The Hungarian composer Béla Bartók revised the endings to many of his compositions. Several famous works are published with two alternative conclusions, while in other cases he withdrew an original ending altogether and replaced it with an afterthought. Bartók’s sketches and drafts also show many variants to the conclusions of entire works and individual movements, all suggesting that the composition of satisfactory musical endings did not come naturally to him. This thesis tackles the problem of Bartók’s altered endings via a wide-ranging examination of contexts, the presentation of case studies on selected Bartókian works with famously revised conclusions, and the critical evaluation of musicological models with apparent claims to ongoing salience on issues of completion in music.
Chapter One, taking account of the groundwork of Somfai (1969), establishes the outlines of the Bartókian problem. Those outlines encompass both the legacy of historical developments in the broader conventions of finales and endings in Western art music, and the more composer-specific ideal of the stylistic assimilation of peasant music. Problems with endings prove to have been most frequent in Bartók’s mature years, when his compositional concepts and practices had consolidated in relation to both those influences.
Chapter Two deals with conceptual methodologies. The musicological literature bearing directly on the topic of the ending, consisting principally of studies by Toch (1948) and Kramer (1982, 1986), carries limited implications for the present study of the Bartókian problem.
Chapter Three examines the history of the ending in music, c. 1750-1900. New principles of dynamic momentum and ending-orientation are identified within high-classical style, and corresponding developments are examined: the consolidation of recapitulatory techniques, the appearance of the coda, the flourishing of the cadenza, the demise of binary repeats, and the new importance of the finale in multiple movement genres. After Beethoven, compositional confidence in the task of conclusion was gradually eroded. The difficulties encountered by later nineteenth-century composers in the satisfactory realisation of the ending, notwithstanding their concern for its status as a main event, are analysed.
Chapter Four examines the state of those difficulties in the transition to the twentieth century, via short case studies on works with altered endings by four of Bartók’s major near-contemporaries: Richard Strauss's Macbeth, Elgar's Enigma Variations, Stravinsky's Le sacre du printemps, and Prokofiev's Fifth Piano Sonata.
Chapters Five and Six focus in detail upon the specifically Bartókian problem. Some general diffidence over endings is evident from early in Bartók’s oeuvre, but more specific reasons for his pattern of ending difficulties in later years are found in the rival demands of formal genre, stylistic content, and philosophical meaning, in his favoured "life-assertion" model of finale from 1926 onwards. Detailed case studies on his mature works with altered endings - the Piano Sonata (1926), First and Second Violin Rhapsodies (1928-29), Second Violin Concerto (1937-38), Concerto for Orchestra (1943), and Viola Concerto (1945) - reveal those internal tensions consistently exacerbating any other issues of conclusion.
Chapter Seven examines musicology's theoretical, analogical, and interpretative constructs claiming relevance to general issues of musical ending: sonata-form theory, cyclic form, musical-rhetorical parallels, "organic" musical form, information theory, the golden section, cognitive-hierarchical models of and limits to the perceptibility of musical structure, and wider-ranging aspects of the cognitive psychology of music. Some established paradigms furnish principles of enduring relevance, while others do not. At present, the most promising sub-disciplinary approach to questions of ending appears to be the cognitive psychology of music.
The problem of Bartók’s altered endings remains a multi-faceted one, to which historical, contemporary, and personal factors all contributed. By drawing together conceptual, stylistic, technical and critical considerations, this thesis builds up a composite picture, significantly advancing our understanding of this complex problem.