All About Béla Bartók's Famous Concerto for Orchestra

May 29, 2018

While a classical concerto most commonly features one soloist, Béla Bartók’s concerto for orchestra highlights many sections of the ensemble. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, it became one of Bartók’s most popular works.

On Sunday, June 3rd at 1 pm on WRTI 90.1, Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads The Philadelphia Orchestra in Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, and Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2.

Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra is not the only one of its kind.  But Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin says it has become the best known of the form, which showcases players and sections of the orchestra. 

Bartók’s second movement highlights couples, including bassoons, trumpets, flutes and more. Another movement showcases sections – including violas, and brass.” 

It’s not a typical concerto; nor is it really like a symphony, says Yannick.  “It’s  all about material which is really destined from the start to feature certain virtuosity of the musicians.”  

Born in 1881, Bartók was a pianist, composer and ethnomusicologist.  In 1940, as the Nazis continued to gain power,  he moved to America, where his compositions were not immediately embraced.

“This is one of the very final pieces he completed and he definitely put a lot of himself in it. I can hear just as much the folklore of his native Hungry and also his wish to become a real international composer with an international appeal.”

Bartók got his wish. The Concerto for Orchestra, a commission from the Boston Symphony Orchestra,  premiered on December 1st, 1944, to great acclaim. Its success inspired Bartok to complete three more major works, despite his failing health:  his Sonata for Solo Violin, his Third Piano Concerto and his Viola Concerto. He died in September of the following year.