How to Write Irrelevant Criticism, Or Another Look at Bartok's Second Piano Concerto

John GibbonsThis is what you do:

  • Be angry, because a piece is too hard for you.
  • Be annoyed, because a piece reminds you of Stravisnky (and you’ve decided You’re Just Not That Into Stravinsky).
  • Listen to a much better piece immediately before the piece you’re going to criticize.
  • Drink some fine Belgian beers, immediately before making criticisms.
  • Associate the musical “isms” in the piece with political “isms” that followed in the next decade, creating the Second World War.
  • Focus on irrelevant aspects of a piece’s structure.
  • Be preparing equally accomplished, and more charming, Martinu piano concertos for that very week’s classes.

Which brings me to my silly and irrelevant criticism of Bartok’s Second Piano Concerto. Lucy (of the Peanuts comic strip) argues, “If you try to be polite all the time, you’ll never get anything said.” On the other hand… The piece is noisy, and we have enough noise. Better pieces in a similar structural vein are the Fourth and Fifth String Quartets. A better piece in the noisy vein is The Miraculous Mandarin.

And, after all, wouldn’t the Second Piano Concerto make a great ballet?


Béla Bartók: The Miraculous Mandarin
Music for Strings, Percussion & Celesta

Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus / Pierre Boulez Deutsche Grammophon



Bartok: The String Quartets (1950 Recordings)
by The Juilliard Quartet
One of many complete recordings of Bartok quartets. Click the photo to see info on this album and then do a search for “bartok string quartets” and it’s a fair bet your favorite quartet has recorded them.