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About this Piece

18. Hungarian March
19. A Fairy Tale
22. Mosquito Dance
28. Sorrow
27. Limping Dance

Bartók wrote his 44 violin duos as a set of progressive lessons at the request of Erich Doflein, a German violin teacher. Doflein published 32 of them in his method book the next year, and Bartók’s own publisher brought out the complete edition in 1933, arranged, like most didactic works, from least to most difficult. Bartók himself suggested possible combinations of some of the duos for concert performances. Bartók wrote that the purpose of the duos was to enable “students, from their very first years of study, to play works in which the natural simplicity of folk music, and its melodic and rhythmic features, can be found.” His remark was true enough, as far as it went. But it might take some searching and editing to find those melodic and rhythmic features. Bartók was a professional folklorist, who had spent years recording folk music in rural areas (no mean feat with the bulky and primitive equipment available 90 years ago) and transcribing the tunes as faithfully and accurately as possible for publication. All but two of the 44 duos (the Harvest Song, No. 33, and the Ruthenian Kolomejka, No. 35) are based on actual folk tunes. But Bartók the composer was not Bartók the folklorist, and in these duos he reshaped and transformed the original melodies, and gave them accompaniments that further changed their character. There is far more of Bartók than of the countryside in the final product. On the other hand, Bartók behaves like part of the folk process in at least one way: once the tune setting is completed, he does not develop the tunes. They are presented, repeated, and end, with each duo lasting on average about a minute. But there is enormous variety from one of these miniatures to the next; from the wispy tenderness of the Fairy Tale, to the busy energy of the Rumanian Whirling Dance, to the Mosquito Dance’s evocation of the insect’s annoying persistence, and the in-evitable slap at it. —Howard Posner