A Puzzle for your Ears: Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra

A Puzzle for your Ears: Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra

Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra is not your typical concerto and it’s unlike any standard symphony, too. It upends traditional orchestral forms by treating each section of instruments across the entire ensemble as the star, with a variety of featured moments and virtuosic opportunities. And if you are someone who likes word searches or I Spy games, you might find this incredible piece of music to be a search-and-find puzzle of its own kind.

Keeping a close ear on which section of the orchestra is playing each of Bartók’s many creative themes at any given time will provide a unique challenge for your brain as you follow along with the action onstage from start to finish. As you hear the Minnesota Orchestra perform this piece at Orchestra Hall on February 13, 14 and 15, listen carefully and see if you can find each of these particular Bartók moments.

Movement 1, Introduzione: Andante non troppo - Allegro vivace

  • In the middle of the first movement, a lyrical melody is shared by a clarinet, an English horn, a flute and bass clarinet.

  • The horn and trumpet sections make a very bold statement as the movement concludes.


Movement 2, Giuoco delle coppie:  Allegretto scherzando

  • The second movement is intended to depict a game, more specifically in this case a “game of pairs.” Bartók’s lighthearted theme is demonstrated by many pairs of instruments. See if you can recognize the theme as it is first played by the bassoons and then passed around to the oboes, the clarinets, the flutes and the trumpets.

  • There is one instance when Bartók breaks his own pattern of using pairs and adds one additional player to the theme. 


Movement 3, Elegia:  Andante non troppo

  • An unlikely pairing, the timpani and piccolo play a very brief and subtle duet.


Movement 4, Intermezzo interrotto:  Allegretto

  • This movement begins with an oboe solo introducing a Hungarian-inspired tune.

  • The viola section, an important voice often hidden in the bigger orchestral texture, speaks up and takes a moment in the spotlight.

  • In another humorous twist, Bartók calls for the orchestra to essentially interrupt itself and “laugh” at the new solo melody played by the clarinet. (This clarinet theme is another musical jest by Bartók, taken from Shostakovich’s Leningrad )


Movement 5, Finale:  Pesante - Presto

  • You won’t miss the virtuosic violin playing in this final movement. However, see if you can spot which violinists on stage are the first ones to race ahead with their bows before the others join them.

  • Just as you think the concerto is nearing its final notes, an unexpected breath of fresh air allows the harp to share a few mysterious notes with the violins.


After that, it’s simply an epic race to the finish. Enjoy the ride!

Come hear the Minnesota Orchestra play Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra on February 13, 14 and 15. Click for more details.

Minnesota Orchestra Staff