Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Béla Bartók – Piano Concerto No. 2

Last week’s Dr. Bob Prescribes post featured Alberto Ginastera’s Piano Concerto No. 1 of 1961. In the course of that post, I observed that the fourth movement finale of Ginastera’s concerto:

“is a pedal-to-the-floor, hell-bent-for-leather, furious, drum-dominated, piano-as-percussion-instrument homage to the third and final movement of Béla Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 2 of 1931 (which is my favorite movement of my favorite 20th century piano concerto; perhaps next week’s Dr. Bob Prescribes?).”

(Don’t you love when someone quotes himself?)

Béla Bartók circa 1930
Béla Bartók circa 1930

I’ve been thinking about and listening to Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 2 all week and getting more worked up over it all the time. I believe it to be one of the greatest and most viscerally exciting pieces of music ever written, period, no qualifications. I been listening to recordings featuring the pianists Rudolf Serkin, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Zoltan Koscis, and Yuja Wang (link above). However, the recording that towers (not too strong a word) over the others is the subject of today’s post on Patreon.

Over the years I have made no bones about my abiding love (not too strong a word, either) for Bartók the man and his music. I have even gone so far as to expose myself to the hoots and jeers of more aesthetically circumspect individuals when I’ve said that if pressed, I would have to admit that Bartók is my favorite twentieth-century composer. (I would observe that this is a purely emotional admission, based on the fact that when I listen to Bartók’s music I’m so swept up by its energy, beauty and power that I submit to it entirely; I don’t “think” about what I’m listening to but rather, like some roller-coaster freakazoid lashed to his seat in virtual free-fall, I give in entirely to the rush. It’s the same visceral, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, all-satisfying musical rush I experience when listening to the music of any of the “Five B’s”: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Bartók, and the Beatles, as well as the “Three M’s” – Monteverdi, Mozart, and Mahler.) 

The key to understanding Bartók’s music is to perceive it as a synthesis, the whole a gazillion times greater than its parts. … continue reading about Bartók, the work, and Dr. Bob’s Prescribed recording, only on Patreon!

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