Bartók Reimagined (2018)

Keenan Reimer-Watts

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10 rearrangements of arrangements of folk melodies by Béla Viktor János Bartók, rearranged for a bajillion instruments.

So, some thoughts about this EP. This project is a tough one to release, because it brings up many questions. First and foremost is the question of ownership over music.

I believe that music can be ‘owned’ by a culture, but it’s certainly not as simple as just saying that. We live in a world where music has become a melting pot of genres/styles, and the lines aren’t clearly drawn anymore. And there is a long history of how composers have taken from folk artists and incorporated their melodies into their compositions - subsequently profiting off of them and leaving them unacknowledged.

For context, these are re-arrangements of arrangements of folk melodies that Bartók collected around Europe. The melodies at the core of this EP are hundreds of years old, and are rooted in cultures that passed them down as an oral tradition for generations. I imagine that some of these cultures represented in the 44 duos have since disappeared - so, in some ways, it is good that their traditions have been recorded.

But it begs the question - how can I give homage to these people, who, I would argue, make up the core of this music? Bartók himself has been heavily criticized for taking without acknowledging. To be honest, I am frustrated that it is not clear where exactly these melodies are from - in the score of the 44 Duos, there is not always an indicator of where these melodies are from other than some general word like ’Hungarian’ in the title. Nor is there any information in the forward.

I don’t want to be criticized for this, as it wouldn't sit well with me - and so I am doing what I can to draw attention to the roots of the music, as outlined below.

A little back-story...I started playing fiddle a few years ago. In so doing, I found the 44 duos. During a short trip to Montreal, a violinist named Zafer played them with me, and also showed me an album on Spotify of the 44 Duos that, rightfully, pairs the arrangements with the original field recordings that Bartók gathered (I wish I could do that, but I just don’t have time to track down the various sources that house these recordings in Austria, Slovakia and Hungary…).

Luckily the album exists and you can hear them! That album is called Voices from the Past: Béla Bartók's 44 Duos & Original Field Recordings (Transposed for 2 Violas). The artists playing are Claudine Bigelow and Donald Maurice.There are a few field recordings missing from the album, but here is the artist information that I gathered from Spotify…

No. 1. Parosito (Teasing Song) - Traditional, István Ancsák, Mári Fülöp No. 3. Menuetto - Traditional, Zuza Strelcová No. 4. Szentivaneji (Midsummer Night Song) - Anna Bulová No. 6. Magyar Nota (Hungarian Song) - Traditional, Csíkvacsárcsi Singer No. 16, Burleszk (Burlesque) - Száldobos Singers No. 19. Mese (Fairy Tale) - Traditional, Jozsef Jeremias No. 22. Szunyogtanc (Mosquito Dance) - Nagymegyer Singer

I strongly encourage that you go and listen to these original field recordings if you would like to hear the roots of this music. Spotify, in some ways admirably, has created an artist profile (devoid of any information) for the singers in the field recordings.

In any case, this album has been a fantastic journey for me. It has made me think creatively about arranging, and I hope to arrange more ‘classical’ music in the future. Huge thanks to everyone who gave this an ear and feedback. Thanks to Erik Joran Jon Johnson-Scherger for clearing a bottle of wine and then recording the fiddle track on Magyar Nota, and thanks to Dave Klassen for hauling your marimba up to my studio to help record a fairy tale. Thanks mom.

There are tons of instruments on this album and it would take eons to list them. However, I will say that some of the sounds are sourced from This is an amazing resource that I have supported by donating in the past. Check it out!

Lots of love to all of you and I hope that you like this hilariously bizarre and aesthetically diverse EP. It’s been a good year and I’m looking forward to more!

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