This month Clef Notes is looking at music that was left unfinished, whether intentionally, or as a result of the composer’s death. Last time we began looking at the story behind Béla Bartók’s Viola Concerto – a work left unfinished when the composer’s life was taken in 1945 by leukemia. Violist William Primrose commissioned the piece, and it wasn’t until 1949 that he finally premiered it. But how did he premiere a work that was left as a sketch at the composer’s death bed?
A man by the name of Tibor Serly completed the two works left unfinished at the time of Bartók’s death. The Third Piano Concerto was just about complete, only needing minor adjustments in the final measures. The Viola Concerto, however, was still in sketch form on manuscript pages. The only indication Bartók left in regards to the instrumentation was that it should be “more transparent than in the Violin Concerto.”
Serly was the perfect person to take on such a task. A good friend of Bartók and a violist, he understood how to compose for the instrument and knew the composer’s style well. In order to complete the work, he had to piece together the manuscript pages and figure out the order and exactly what Bartók intended for this great concerto. Listen to the finished product here and comment with how you think the piece turned out.
Did you know that Tibor Serly played viola with our own Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in the 1920s?