Lessons for Rufus: Simple duo for 2 violins

July 26, 2006

Dear Prof Bz

As you know, I’m on tour in Europe. I’m working on a whole variety of things and incorporating the things you ask me to consider, I’m just having a hard time doing “assignments” you know, I was a terrible student and I guess I still am. Cut to the chase: let me take the summer off for our assignments and then continue when the temperature drops.



My Dear Rufus,

I understand, the weather is hot here as well. Our air conditioner broke and I live in front of a fan. I concur wholeheartedly. I’m not in the mood for correcting assignments either. Let me drop you a lesson from time to time online. Take what you will, spit out the rest.

Today, I’d like you to consider the musical texture of two violins. This is the first of 44 duos for two violins written by Bela Bartok and published by Boosey & Hawkes. This is from the first volume. I highly recommend you buy and study both volumes. (You can purchase them at jwpepper.com).


I will use this music as an opportunity to address other issues besides writing for strings. Notice that the first system is indented so as to facilitate the ENTIRE name of the instrument. In some scores, abbreviations will appear on subsequent pages. Titles are normally centered; the title of this set, “44 Duos” is centered. In this collection, the editor has decided to put the individual titles flush left preceded with an arabic number.

Notice that the dynamics are BELOW each staff. The first violin is asked to play dolce, or sweetly, but the 2nd is not. This is a difference the instrumentalists will work out themselves.

The first brace in front of the two instruments is INCORRECT. The curly brace like that is for instruments played by two hands like piano, harp, marimba, harpsichord, and so on, but NOT two violins. (Shame on Boosey.) It should have been the straight brackets. You’ll notice that they chose to extend the barlines through both systems. I prefer the barlines ON the staff only.

The tempo is important. Don’t assume anyone knows what allegro means. Bartok didn’t.

The piece changes keys twice. Normally, publishers will put a double bar in front of these key signature changes. I encourage my students to do so. Bartok likely chose not to because they are such short pieces. Double barlines often denote sectional partitioning.

Glance over the first violin part. You’ll notice that every note has a separate bow. You can tell this because there are no slurs. Now look over the 2nd violin part. You see slurs as well as longer note values. This is meaningful because these two elements result in a softer or quieter sound than the 1st violin. So even though both violins are told to play “p” the first is inherently louder by virtue of the material it is playing, which is in this case more quarters and less half notes.

Look at the architectural shape of the piece. Harmonically it is ABA. The registral shape of the piece is ABA, A being the high sections, B the low. The dynamic shape of the piece is ABA, or “p” “mf” “p.” Melodically the piece is monothematic, but the accompaniment in the middle section provides textural contrast, so the effect is also an ABA.

Look over the motivic elements, you’ll see the piece is very tight.

In the second system, notice whenever there are two voices in one violin, the bowing for the upper and lower notes/strings MUST be identical. The two voices in the 2nd violin at the beginning of the 2nd system has the lower D in half notes tied, and againt it is a falling D to an A that is slurred. The slurred period is equal to the sustained period. Two measures later you see 2 quarters slurred against a sustained half note. The bow is drawn over both strings with the same stroke in the same direction. Double stops are easier when one has an open string, which is the case in the 2nd system 2nd violin part — the D is an open string.

In this three part little piece, observe how he slows down and liquidates the music to silence at the end of the 2nd section just before returning to the opening music.

Remember: effective manipulation of contrast is one of the most important elements in art.

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