Bartók’s mastery reached across many genres, but he never used the folk songs he recorded directly
‘Instead of listening to recordings of a piece you’re learning, try listening to recordings of other works and genres of that composer.’ Mark Steinberg, the first violinist in my quartet, often tells this to students and it really resonates with me. Not only does it allow you to keep your interpretation free of influence (direct or subconscious), but it also creates a body of knowledge from which you can make more informed decisions.
For instance, trying to tackle Bartók’s string quartets for the first time can be daunting both technically and interpretively. Instead of listening to three or four versions of the same quartet, it may be more useful to listen to his Contrasts for piano, violin and clarinet, Bluebeard’s Castle, his Concerto for Orchestra or even some of the field recordings he captured on Edison’s wax cylinders. Bartók’s mastery reached across many genres and while he was a noted ethnomusicologist, he never used the folk songs he recorded directly. Rather, his work in the field influenced and shaped his own distinctive voice. Why not go to the sources of his inspiration and experience the other works that were written concurrently? It’s a great way to broaden our knowledge of music, and keeps one inspired!