Hugues Seress, An exemple of harmonic modality in Béla Bartók: The Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, harmonizing folk melodies, either borrowed or composed, is probably a means of renewing the tonal language in the borderlines of western culture. Native composers themselves played an active part in collecting this repertory, drawing from the collective memory the necessary elements to construct a national artistic identity.

In this respect, the Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs by Béla Bartók is a perfect testimony of the patterns of thinking and creating at that time. Nevertheless, the predominance of explicit references to folklore music should not conceal the weight of western art music tradition and the early XXth century experiments. Indeed, inspired or not by folk music, Béla Bartók's works remain based on a combination of pitches within a chromatic set. The use of neo-riemannian analytical tools may offer a means of reading the harmonic strategies of such a music, a description of which can be found in this article, thus redefining the extents of two concepts often seen as incompatible — tonality and harmonic modality.