The Violin Trio Music in the Early Twentieth Century: Specific Features of Aram Khachaturian’s and Bela Bartok’s Contrast

Introduction

The beginning of a new century is often characterized by people’s search for new artistic forms with the persistent use of old (often folk) motives. The music of the 21st century is similar to that of the 20th century as regards these features. The use of folk music and experimentation with new forms translated into the creation of masterpieces at the beginning of the 20th century (McCalla 1). The popularity of chamber music at that period can be regarded as some of the focuses on using new forms (Henderson and Stacey 116). Aram Khachaturian and Bela Bartok can be regarded as composers whose early works embody the features of the period as they tried unconventional forms (the use of contrasts) and folk music, which resulted in marvelous pieces. Thus, Khachaturian’s Trio for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano in G Minor is an illustration of the mix of crossrhythms and folk melodies (Cramer 765). Bartok’s Contrast for Violin, Clarinet and Piano is another example of the way crossrhythms, contrasts and folk music can be combined (Cooper 215). It is possible to compare and contrast these two pieces, as well as their creators’ backgrounds, to understand how a mix of different rhythms and melodies can transform into a monolithic musical composition.

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The significance of this research rests in its attempt to unveil the way crossrhythms and folk music can become the basis of the composition for clarinet, violin, and piano. These findings can help researchers explain the genius of the mentioned works by Khachaturian and Bartok and assist modern composers in using the method to create new masterpieces. The research question of this study can be formulated as follows: What are major similarities and differences between Khachaturian’s trio for clarinet, violin, and piano in G minor and Bela Bartok’s contrast for violin, clarinet, and piano with a focus on the use of rhythms and folk melodies?

Literature Review

Crossrythms

It is necessary to note that a lot of attention has been paid to the composers in question as well as their works. Khachaturian and Bartok are considered to be some of the most influential composers of the 20th century (Charry 83). Their contribution to the development and popularization of chamber music can hardly be overestimated (Elgersma 23). It is noteworthy that researchers tend to focus on such features as the use of crossrhythms and folk melodies in these composer’s works.

For instance, the use of symmetric and asymmetric rhythms enabled Bartok to put an emphasis on different instruments, parts of the piece as well as the ideas conveyed (Leong, Silver and John 30). The complexity of compositions is created by the use of different rhythms (Jaffe 204). However, researchers stress that the complexity is still rather clear and understandable as each line, and melody (as well as rhythm) tells certain stories that add to the major storyline of the piece (Pino 262). Likewise, Khachaturian employed repeating rhythms and changing melodies and rhythms that created the feeling of complexity and clarity of the piece (Jeffe 177). Another peculiarity revealed by researchers is the use of contrasts in the works of the composers. Thus, Hoffer claims that it was rather common for the musical tradition of the beginning of the twentieth century to contrast melodies (31). Researchers unveil peculiarities of the use of this technique by the composers in question. Thus, Bartok tends to spontaneously change the dominant melody and introduce new lines, which make his works fresh and lively (J.M. Keller 21). Khachaturian used contrasts to underline some lines and ideas as well as put to the fore particular instruments’ lines (Tomoff 88).

Folk melodies

Another important aspect of the composers works that has attracted researchers’ attention is their use of folk melodies. It has been widely acknowledged that many artists of the 20th century gained their inspiration from folk songs (Wright 428). It is possible to state that Bartok’s and Khachaturian’s compositions heavily employ folk themes and melodies. Waters states that Khachaturian was influenced by Russian classical music and inspired by Armenian folk melodies (42). For instance, when analyzing Khachaturian’s Trio for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano in G Minor, Morita notes that the middle of the piece is influenced by folk dances (par. 1).

It is also clear that folk melodies play even a greater role in Bartok’s life and works. Notably, Bartok paid a lot of attention to folk traditions and music as he wrote many works on the matter stating that folk music was often misinterpreted by composers (M.S. Keller 40). The composer saw folk music as a source of inspiration for the creation of new rhythms (Bartok Rumanian Folk Music: Instrumental Melodies 43). Importantly, Bartok used Hungarian folk music and managed to unveil similar roots in the folk music of different nations (Bartok Turkish Folk Music from Asia Minor 40).

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Composers’ background

Clearly, the composers’ biographies have been researched and linked to their works. For instance, Khachaturian’s education (he gained in the Moscow Conservatory) may explain his use of the tradition of Russian classical music (Luhrssen 9). Khachaturian’s life in the Soviet Union and the specific political agenda are also believed to have affected the composer’s works (“Aram Khachaturian: A Complete Catalogue” 9). Bartok’s experiences in his country, as well as his immigration experiences, had a profound impact on his works (Cooper 108).

Existing gaps in the literature

Obviously, the works and lives of the renowned composers are well-researched. At the same time, there is no comparison of their works and the pieces under analysis, in particular. The two influential composers of the 20th century seem to be researched in isolation although there are many traits their works share in common. It is important to fill in this gap to unveil the way crossrhythms and contrasts, as well as folk music, may affect music works.

Methodology

To address the research question of this study, the historical methodology will be employed. This method allows the researcher to obtain important in-depth information on an issue under analysis (Yarbrough 4). The analysis of secondary sources will be implemented. Such sources as books, scholarly articles, dissertations and other relevant sources will be examined. The works of contemporaries of the composers, as well as modern researchers, will be considered. These works will help place the pieces in question in the context of the music of the 20th century. The works by composers (books and articles) will also be included in the research. These documents will provide insights into the composer’s intentions and ideas concerning their work as well as compositions in question. These sources will help interpret the works and their elements. The focus will be on the use of rhythm contrasts and folk melodies in the works in question, but significant attention will be paid to the composers’ backgrounds as they shaped their creativity.

Results

The expected results will justify the close link between the composers’ backgrounds and their use of rhythm contrasts and folk melodies. The difference in origins will account for the different use of rhythms as Armenian and Hungarian folk melodies are quite different though bear some similar traits. The focus on different instruments can also be explained through the analysis of the composers’ origins. The overall trends in the music world of the beginning of the 20th century also had a significant influence on Khachaturian and Bartok. All these aspects will be carefully analyzed, and some modern implications will be drawn. The major finding that is expected will be as follows: the works in question can be regarded as an illustration of the central trends that existed at the beginning of the 20th century.

Discussion and conclusions

The difference in the use of rhythms, focus on different instruments and folk melodies can be explained through the lens of the composers’ origins. The discussion will focus on the similarities that can reveal some universal traits of different traditions in music. Khachaturian and Bartok had quite different backgrounds, which makes the differences quite justified. The similarities between the works of the two composers are specifically intriguing as they prove that there are universalness and something all people share in common. The composers’ use of rhythms and their contrasts as well as folk traditions can become a building block of the research and practice in modern music. Thus, scholars can try to explore trends that often occur at the beginning of a new century, and specific attention should be paid to the return to folk music. Practitioners will be able to explore ways to use rhythm and may utilize this knowledge in their creative activities.

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References

Aram Khachaturian: A Complete Catalogue. n.d. Web.

Bartok, Bela. Rumanian Folk Music: Instrumental Melodies. New York: Springer Science & Business Media, 2012. Print.

—. Turkish Folk Music from Asia Minor. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015. Print.

Charry, Michael. George Szell: A Life of Music. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2011. Print.

Cooper, David. Bela Bartok. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015. Print.

Cramer, Alfred. Musicians & Composers of the 20th Century. Ipswich: Salem Press, 2009. Print.

Elgersma, Kristin. “Teaching the Music of Our Time: Contemporary Classical Piano Music for Students of All Ages.” American Music Teacher 61.6 (2012): 23-29. Print.

Henderson, Lol, and Lee Stacey. Encyclopedia of Music in the 20th Century. New York: Routledge, 2014. Print.

Jaffe, Daniel. Historical Dictionary of Russian Music. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2012. Print.

Keller, James M. Chamber Music: A Listener’s Guide. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. Print.

Keller, Marcello Sorce. “Reflections of Continental and Mediterranean Traditions in Italian Folk Music.” Music and Cultures in Contact: Convergences and Collisions. Ed. Margaret J. Kartomi and Stephen Blum. New York: Routledge, 2014. 40-48. Print.

Leong, Daphne, Daniel Silver, and Jennifer John. Rhythm in the First Movement of Bartók’s Contrasts: Performance and Analysis. Tennessee: Newfound Press, 2008. Print.

Luhrssen, David. Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2013. Print.

McCalla, James. Twentieth-Century Chamber Music. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print.

Morita, Patsy. Aram Khachaturian. n.d. Web.

Pino, David. The Clarinet and Clarinet Playing. Mineola: Courier Corporation, 2014. Print.

Tomoff, Kiril. Creative Union: The Professional Organization of Soviet Composers, 1939-1953. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006. Print.

Waters, Keith. The Studio Recordings of the Miles Davis Quintet. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.

Wright, Craig. Listening to Music. Boston: Thomson Learning, 2000. Print.

Yarbrough, Cornelia. “Multiple Methods of Research: Possibilities for the Study of Music Teaching and Learning”. Research Studies in Music Education 21.1 (2003): 3-15. Print.

The Violin Trio Music in the Early Twentieth Century: Specific Features of Aram Khachaturian’s and Bela Bartok’s Contrast
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