Narrative and Myth in Bartók's Sixth String Quartet: A Study in the Poetics of Space and the Grotesque



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Bartók’s Sixth String Quartet is known for its return to more conservative tonal, formal, and generic idioms. Setting it apart, however, is the pervasive role of the ritornello that precedes each movement and increases in size with each statement. Likewise, commonly acknowledged is the presence of the grotesque in the Quartet, though little attention has been given to its placement and salience in relation to the Quartet’s existing formal properties, such as the ritornello and the conventional sonata and ternary forms. In this study, I employ the aesthetics of the grotesque as an interpretive window through which to view the interaction of the ritornello with the Quartet as a whole. I argue that the grotesque in Bartók’s Sixth Quartet performs a mediating role between the opposition of exterior and interior musical spaces. The prevailing narrative event involves the transgression of exterior upon interior and the dissolution of formal boundaries.



Béla Bartók, String quartets, Grotesque, Narrative, Semiotics, Myth