Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion
Non-subscription concert chamber music
There are no models for the instrumentation of Béla Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, which was commissioned by the Swiss conductor and patron of the arts Paul Sacher. In the score, besides the two pianos, three timpani, xylophone and two side drums (one with snares and one without) are specified, as well as cymbals and suspended cymbals, bass drum, triangle and tam-tam. In addition, Bartók requested the most varied of types of articulation: hitting the cymbal with the timpani mallet, with the heavy end of the drumstick, with a thin wooden stick, with the blade of a pocket knife or a similar tool...
In this way, one of the most atmospheric chamber music works of the 20th century came about, in the centre of which can be found shimmering night music with the rustling of the forest and a concert of birds. (Bartók later adapted his sonata in New York to a concerto for two pianos, percussion and orchestra.) In contrast, the two outer movements are characterised by pulsating rhythms, whose diatonic motives confer a light-hearted character overall to the musical experience.
The premiere of the sonata, at which Bartók and his wife Ditta Pásztory took on the piano parts, took place on 16 January 1938 in Basle. The concert was one of the greatest successes granted to the composer during his lifetime – with both the public and the press. One can eagerly look forward to the host of this concert: one of Hungarian composer and conductor Peter Eötvös’s teachers was Zoltán Kodály, and he in turn worked together closely with Béla Bartók for many years.