chapter  4
32 Pages

The Third String Quartet as Grotesque

Thus far I have merely flirted with the commonest understandings of how the grotesque manifests itself musically in an effort to open up a broader context for understanding Bartók’s fascination with its discursive world. I shall now consider its potential musical identity more fully in order to explore its power as an enabling category for analysing music not explicitly identified as ‘grotesque’. This is by no means straightforward. By contrast with the considerable critical literature on manifestations of the grotesque in the visual arts and literature, the musical grotesque has been relatively little discussed. Perception of the musical grotesque does not depend on something as immediate as the instantaneous recognition of, and reaction to, grinningly gruesome bodily violation and/or absurd bodily mutation or hybrid form, as it does for the figurative grotesque. Still, attempts to theorise it have been made, and in order to provide a context for my own exploration of its critical potential in connection with Bartók, it will be useful to sketch these out.