(musTh 212) Rhythm and Meter: Bartok, Additive Meter and Syncopation

Friday we covered two Bartok Mikrokosmos pieces: No. 115, Bulgarian Rhythm; and No. 133, Syncopation.

Additive Rhythm and Additive Meter (“Bulgarian Rhythm”)

Bulgarian Rhythm is an example of additive meter. The 5/8 meter is expresses as both (3+2)/8 and (2+3)/8. Additive rhythm is related to some folk rhythmic practices (African drumming, for example), where there is a basic pulse that is never subdivided, so all rhythms are some multiple of the basic pulse. Additive meter takes this idea and organizes it into a meter with strong and weak beats.

Additive meters will always have unequal beat lengths. As an example, consider the difference between 4/4 and 8/8. Both meters have the same number of eighth notes, but 8/8 specifically implies that the eighth notes will be grouped into beats of 3+3+2 eighth notes (or some order of 3, 3, and 2), instead of 2+2+2+2.

Bulgarian Rhythm uses meter as one an organizing aspect of form. The piece is basically an ABA, with a short coda. The A and A’ section (mm. 1 – 8; x – x) uses a 3+2 additive groupings, while the B section switches to 2+3 groupings. The final two phrases comprise a coda or closing section, where a measure with 5 eighth notes in 3+2 grouping is followed by a measure with quarter note followed by dotted quarter note (2+3 grouping). The coda combines the additive grouping patterns from both sections.

We also talked about the tonal organization (pitch centricity), how it was established, and how it corresponded to the sections.

Syncopation (“Syncopation”)

Syncopation as a concept involves accenting weak parts of any meter, which could mean accenting off the beat, or accenting weak beats within a measure. Accents can be either dynamic or agogic (time-based, duration).

The Bartok Syncopation uses rhythmic accents to create additive grouping that differ from the notated meters. The result of these groupings are perceived meters: audible groupings that we hear as metrically organized. The opening 5/4 measure is grouped into perceivable 10/8 meter, (3+3+2+2)/8. What the listener hears is very similar in effect to Bulgarian Rhythm.

The frequently changing time signatures – often a change every measure – are another characteristic of post-tonal music.


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