicato chords on the strings, has the character of a lively folk dance.
The popularity of the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta is demonstrated by the use of themes from this work in films and popular music. The second movement of this work accompanies "Craig's Dance of Despair and Disillusionment" from the film Being John Malkovich. The Adagio movement was used as the theme music for The Vampira Show (1954-1955). The movement was also featured in the Encyclopaedia Britannica film The Solar System (1977) and the Stanley Kubrick film The Shining (1980). Jerry Goldsmith would write in the style of this piece for the 1962 film Freud: The Secret Passion. It also was the soundtrack for the 1978 Australian film Money Movers. Also the work is sampled by Anthony "Ant" Davis from the underground hip hop group Atmosphere, from Minneapolis, on the song "Aspiring Sociopath" of their album Lucy Ford.
The novel City of Night (1962) by John Rechy makes reference to Music for Strings Percussion and Celesta (p. 145, passim), a work which haunts the main character. The piece is also mentioned in the novel The Collector (1963) by John Fowles, where one of the main characters, Miranda Grey, calls it "The loveliest."
Other recordings include: