Compare the start of the exposition and recapitulation sections of the first movement of Bartok’s second string quartet

As a modernist, Bartok defies the conventions of the common practice period to explore musical ideas with a different grammar. Notably, in this string quartet, Bartok used Schoenberg’s concept of a Grundgestalt – a basic motif for a piece of music. This Grundgestalt is first presented in the first part of the exposition. There are similarities and differences between the first part of the exposition and recapitulation. Similarities include the tritone harmony, traces of Grundgestalt, and the general mood; differences include the modification of the Grundgestalt, a variation in harmonic backdrop, and variation in developmental methods.

The tritone harmony is generally kept similar in both cases. A tritone is named as such due to the interval of three whole tones, or six semiquavers. In bar 2 of the Exposition, the second violin plays an E on the second and third quavers of the first beat. Simultaneously, the cello plays B flat, to be sustained through the bar. B flat and E forms an interval of a tritone. Similarly, in bar 118 of the recapitulation, a tritone is seen. The second violin plays D sharp on the second and third quavers of the first beat, and the viola plays an A on the second and third quavers of the first beat. This creates the harmonic interval of a tritone as well, between A and D sharp. Hence, there is a common interval between the start of the exposition and the recapitulation.

There are traces of the Grundgestalt. The Grundgestalt is very clear in the exposition, presented in the first violin. The first part of the basic motif consists of semiquavers in 4ths; the second part consists of intervals of 2nds and a 4th; while the third and final part consists of a leap of a third. In bar 118, the same motif is seen as well in the first violin. The rhythm and pitches of the first part of the Grundgestalt is completely the same, where E, A and D form the 4ths interval as in the exposition; and it is followed by a drop of a semitone to C sharp, just like the second part of the Grundgestalt presented in the exposition. Hence, it is evident that the first part of the Grundgestalt is similar.

The mood is generally kept the same. A mood is often obtained and marked by performance directions. In the first bar of the exposition, the second violis and the viola are indicated to play softly, in sempre tenuto, which means that they are meant to be played, held back. Similarly, in bar 117 of the recapitulation, the second violin and viola also play with tenuto, quietly. Overall, the tone produced by the harmonic background is similar, hence keeping the mood the same.

However, there are also apparent differences between the sections. One of it includes the modification of the Grundgestalt. While the first part of the basic motif is the same, the third and final part differs between the sections. In the recapitulation in bar 119, instead of a rising minor 3rd, the G drops to a D, playing an interval of a 4th instead. Hence, the third part of the Grundgestalt is not presented in the recapitulation. Furthermore, the rhythm is also slightly different. In bar 118, the G sharp is a quaver, but when it is first presented in the exposition, the G sharp is a semiquaver. The slight augmentation of the note gives slight variety to the music, while retaining the general idea. Hence, the difference in the Grundgestalt presentation is apparent.

The harmonic backdrop also differs. In the first bar of the exposition, the pedal played by the second violin is E flat, harmonically pitched against D in the viola. On the other hand, in bar 117, the second violin plays D sharp, harmonically pitched against A in the viola. As such, it is highly evident that the harmonic backdrop produced by these two instruments largely differ, despite the tritone interval being maintained as mentioned above. Furthermore, the inner harmony acts more like a pedal point in the recapitulation, where the same notes are sustained throughout the beginning passage in the second violin and viola. This is different the exposition, like in bar 2, second violin part, where the pitches G and D sharp breaks the monotony of the pedal point. With less harmonic activity, there is less energy and motivic momentum. Hence, the harmonic backdrop differs.

Finally, the method of development of the Grundgestalt also differs. In the exposition, the Grundgestalt is followed by a contrasting idea from bar 4 to bar 7. After which, bar 7 to 19 play a continuation of the initial materials presented. However, in the exposition, the contrasting material is absent. Instead of the characteristic semiquaver triplet rhythm as seen in bar 4, the Grundgestalt in the recapitulation is followed by a passage of fortspinnung, where a similar material builds on itself to spin out a homogeneous passage. As such, it is evident that the development of ideas from the first part of the exposition and the recapitulation differs.

In conclusion, there are similarities and differences between the exposition and recapitulation. They have been fearfully and wonderfully planned by Bartok to create a holistic musical piece. After all, the organisation of sound to bring coherence within interest is what make composers who they are.

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