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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Thursday, January 9

Bartok's "Contrasts"

Synopsis

In January of 1939, the famous jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman was playing each night at New York’s Paramount Theater. On today’s date that year he also appeared on the stage of Carnegie Hall.

The occasion was the American premiere of a new chamber trio by the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok, commissioned by Goodman at the suggestion of Bartok’s compatriot, violinist Joseph Sizgeti. The work was billed as a two-movement “Rhapsody” for clarinet, violin and piano.

Now, in 1939 Goodman was at the peak of his popularity with the swing-crazed youth of America, and the New York Times music critic felt the need to write: “There is no indication that Bartok wrote the clarinet part for Benny’s clarinet, so jitterbugs reading this review have been simply wasting their time. The work is as Hungarian as goulash, and Mr. Goodman was artist enough to restrain himself from any insinuation of swing. Indeed, considering that he had probably left the stage of the Paramount Theatre some minutes before he appeared on that of Carnegie Hall, the purity of his style and the bright neatness of his technique were particularly admirable.”

The following year, Goodman and Szigeti recorded the trio with Bartok himself at the piano. For that occasion, Bartok added a third movement, and the resulting work was re-titled “Contrasts.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Béla Bartók (1881 –1945) Contrasts Benny Goodman, clarinet; Joseph Szigeti, violin; Bela Bartok, piano CBS/SONY 42227

Additional Information

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