Marius’s Bartok

Posted on June 13th, 2010 by

Visiting Bartok’s last home on 57th Street, New York City. July 20th 2010


Austro-Hungary at the time that Bartok was collecting material, a few years before World War One.


Marius Skaerved. Filming 16 06 2010

This summer, my son Marius will keep an on-line journal of our daily exploration of all the Bartok 44 Duos. This will begin next week. So watch this space.          

If you want to comment on anything on this page, E mail Marius on: 

Bartok (at the piano) rehearsing his ‘Contrasts’ with Szigeti and Benny Goodman in New York.

 Listen!-Marius Skaerved and PSS play David Matthews-‘Chaconne’ (live at St Barts)          

And: Marius and PSS play David Matthews ‘Monte Maggio’ and ‘Paganini in Savignone’ Live (live at St Barts)          

1. Necklied/Matchmaking Song/Parosito (17th June 2010)          

Marius:  Today  my dad and I started the 44 duos.  The first song we played was probably one of  the folk songs Bartok collected and recorded. Many folk melodies  have been  saved because of him.  This small piece is a joyful tune that lifts your heart. The duo starts  piano and becomes mezzo forte half way through then quietens till the merry tune seems to fade away…          

2. Reigen/Maypole/Kalamajko (18th June 2010)          

Marius:  This piece is a very lively tune although it looks and sounds easy when you look hard at the rests, bow changes and dynamics. It seems to become harder and harder each time you play it, till you the tune seems to jump out of the page.  The tune is supposed to be played outside near a maypole as the title shows. So playing it indoors is a quite a challenge.  It seems to lead you with joy – when played a smile will stretch across your face.          

3. Menuetto (19th June 2010)          

Marius: Menuetto really touches me, it shows the begining of a modern culture merging with folk music.  The second violin, the part my dad played today starts very suddenly and rams you into the rythm, after four bars part one also appears.  The interesting thing about these two parts is that Part two is a more like a folk dance whilst Part One turns into a very city dance of the time.  What is amazing about this is that they go very well together to your suprise it’s like mixing ballet with break dance and having it work.  This is why this piece inspires me.          

Bartok and his son chasing butterflies

 4. Sommer-Sonnwendlied/Summer Solstice Song/ Szentivaneji  (20th June 2010)                                                                                                             Marius:This tune would have been used in the Hungarian summer solstices, it is a very light hearted and happy feeling in the song.  But there is also a sound of suffering in it-probably because many hundreds of years before there would have been human and animal sacrifices at solstices.  It sounds like violin one is being sacrificed whilst violin two seems to be trying to kill the other part, but joyfully. The music becomes very vicious as you play through it – joyful but awful at the same time.  The last four bars sound like the last few long breaths of victim till the music disappears…            


5. Slowakisches Lied (1)/Slovakian Song (1)/Tot Nota (1)         

Marius:This very smooth and graceful piece sounds  like a solemn and mischievous adder. With each slur,  the animal slithers  from side to side, with each quaver its tongue smacks it’s fangs.  ‘Closer and closer’- is the thought that flows through the mind of the ever – searching adder, ‘Quiet, quiet … Mouse…. ‘ But this adder will never find its victim, for it is the ever-searching adder. In the last few bars it slithers away, disappointed.         

Nadsip (reedpipe) player. Great Hungarian Plain.

 6. Ungarisches  Lied (1)/Hungarian Song(1)/ Magyar Nota (1)24/6/10  This is a song with mixed feelings; you don’t know if it is happy, sad, and angry of maybe even sneaky.   The character of this piece seems rather upset with the world around him or her.  It reminds me a children’s book that I read when I was little. This told the story of an ordinary house cat that would go out in the night and steal everything that it could.  The thieving housecat found himself drawn to the wonders of the night outside his home; he would crawls along the garden fences then would sneak into other peoples; homes through their windows. He stole a teddy bear, a pillow, and a ball of wool, glue, an alarm clock, a banana peel and a pair of socks.  He took it all to his secret lair, which was a small shed hidden in an old lady’s back yard. But he slipped over the sock and into the glue, onto the ball of wool, and because he was so sticky everything stuck to him. As the wool had ended up wound around him, he couldn’t move. While he struggled to get free he hit the alarm clock which all the villagers heard and four old ladies stood outside the shed door. When they caught him, they took him home; he was so fearful of their curses and threats that he never dared to leave home again.           


7. Wallachisches Lied/Walachian Song/Olah Nota June 26th 2010        

Marius:  This song sounds very much like the tortures and killings that          Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia known as ‘the impaler’ or ‘Dracula’-performed. The most famous of these was throwing people onto wooden stakes.   The piece sounds like this because it sounds like it is actually enjoying the pain and terror of the sounds it is producing. I must say from the history and the song he sounds like an awful person.        

Vlad III of Wallachia


8.Slowakisches Lied (2)/Slovakian Song(2)/Tot Nota 27th June 2010        

Marius:This piece sounds like a very grim funeral full of death and tears- it really does not cheer you up but makes you more miserable.    It is quite a shock how Bartok has laid out these very happy pieces and suddenly stuck in an extremely sad piece in, I find that quite funny.  I wish I could play the piece again with more understanding.        



Kreutzer Quartet Workshop York University, and Bartok  in Glasgow 28th June 2010        

On Monday,  I went to Yorkshire with my dad and the Kreutzer Quartet. They were giving a ‘composers workshop’ very much like the one I had been to with them a few years ago at Wolverhampton.  But this one smaller and nicer-there was a lot less yelling!  Eight student composers from York University had brought pieces; some of them were finished, some were sketches, and not complete works or fully notated. The pieces a were very beutiful but to my suprise some of them seemed rather miserable, and angry.  It makes me wonder whether they are actually thinking about the quartet as a whole, or a split-up group, broken in pieces. It seemed as if sometimes forgot to think of a quartet as a group. After two hours of morning workshop, the Quartet had an amazing concert. They began with a student piece, by a composer called Scheurreger. I think that the other students could make their pieces as effective, and drawing in the audience, by spending more time working at their scores.  Neil’s fingers had felt like he had scraped them against cheese wire, recording David Matthews the day before and was hoping for the rest of the workshop not to be pizzicato-but it was. The quartet all cried ‘ow-this is really painful’. Then we got on the train to go to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music in Glasgow. There I made a short film with my oldest friend, Sarema, and Aaron Shorr found us some music by Bela Bartok to go with the film. This was from his Sonata for 2 Pianos and Percussion. This work had the same ideas as our film-death, horror, violence, and a mysterious light.       


‘Blood on a Staircase’      

I spent Tuesday with my old friend Sarema in Glasgow. We  made a short film and put music by Bartok to it. Here it is:  ‘Blood on a Staircase’      


9. Spiel-Lied/Play Song/Jatek 1st July 2010      

This is a very playful piece, which I think is my favourite out of all of the pieces I have done with my dad during this project.  The two parts go extremely well together and even though the first part is playing the same thing over and over again it is really enjoyable to listen to. Out f the pieces I have played this is the one I want to play again. If the up beats had not been accented, I would have played them up-bow. As they are accented, down-bows seemed better.     


10.Ruthenisches Lied / Ruthenian Song / Ruten Nota July 2nd 2010     

This amazing  piece  made me think about Paganini’s posture, and how he held the bow – as you can see in the image below.  Suprisingly, my dad said that I should’nt stand like him, but it felt more comfortable to stand like that in this  particular piece.  Once I tried it, my part felt easier, and more exciting to play.   Every piece seems to be better than the last.  I am happy that I am doing this blog, becuause  it gives me a chance to broaden my view of music, Bartok and the world around me.  Turning back to Paganini and his posture;  it works for some pieces, but not for others.  It’s like having a favourite ice cream or colour – you’re not only going to  think about that all day -you would try something else.  That’s what happened today. There is no such thing as one colour or idea . Everytime you look at it, it will be new.    

Landseer portraying Paganini's posture and his soul - Drawn in 1832


 11. Wiegenlied/Cradle Song/Gyermekrengeteskor 3rd July 2010    

I think that this tune is like a lullaby, a lullaby about a parent first seeing their child – Not feeling whether that moment is real or not- But as happy as could ever be. I think that this song is about the bond you feel towards a child.  As the title presents it,  Cradle Song.    That is why I enjoy this piece.     


12. Heu-Erntelied /  Hay Gathering Song / Svenagyujteskor    

This tune is about Hay Gathering in Hungary.  The piece has a happy feeling but there is a tinge of “Do I really want to go out in the hot sun just to get some hay???” .  The parts switch around half way through – that’s fun to play.  But I think it’s telling us about how someone can have mixed feelings about something, such as going out and collecting the hay.  It really expresses how people feel before they do something. Here’s anotherexample:  A grumpy man hits you with their luggage and then turns round and swears at you for being in his way.  You wonderwhether you should stay quiet, apologise, swear back or hit them! All these will cross your mind.  That is what I think this piece is about  -‘Mixed Feelings’.    


13. Hochzeitslied/Wedding Song/Lakodalmas July 17th 2010    

This was the hardest piece I have ever played; my hands fell like jello.  The tune is based on the sound of the bagpipes,  so most of the piece is double-stopping,  except  for 10 bars of normal playing-  the rest of the page and half is in complete double-stop, if you do not know what it means, it means playing two strings at a time.  But I actually enjoyed it when I found out how to play it.  It is a very joyful tune definitely – very much a peasant wedding, with an element. I think that the double stopping, and the vicious bowing, because of the rest of the accents, reminds me of the Michael  Alec Rose ‘Everything under the Sun’, which my dad played with Mihailo Trandafilovski, who comes from Macedonia, not far from Hungary. He moves the bow with an amazing anger, and tone, full of the violence this kind of piece brings.    


14. Polster-Tanz/Pillow Dance/Parnas Tanc 8th July 2010    

Playing this tune gave me the impression of a pillow fight althoug the title says ‘Pillow Dance’. It is very much a fight between violin one and violin two. The accents seemed to be when the other violin is being hit with a pillow. When the quavers speed up, faster and faster, is when the opponents imagine their enemy on the floor whilst whacking them with a pillow. We practised in a beautiful room, where the sun shines onto the music without needing any extra light. Outside the window was a extraordinary Oak Tree, with the Mississipi river in the distance.  We’ve finished the First Book!!!    


15. Soldatenlied/Soldiers’ Songa 9th July 2010   

The Soldiers’ Song is very ferocious and sad. It it is probably also fearful. As the young men leave their homes and a grumpy general barks orders. Their families wave from the windows of the town, as they parade along the main street. Tears stream down their faces, as the bells toll. Bells toll for funerals, telling the soldier’s that many of them are going to die. As the crowds go quiet the soldiers begin to sing this song of departure. The piece ends with a final bell, and the soldiers have disappeared over the horizon. Will they come back or not?   


16. Burleske/Burlesque/Burleszk  

This melody reminded me of a part I played at my old school, when we performed “A Midsummers Night’s Dream” I was Puck.  The melody is very much like this character, jumping up and down, and setting fire to things. When you near the end of the piece, the fire seems to grow larger and spread faster. In the beginning you have to produce a playful character. You use accents in the  middle of the bow stroke. This was new for me, and althought my Dad taught it to me,  the character I made using his technique was my own, because everyone has a different inside them. I think that this piece is one character with many sides to him, such as ferocity, playfulness and sleepiness.  

As you can see, my Dad and I did a lot of work on this melody. It was probably one of the hardest pieces we have done together.

 16. Ungarischer March(1)/ Hungarian March/Menetelo Nota (1) 

The battle is over!  And the triumphant soldiers return,  overjoyed at being back home to their families.  Trumpets sound throughout the village,  drums are beaten, crowds howl, as the soilders proudly walk on.  But some show no sign of joy, looking like they don’t know where they are or what they are doing.  Some even seem scared.  As the crowd disperses the soilders carefully walk home, step to their doors and take a deep breath. 


Playing Bartok in New York. I am amazed that he was here 70 years ago

18.Ungarischer Marsch (2)/Hungarian March (2)/ Menetelo Nota   July 11th 2010 

The soldiers march steadily on toward the cemetery, coffins balanced on their shoulders.  Breathing deeply in and out, nothing but sadness lingers in their minds.  The bells toll slowly, making everything grey.  Then the guns fire. 


19. Märchen/A Fairy Tale/ Mese 13th July 2010 

Only when the fire is lit, only when the stars are bright, and the moon is full, does our grandfather stir. We surround him and listen. This is the moment that he wakes. At first, he mumbles, then slowly begins to tell his tale. There is no expression on his faces, only calm words filling our imaginations with his ancient worlds. The fairy tale draws us in.   


20. Wechsel Gesang/Alternating Song/Dal -14th July 2010 

We are finally on the 20th melody out of the forty four Duos-almost half way there.  Today’s tune is sad and fast. Bartók has somehow managed to make it seem easy to play and slow but once you look at the page you deeply regret thinking that.It is beautiful and really catches you.  There is a tiny bit of double stopping at the end, but the key signatures and the accidentals keep changing, it gets rather confusing to change C sharp to C natural again and again.  But apart from my petty complaints I really enjoyed playing it. 


21. Neujahrslied (1)/New Years Greeting (1)/Ujevkoszonto  15 July 2010 

 To me this sounds like a lullaby, gently swaying back and forth.   It is rather like “Rockaby Baby” or the Brahms “Lullaby”, but it is far more complex, and a lot more fun to play and hear.  The parts go very well together, part one doing the same combination of notes, varied over and over again, with double stops and trills-whilst my dad’s part two plays a very complicated changing of accidentals.  Surprisingly the melody sounds really good with the other part.  That must be the magical thing about Bela Bartok. 


22. Mückentanz/Mosquito Dance/ Szunyogtanc 16th July 2010  

The melody sounds and feels like a mosquito, almost unbearably fast to play and hear.  When I messed up the rhythm, an image flew into my head of my mosquito being obliterated in a thousand pieces in an electric fly trap.  Every twenty seconds we try to go to fortissimo with our mutes on, which sounds a lot like a gagged man moaning for help.  Together my mosquito and my dad’s mosquito make a huge amount of buzzing and the speed of making it sounds a lot like a race to see who can fly to the very fat juicy man first, and suck wildly!  I am half way through the 44 Duos. 


23. Abschied von der Braut/Farewell to the Bride/Menyasszonbugsuztato 17th July 

 …The knocks quicken, as the parents refuse to open the door… and begin to weep; the knocks begin to get faster and faster.  The chords I play sound a lot like crying,  and my dad’s part gets quicker, and slower again and again, which sounds like more knocking. In the end I make a sound like a creak and the door slowly opens.  Silence overtakes us. 


24. Scherzo/Jeering Song/Trefas Nota 18th JulyIn the corner of the school’s playground, the jeering children work their magic-making every single child walk away from them head in hands, as the jeering children laugh and giggle.  They lie, sneer and break people’s hearts.  That is why every little child should avoid these jeery kids. 


25. Ungarisches Lied/Hunagarian Song/Magyar Nota 19th July 2010 

The stream gently began to slither between the harsh stones and smooth rocks.  The lip of each eddy reached a proud height over stones and slid down, making a soft ripple and dispersing.  Trees loomed over and huge boulders smothered the water; its pace started to quicken and the once minute waves hurried between each other from left to right, up and down.  Sticks and leaves on the water were hurriedly thrown away.  It began to go faster and faster until only froth was visible.  Suddenly everything disappeared – the looming trees parted, the huge stones and boulders were no where to be seen.  And the stream was now a river not to be controlled or manipulated, but respected and feared, for any day the water was scarce or completely wild we could do nothing…   


26.Spottlied/Teasing Song/Ugyan Edes Komamasszony 19th July 2010. Like the ‘Jeering tune’ this is rather similar. This one is probably more like jumping out from behind trees and boulders, scaring each other.  It is not as brutal as telling lies about each other.  The tune is more playful, and speedy, like playing tag.  It is definitely a lot more fun to play. 


27.Hinke-Tanz/Limping Dance/Santa-Tanc 20th July 2010 




Falling down and down 




The limping man slows down. 




The broken man lies down. 




The shell-shocked man crawls down. 

Clothes in tatters, 

Hands hang loose, 

Rusty medals dangle. 

The crippled soul lies down. 


28. Gram/Sorrow/Bankokas 20th July 2010 

This seemed very hard to play at first, because music like this needs you to be fully awake before you play. There is a lot of double stopping, and where you play can fool you. There are also many accidentals, and if you get these wrong, the piece is ruined.  When they are right, going from the flats to sharps sounds like wailing mourners at a funeral. Perhaps this is the funeral of a child, and the parents are full of sorrow, not wanting to admit their child is dead. 

Later the same day, outside the door of Bartok's apartment on 57th Street


29. Neujahrslied (2)/New Years Greetings (2)/ Ujevkoszonto(2) 21th July 2010As hoof-beats thunder down on the road, the wheels on the carriage ploughs through the thick mud.   The driver curses and shouts as the heavy rain falls hard on his face, whilst the family inside enjoys pleasant heat, enjoying the annoyance of the man above them.  The horses pant and wheeze as steam protrudes from their nostrils.  Angry farmers jump back in surprise as the carriage speeds through their farms.  The children inside look like they are having the time of their lives, the adults seem to be in a deep shock.  For there is only one thing you should know at New Years Eve- never get in the carriage of an agitated driver. (Two-thirds of the way through!) 


30. Neujahrslied/New Year’s Greeting (3)/ Ujevkoszonto 27th July 2010 

An amazing and extremely fast piece, that seemed to gnaw at my bones.   It was very rhythmic and difficulty notated.  For some reason, I didn’t really enjoy it that much, probably because I was jetlagged playing it.  It felt like I was playing half asleep.   I felt like I was somewhere else.   It made me sad. 


31: Neujahrslied/New Year’s Greeting (4)/ Ujevkoszonto 28th July 2010 

This was a very happy and amazing melody, which seemed to lift my soul.  The rhythm speeds up and down at unpredictable moments.  The main rhythm is very exciting and dramatic.  You have to count a lot, because the bar lengths keep changing, from 3/8 to 5/8 and the double stops are very dramatic. In my opinion, if you look at the three New Year’s Greetings, they seem like three separate families going to parties at their mother’s and father’s. The first family is dim-witted but cheerful. The second family leave so late that they their carriage driver to cut across three separate fields in the freezing rain. The third, happier family appears very intelligent, and what goes on in their minds is much more complex. The Fourth family, the people hosting the party, end up never seeing their guests, as they all get stuck in their own separate ways. 


32. Tanzlied/Dance from Marmaros/Marmarosi Tanc 

Black streaks through the skies as irritated crows burst into balls of feathers.  Claws out, beaks extended, they seem to tear themselves apart.  Blood splatters to and fro, as the dead fall from the sky.  Birds fly into the mass of birds, and do not come out.  The murderous ball expands with every blow. Soon many are dead but suspended on top of the living.  Winds blow and crows with them.  Angered clouds strike the mass but nothing happens.  Heaps of darkness cover the skies, blood cascades.    Masses form together, and fall together.  But it never stops. 


33. Erntlied/Harvest Song/Arataskor 

Howling through the darkness, 

 The hungry wolves, 

They do! 

Nothing ever passes, 


The hungry wolves 

They do! 


They never stop, 

They’re always on the clock, 

The hungry wolves 

They do! 

Nothing ever happens, 


The hungry wolves 

They do… 

I based this poem on the bi-tonal asppects of ths piece, and the clock in the poem on the changing time signitures.   And the never stopping on the feeling of the melody.  This melody really caught me.  Bitonal means two keys at once. 


34: Zählied/Enumerating Song/ Szamlalo Nota 7th August 2010 

This is a very exciting and joyous piece, that speeds headlong, taking you to places that you did not expect. It is simple but hard at the same time. The pianos and fortes  switch around dramatically and the accidentals change all the time. The last two bars grow louder until you hear the last note. The second part plays the same notes as the first in this part a bar earlier, but an octave and a half higher, so that leads you up to the finishing note. 


35: Ruthenische Kolomejka/Ruthenian Kolomeika/Ruten Kolomejka 8th August 

A  frog begins its energetic call, fighting off the darkness, fighting off claws.  Its energetic call shakes its fears away.  Never alone, its call proudly begins, different tones and different speeds- this little frog frightens off the huge, killing the bloodthirsty natures of the hungry beasts.  For every little frog is proud, every little frog shakes its fears away.  But this little frog has to stop, for this little frog is alone… 


36: Dudelsack/Bagpipes/Szol a Duda 9th August. This melody has caused me the most trouble in the Bartok Duos. Not because I was playing it wrong, but because I kept stopping once I made a mistake or missed a fingering.  With this melody, it really doesn’t matter, as long as you keep a decent rhythm at ‘doodle’ your way across a mistake. You will then find that everthing has become easier. Here is a picture of a Hungarian Bagpipe.  I have now finished the third book! 

Marius filming a concert. Photo by Richard Bram


37. Vorspiel und Kanon/Prelude and Canon/Preludium es Kanon -The dreaded noise begins at a slow and steady pace, whilst the terror in the people’s minds remains silent. The noise, seeming louder than it actually is, spreading from to side to side, from one corner of the sky to the other. Not another sound. Heading towards you, the sound, whichis quiet, is now louder in your mind, for there are no other sounds-only the sounds that pass your way. 



38: Rumanischer Dreh-Tanz/Rumanian Whirling Dance/Forgatos-10-8-10 

Prancing through the woods, hopping through the fields, flying over rivers.  The golden deer  is never caught.   Its pelt is so soft and its horns so hard, that every hunter whishes for it to pass their way.  Only few have ever seen it, only few have have ever touched it and only the lucky come out alive.  But none can remember. 

Practising the ‘Whirling Dance’ in Tuscany. 10-8-10



39: Serbian Dance/ Szerb Tanc  11-8-10.Oh, the hungry hive. One by one they come, zooming to and fro.  Biting hard and stinging fast those awful creatures go.  In a swarm their morale is low, only death and pain.   Bring the helpless and dragging the dead.  They never show you mercy; they sting so hard and fly so quick that it is better just stand there.  Only one foe they have. These creatures crawl and build. They spray their acid and force it deep into your very hearts. But some dreadful days these creatures come together-a battle never seen, as they begin to crawl . Oh the flying wasps zoom towards the crawling ants, whilst the ants spray their guts upon them. Every single foe is dripping or dead. Nothing more happens. For their company’s morale is truly dead. 


40: Wallachischer Tanz/Wallachian Dance/Olah Tanc  

 As the desert sands fly across the landscape like clouds on a distant horizon.  The tiny particles seem to carry themselves through the winds. Even though small, nothing seems to be able to stop them as they smash, more seem to gather, engulfing everything in their way. Only a few ever seem to move through this desert-riding on the backs of their animals. The hooves seem to disappear into the sands. Only the riders’ eyes are showing, the rest covered in cloth.  


41: Scherzo 15th August 2010

This little piece of music is a living being in itself. When is watches people stumble, head over heels, it laughs till it cries. It is hideous and hilarious, laughing at you whenever you make a mistake, and begs you to get it wrong again. Although the piece itself is very well crafted, there is something behind it, a pair of menacing eyes behind a door. They are just waiting for you to turn your back, so that they can leap out and bite.


42; Arabischer Gesang/Arabian Song/Arab Dal 28th August

Sometimes things just seem to pass away, the man in the corner has gone.  Those people don’t mean much to you but once they’re gone, they seemto have created a big hole in your heart.  Little things keep you company like that black and white cat who always crosses the road  when I am coming home.  And when the so called little thing go,  you relize how important they are.  That’s what I think this melody is about the so called little things.  That seem to not be important or valuble until you lose them.



43: Pizzicato 28th August 

As flying fish, 

Through  clouds, 

Come swimming birds 

 Through waves, 


Trotting lions? 

Hungry grass? 

They never come

 To you…


44. Siebenburgisch (Ardeleana)/Transylvanian Dance/Erdelyi Tanz 29th August

I don’t really know what to write about this one, it seems to have affected me in many different ways.  It was not as hard as I expected it or pysically as painful, which some of the others have been. Whilst playing it, it made me wonder if this really the last of the Bartok duos.  It has become routine like getting up in the morning and cleaning your teeth, one of those simple things which you just happen to do.  I wasn’t really expecting what I am feeling right now this piece.  It seems to have really moved me.  And I know will miss this piece and this project forever.  It has been tiring, physically painful, and lot of fun!  I wish I could go back to the very begining of this project and play over again just to see if it would affect me differently then it has now.  I now say goodbye to the Bartok project.

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