Béla Bartók: 44 Duos for Two Violins

András Keller, János Pilz

CD18,90 out of print

Bartók’s 44 Duos, rich in folk melodies, are augmented by two pieces by Ligeti and Kurtág, in an all-Hungarian programme. Jewelled miniatures of 20th century music, performed by András Keller and János Pilz – violinists of Hungary’s renowned Keller Quartet, and outstanding musicians steeped in the Bartókian tradition. These are beautiful, touching, dazzling performances. Bartók’s "44 Duos for Violin" ­ like his Mikrokosmos for piano ­ are pieces that transcend their original pedagogic intention to stand by themselves as perfectly poised works. (Every violin student should own this album, but it is also music for a much wider public.) All but two of the duos are based on folk music, of many sources. Here, Hanns Eisler’s judgement is relevant: "Had Bartók written nothing but his arrangements of Romanian, Slovakian and Hungarian peasant songs and dances, he would nonetheless number among the great masters in the history of music. He is highly original and highly popular at the same time."

Featured Artists Recorded

October 1999, Propstei St. Gerold

Original Release Date


  • 44 Duos for Two Violins
    (Béla Bartók)
  • 1"Erdélyi" tánc / Transylvanian Song02:14
  • 2Oláh nóta / Rumanian Song00:54
  • 3Rutén kolomejka / Ruthenian Kolomejka01:03
  • 4Rutén nóta / Ruthenian Song01:15
  • 5Gyermekrengetéskor / Lullaby01:20
  • 6Menyasszonybúcsúztató / Wedding Song01:21
  • 7Tót nóta II / Slovak Song II01:14
  • 8Játék / Play00:42
  • 9Párnás tánc / Cushion Dance00:47
  • 10Dal / Song01:36
  • 11Ujévköszöntö IV / New Year's Greeting IV00:43
  • 12Máramarosi tánc / Dance from Máramaros00:40
  • 13Ujévköszöntö I / New Year's Greeting I02:19
  • 14Szénagy üjtéskor / Hay-harvesting Song01:14
  • 15Lakodalmas / Wedding Song01:29
  • 16Számláló nóta / Countin Song00:57
  • 17Aratáskor / Harvest Song01:55
  • 18Mese / Fairy Tale01:17
  • 19Ujévköszöntö II / New Year's Greeting II00:54
  • 20Kalamajkó / Dance00:41
  • 21Menuetto00:57
  • 22"Ugyan édes komámasszony ..." / Teasing Song00:34
  • 23Ujévköszöntö III / New Year's Greeting III00:53
  • 24Párosító / Teasing Song00:54
  • 25Szunyogtánc / Mosquito Dance00:32
  • 26Sánta-tánc / Limping Dance00:33
  • 27Magyar nóta I / Hungarian Song I01:02
  • 28Magyar nóta II / Hungarian Song II00:57
  • 29Katonanóta / Soldiers' Song01:03
  • 30Szentivánéji / Midsummer Night Song00:49
  • 31Burleszk / Burlesque01:00
  • 32Menetelö nóta I / Marching Song I00:50
  • 33Menetelö nóta II / Marching Song II00:53
  • 34Bánkódás / Sorrow02:28
  • 35Szól a duda / Bagpipes02:05
  • 36Tót nóta I / Slovak Song I01:02
  • 37Szól a duda / Bagpipes02:07
  • 38Preludium és kánon / Prelude and Canon02:51
  • 39Forgatós / Rumanian Whirling Dance00:44
  • 40Tréfás nóta / Gay Song00:43
  • 41Pizziccato01:13
  • 42Oláh tánc / Rumanian Dance00:50
  • 43Arab dal / Arabian Song01:20
  • 44Scherzo00:47
  • 45Szerb tánc / Serbian Dance00:54
  • Ballad and Dance
    (György Ligeti)
  • 46Ballad01:28
  • 47Dance01:19
  • 48Ligatura - Message to Frances-Marie op. 31b
    (György Kurtág)
BBC Music Magazine, Pick of the month
Neue Musikzeitung, Tip
Le Monde, CD of the year
Forty-four pieces for two violins, written as a teaching aid, hardly sounds like a recipe for a thrilling CD. But these tiny pieces, most of which come in under two minutes, are pocket masterpieces. The sound is astonishingly warm and the music is beautifully played by the outstanding soloists András Keller and János Pilz. Also included are two excellent, but very different, pieces by the Hungarian composers György Ligeti and György Kurtág, "Ballade and Dance" and "Ligatura".
Ivan Hewett, The Times
Keller and Pilz are so evenly matched in character that they could be one player. Bartók's 44 duos from Central European and Arabian folk melodies spin by in a current of rhythms that range from the soft rocking of a lullaby, "Gyermekrengeteskor", to the pinch and poke of a "teasing song", "Parosito", and the stomp of the Rumanian "whirling dance", "Forgatos". For the attentive listener there's much to be marvelled at. For those who just want evocative "ethnic" atmosphere it works too.
Anna Picard, The Independent
Glücklicherweise verbinden die Ungarn András Keller und János Pilz ihre sensationelle Palette an zart-brüchigen Klangfarben mit rhythmischem Esprit und einem feinen Instinkt für den ursprünglichen, zumeist eher derben Charakter dieser Musik. Die intensive Auseinandersetzung des Keller-Quartetts mit der Moderne, aber auch mit Bach ist unüberhörbar. Eine Referenzeinspielung!
Anselm Cybinski, Fono Forum
Based entirely on folk song (Hungarian, Serbian, Rumanian, Ruthenian, Slovak and Transylvanian) the duos are performed here with unflinching vigour by Keller and Pilz. From the bare-fifth double-stopping opening of the "Transylvanian Song" to the hypnotic harmonics of the final "Serbian Dance", the outstanding vitality with which these wonderful miniatures are performed banishes all thoughts of mere studies to the back of the mind.
Tarik O'Regan, The Observer
Ungarn, das ist Puszta, Paprikahendl, Teufelsgeigenmusik. András Keller und János Pilz vom Keller-Quartett räumen auf mit diesen Klischees. Ob Béla Bartóks 44 Duos für zwei Violinen, Ligetis deftig-melancholische Ballade und Tanz oder Kurtágs "Ligatura": stets grüßt das Folkloristische wie aus einem fremden Fotoalbum. Und so innig, so perfekt synchron die Tongebung der Beiden auch ist, nie verlieren sie die musikantische Lust: Ein richtiger Geiger muss immer auch ein bisschen Fiedler sein.
Christine Lemke, Der Tagesspiegel
Bartók's 44 Duos belong to a select rank of minor masterpieces for two violins that stretches from the duets of Spohr to the recent piece by Kurtág included here - a spectral chorale of exquisite beauty. Bartók wrote his highly inventive Duos - almost all of them arrangements of folksongs from various cultures - for a German violin pedagogue, grading them in order of technical difficulty. ... They were composed in the aftermath of his Fourth String Quartet, and there are echoes of that work's two scherzos in such pieces as the "Mosquito Dance", with its scurrying muted sounds, and in a number played pizzicato throughout. These performances, by two members of the Keller Quartet, are exemplary, hitting exactly the right tone of folk-like melancholy or exuberance (and sometimes both) for each piece. ... In addition to the Kurtág piece, Ligeti's Ballad and Dance, written in the same spirit as the Bartók, is a welcome bonus.
Misha Donat, BBC Music Magazine
Despite the extraordinary range of techniques and effects unleashed by Bartók elsewhere in his string writing - most notably in the Fourth String Quartet - the duos remain steadfastly true to their intentions as elementary teaching material. One might almost accuse Bartók of having gone too far, for even pizzicato is used surprisingly sparingly, with only the penultimate duo being for pizzicato alone. ... However, András Keller and János Pilz, both, incidentally, founder-members of the Keller Quartet, now offer the best of all possible worlds - tonal and technical sophistication, mesmerising interpretative insight and an intuitiveness so beguiling as to sweep the board in this repertoire. More than any other recording, Keller and Pilz swing the rhythms in an authentic folksong manner, so that one is barely aware of the music's didactic origins. Numbers like the Ruthenian Kolomejka, one of the duos most popular with students, sound for the world like a gipsy band at full pelt. Add to this typically unimpeachable ECM engineering, and you have a dream disc that goes straight onto my "best of year" shortlist.
Julian Haylock, The Strad
Die Besetzung mit zwei Violinen lässt trockene Übungen für den Geigenunterricht vermuten: wahrscheinlich lehrreich, sicher aber langweilig. In der Tat schrieb Béla Bartók die 44 Duos mit pädagogischem Hintergedanken, nämlich für eine 1931 entstandene Violinschule. Akademisch sind sie aber keineswegs, vor allem nicht in der hinreißenden Interpretation von András Keller und János Pilz. Es sind Miniaturen von geradezu archaischer Kargheit, Momentaufnahmen von oft nicht mehr als einer halben Minute Dauer. Mit sprödem Klang dialogisieren die Streicher, ohne sich im Wohlklang zu vereinen. Dissonante Schönheit, fragile Schlichtheit der niemals musikantisch mit großem Ton auftrumpfenden Violinen. Eine wie nur skizziert wirkende Musik mit sorgsam buchstabierten Kinderliedern, der hingehauchten Melancholie einfacher Volksweisen und flüchtigen Schatten derber Bauerntänze.
Sebastian Werr, Süddeutsche Zeitung
Béla Bartók wrote his "44 Duos for Two Violins" in 1932 for inclusion in Freiburg music teacher and musicologist Erich Doflein's systematic violin method, the Geigenschulwerk. Doflein advocated a form of progressive musical education which would introduce the violin student to the grammar of new music and older music, as well as to ontemporary playing techniques. With the "44 Duos", the further intention was to increase awareness of the beauties and idiosyncrasies of folk music. "In their first few years of learning, students should be familiarised with pieces that possess the artless simplicity of folk music but also its melodic and rhythmic peculiarities," said Bartók, who based all but two of the Violin Duos on original folk tunes that embrace a wide variety of ethnic origins: Romanian, Ruthenian, Serbian, Ukrainian, and Arabic - as well as Slovak and Hungarian.

As with his "Mikrokosmos" pieces for piano, the "44 Duos" transcend, of course, mere pedagogic intent. This is very finely-crafted music that bears out Hanns Eisler's assessment: "Had Bartók written nothing but his arrangements of Romanian, Slovakian and Hungarian peasant songs and dances, he would nonetheless number among the great masters in the history of music." For Bartók did not merely record and preserve folk music in the Duos; he merged progressive sonic concepts with old rules of part-writing, and married the "spontaneous expression of musical feeling" and unusual scales which he found in folk music with the broader harmonic palette of new music. Thus the apparently simple and often delightful wedding songs, harvest songs, soldier's songs and lullabies collected in the "44 Duos" repay the very closest attention. "Bartók's miniatures, some of which take no more than 30 seconds to play, were long treated as pure studies rather than what they actually are: attenuated tonal resources not withstanding, these are challenging character pieces on a par with Schumann's 'Kinderszenen'. Easy to underestimate, they pose the same problems of interpretation summed up by the bon mot about Mozart's piano sonatas: too simple for children, too difficult for adults" (Wolfgang Sandner in the CD booklet notes).

In the cycle as published, the pieces are graded in terms of their technical demands, complexity increasing as the student progresses. However Bartók requested that for performances a new order be determined. András Keller and producer Manfred Eicher have integrated the pieces here into a particularly satisfying dramaturgical flow. 45 duos, in fact appear in the cycle on this occasion, as Keller and Pilz play both variations of the 36th duo, "Bagpipes". The recording is rounded out with pieces from Bartók's most important 'successors', György Ligeti and György Kurtág. Ligeti and Kurtág have assimilated the influence of Bartók and share his interest in Hungarian folk music. Ligeti, inspired by Bartók's example, also collected Romanian folk songs; his "Ballad and Dance" is based upon one of them. And Kurtág, again taking his cue from Bartók ("Bartók is my mother tongue") viewed his own "Játékok" collection of "children's games" as a contemporary follow-up to the "Mikrokosmos" teaching pieces. András Keller and Janosz Pilz previously recorded two versions of the "Ligatura" (with the Keller Quartet plus the composer on celesta), on the ECM Kurtág album, "Musik für Streichinstrumente".

What is addressed, then, on this album is the creative continuum of Hungarian music - its three most important 20th century composers, its folk tradition, and two of its most outstanding players. As Paul Griffiths noted recently, "Thanks partly to a rich store of folk music that survived in everyday use long enough to be recorded, partly to Bartók's example and partly to an unusual vigour in musical education at all levels, Hungary has been providing the world with composers and performing musicians out of all proportion to the size of its population."

Work with Andràs Keller and Janosz Pilz in the Keller Quartet continues at ECM. Forthcoming releases include: Alexander Knaifel's "In Air Clean and Unseen" for piano and string quartet, with Oleg Malov; Shostakovich's 15th String Quartet; and Schnittke's Piano Quintet, with Alexander Lubimov.