Béla Bartók - Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs, Sz. 71, BB 79 (1914 - 1918)
These fifteen songs are based on authentic folk tunes, but go beyond simple harmonisation in approach. To preserve the peasant songs’ original rustic ambience, Bartók remains faithful to the original song by refraining from adding any introductions or endings to these pieces despite their brevity.
The fifteen songs effectively form a suite with an opening movement that consists of four old sorrowful tunes: a brief scherzo built on a hilarious song which ironically notes that “my wife is so clean that she only washes once a month”; a set of variations on a song called Borbála Angoli, which narrates a sad story of Angoli who becomes pregnant with the squire’s child and dies in jail, her lover committing suicide over her body; and a group of nine songs. Transcriptions of original melodies for folk instruments can be found in some of Bartok’s works. The bagpipe melody of the final song is an example.
There are two recordings of Bartók playing the Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs. An improvisatory approach is prominent in his interpretations. He emphasised the expression of the musical text rather than the accuracy of pitch, rhythm, and dynamics. Bartók was very generous in accepting freedoms of expression according to the performer’s personality and therefore he did not expect great consistency in tempi, dynamics, etc.