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6

B. Bartók, 5 autograph letters to Frederick Delius, about the influence of folk music on his works, 1910-1911

Margin Scheme

Estimate:

10,000

to
- 15,000 GBP

B. Bartók, 5 autograph letters to Frederick Delius, about the influence of folk music on his works, 1910-1911

B. Bartók, 5 autograph letters to Frederick Delius, about the influence of folk music on his works, 1910-1911

Estimate:

10,000

to
- 15,000 GBP

Lot sold:

20,000

GBP

BARTÓK, BÉLA


Series of five autograph letters signed ("Béla Bartók"), to Frederick Delius, about folk music, its influence on his composition, and their major works of this period, 7 June 1910 to July 1911


in German, describing his initial meeting with Delius at a music festival in Zurich (when Brigg Fair was performed) as a high-point in his career, explaining that up to now he has felt isolated in Budapest, the only other person with whom he can discuss folk music being Zoltán Kodály, discussing his own compositions, including difficult progress on a one-act opera [Duke Bluebeard’s Castle] and an orchestral work [the Two Pictures op.10], Suite no.2 op.4, admitting the weakness of the last two movements, and the 14 Bagatelles op.6, explaining that his style has become less relentlessly dissonant since it came under the influence of folk music; Bartók also praises Delius’s music, especially Eine Messe des Lebens (1911), which he heard in Vienna, in particular his use of the wordless choruses, which he considers an innovation, informs him that Brigg Fair is to be performed in Budapest in the spring (later lamenting its inadequate performance), thanks him for his invitation to meet, explains that his teaching commitments prevent him leaving Budapest between September and June, expressing his frustration at not being in the field collecting folk songs, asks to be put in contact with Percy Grainger (who had supplied Delius with the melody ‘Brigg Fair’), offers to send Delius some Romanian folk music, inviting him to Budapest to discuss its "oriental characteristics", expresses concern about Delius’s visits to a sanatorium, including the same institution where Kodály was confined two-and-a-half years earlier, and, in a final letter from Paris, apologizes for arriving too late to visit him at Grez-sur-Loing


19 pages, 8vo (c.19.5 x 12.5; 17.5 x 11.5; 17.5 x 13.5cm), the first letter on blue paper, 17 Teréz-körút Budapest, and Hôtel des Voyageurs, Paris, 7 June 1910 to mid July 1911, a few rust-stains from paper-clips.


THIS IS AN IMPORTANT SERIES OF LETTERS BY ONE GREAT COMPOSER TO ANOTHER. These would appear to be the only known letters from Bartók to Delius, apart from one picture postcard sent by Kodály which Bartók also signed.


In May 1910, Béla Bartók met Frederick Delius at the second

Tonkünstlerfest in Zurich, where he played his Rhapsody for piano and orchestra and Delius's Brigg Fair was performed. Bartók was then relatively little-known and conscious of being rather isolated in Budapest, whilst Delius was arguably at the height of his powers.  Bartók was immediately captivated by Delius's personality and felt at home with the composer of

Brigg Fair, a work modelled on folk melody. In the first letter he writes that he regarded the days spent in Zurich as one of the most beautiful times of his life, because of the sympathy he felt towards Delius, and folk music continued to be a central part of their subsequent correspondence. 


Bartók expresses some interesting views on his own music, not least the early Suite no.2 of 1905-1907a copy of which he sent to Delius for his comments, discussed in the second letter (probably September 1910). He reflects on how this music, and especially the 14 Bagatelles of 1908, come from a time and place that he does not want to revisit (namely his unrequited love for the violinist Stefi Geyer) and he describes how, since then, he has felt less need to indulge in continuous dissonances in order to express his emotions and that his style has become more harmonious, partly as a result of embracing the influence of folk music


"...Was in dieser Suite mehr als ein beabsichtigter Widerspruch gegen das Alltägliche war, kann jedoch in der späten kleine Klavierstücken als die Folge einer eigentümlicher Stimmung in der ich zu jener Zeit war, und welche wohl kaum je wiederkommen wird. Ich denke die Sprache dieser Klaviermusik weniger gewollt und beabsichtigt als die der Suite. Seit den Klavierstücken bin ich wieder ‘harmonischer’ geworden, so das ich jetzt der widerspruchartigen Häufung von Missklängen nicht mehr bedarf, um die Empfindung einer Stimmung auszudrücken. Das mag vielleicht die Folge davon sein dass ich mich immer mehr dem Einflusse der Volksmusik ergebe..."


Bartók also reports on his current compositions, most notably his one-act masterpiece Duke Bluebeard's Castle (1911). He confesses that, as he had never even written art-songs, he felt uncomfortable confronting the text at the beginning. However, things have improved and he is confident that Delius will love the music he has written for his opera ("...Ich habe jetzt eine schwere Aufgabe begonnen--nämlich einen Einakter. Lieder habe ich noch nie geschrieben--Sie können sich vorstellen, wie sehr mich manchmal--im Anfange--der Text genierte. Jetzt geht es schon besser. Und ich denke die Musik ist so etwas, was Sie gerne haben werden…") [27 March 1911]


Bartók praises two sections of Delius's large-scale masterpiece Eine Messe des Lebens ("A Mass of Life") in particular: 'Mittags' (part 2, scene 4) and the Nietzschean leitmotif "O Mensch! du höherer Mensch, gieb’ Acht!". Apparently, he and Kodály were particularly struck by the use of the wordless chorus; he thinks this is unprecedented and believes that many more effects can be developed from this innovation in the future ("...Diese beiden Teile sind in Ihrer Einfachkeit und Poesie im höchsten Masse ergreifend: Dann hat uns die Chöre ohne Text sehr interessiert. Etwas ähnliches haben wir noch nicht gehört. Ich denke Sie haben als Erster solch’ einen Versuch gemacht. Ich denke, da wäre noch in dieser Art vieles zu machen ganz eigentümliche Effekte..."). He wrote a review of the work 'A Delius première in Vienna', published in the Budapest journal Zeneközlöny in April 1911, discussing Delius's innovation without mentioning Debussy's Sirènes.


Sotheby's is pleased to acknowledge the assistance of Dr László Vikárius in preparing our description of this lot.


LITERATURE:

G. Kruse, Frederick Delius-Béla Bartók. Zeugnisse einer künstlerischen Begegnung (2000), pp.21-50; Bartók Correspondence, nos 5163, 5164, 5165, 6597 & 6598; J. Demény, ed., Bartók levelei [letters], (1976) no.218, 220, 224, 234 & 243; ibid. Béla Bartók Briefe, (1973), 2 vols (vol. 1 contains the German text for the two letters of 7 June 1910 and 27 March 1911). Quotations from these letters also appear in English in: L. Somfai Béla Bartók, Composition, Concepts, and Autograph Sources (1996), p.12; D. Cooper, Béla Bartók (2015), p.104; and by L. Carley, in A Delius Companion, ed., C. Redwood (1980), p.207.


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