The VIOLIN CONCERTO begins with a stream of steady string-pluckings. Then, a remarkable soaring violin solo begins -- just a soaring as the opening notes of Hindmith's Violin Concerto. At 1 3/4 minutes, the full orchestra blasts out the same tune, as had initially been played by the violin, and then at 2 minutes the plucking resumes. A quiet eerie-sounding episode occurs (3-4 min). At 4 min, 10 seconds, the orchestra issues a forceful blast, and the orchestra is noisy for an entire minute, and there are a few bars reminiscent of the raspberry episode in Bartok's CONCERTO FOR ORCHESTRA.
At 7 min, 15 sec, comes a very rapid violin solo, as rapid as anything that ever issued from Paganini's bow. At 8 min, 30 sec, comes a brief episode where the brass section issues snarling, biting sounds. At 9 min, 40 sec, comes a sparkling fanfare, reminiscent of the fanfare that begins Bartok's PIANO CONCERTO NO.2. For those who like glissandos, fine glissandos can be found at 11 min, and again at 11 min, 40 sec. A happy little jig, complete with celeste, occurs but it lasts for only ten seconds. A 2-minute violin cadenza is found at 13 min. The first movement ends with a series of woodwind chirps.
The second movement begins very quietly, and the timpani provides thumps and rolls. At 3 min, flutes and celeste and harp make their entrance, sounding like an episode of sonic enchantment from Disney's SLEEPING BEAUTY. At 4 min, 50 sec, the enchanting episode changes to a short caustic episode, where the violin saws back and forth. At 7 min, we find a dancing pixie episode, with solo violin plus flutes. The second movement ends quietly.
The third movement starts with a variation of the original tune. Pizzicato plucks abound. A few seconds of silence occur at 2 min, which is followed by eerie shivering violins and celeste. At 3 min, 30 sec, the orchestra wakes up again, providing thundering drums and snarling, barking brass. From 5-6 min, the orchestra takes a break from its fury and commotion, and plays at a moderate level and moderate tempo. A turning point occurs at 7 min, where the solo violin seems to say, "Okay, I have finally made up my mind about this!" Then, comes the usual candy store-type variety of flutes, drums, and pizzicato plucks. At 11 min, 45 sec, comes another decisive-sounding moment. A big brass fanfare occurs at 12 min, 15 sec.
RHAPSODY NO.1 starts with a pleasant, ascending tune, accompanied by a woodwind instrument playing a little motif in an odd, ethnic scale. The full orchestra then bursts forth, providing a sonic palate more familiar to Westerners than the woodwind's Chinese-sounding ethnic noodling. A constant feature of the violin, in the first movement, is that whenever it plays a measure (or plays a bar) the first half of the measure is of normal volume, but the second half of the measure is quieter and withdrawn (like casting out a fishing line, and then always pulling back). The second movement sounds a good deal like SIMPLE GIFTS, the Shaker melody made famous by Copland in APPALACHIAN SPRING. Now and then, we hear the sharp, metallic boing of a plucked string from the CIMBALUM. After 2 min of the SIMPLE GIFTS-like melody, comes a fiddle episode with hints of bluegrass sounding, for example, like the bluegrass fiddle of recording artist Byron Berline. Towards the end, the cimbalum returns with its boing.
According to comments on RHAPSODY NO.1 from The Kennedy Center: "The scalar tune given above a drone-like accompaniment that serves as the main theme of the first movement of the Rhapsody No. 1 exhibits a certain Gypsy influence in its sharply dotted rhythms and exotic melodic leadings. Thematic contrast is provided by the mournful strain, marked by snapping short-long figurations, that comprises the central section. The scalar tune returns to round out the movement. The second movement is a procession of vibrant dance melodies, requiring considerable feats of virtuosity from the violinist. The Rhapsody ends with the return of the scalar melody that opened the work."
RHAPSODY NO.2 starts with violin, clarinet, and oboe trio. There is plenty of orchestral color. There is no particular tune throughout the first movement. The first movement is a tone poem parade of glorious sounds marching along. At 2 min, in the first movement, comes an eerie part, with celeste and flute. The second movement begins with a motoristic theme, reminiscent of Hindemith's METAMORPHOSIS ON A THEME BY WEBER. The second movement is not at all like an amorphous tone poem. In contrast to the first movement, there are plenty of thematic guideposts for the listener to grab, for maintaining orientation. Towards the end of RHAPSODY NO.2 is a short episode sounding like it was inspired by Stravinsky's PETRUSHKA.
The RHAPSODY NO.2 is like a summary of Bartok's career. In this piece, one finds the unadorned folk music style, as is found in Bartok's earliest compositions. In this same piece, one also finds the "brutal" music style, as found in Bartok's MARACULOUS MANDARIN and PIANO CONCERTO NO.1. Moreover, this same piece also contains a minute or so in the style of Bartok's "night music," as found, e.g., in Bartok's PIANO CONCERTO NO.3. In pop music, this type of melange is called a "medley." In the entire realm of classical music, the term "medley" is essentially unknown. Who ever heard of Beethoven compositing a "medley" that contains the best of the tunes found in Beethovens symphonies and piano sonatas?!?!? But Bartok's RHAPSODY NO.2 is the composition that is closest to being a "medley" in the realm of classical music.