About this work
Bartók had begun amassing folk tunes in 1906, and the three melodies on which these pieces are based were collected and arranged the following year. All are simple themes written in modal styles, and each has an air of innocence about its expressive character. In addition, as was typical of so many of the composer's folk tune arrangements, the individual durations of the three are brief, the first two lasting just over a minute, and the last not quite three-quarters of a minute.
Bartók reported that he first heard the theme to No. 1 played by man on the tilinko, a flute-like instrument. While he likely mistook the shepherd's flute for a tilinko, he was nevertheless sufficiently inspired to write this simple yet touching arrangement. The sweetly singing tune is played mostly in single notes in the Dorian mode and features many trills as it moves slowly and mesmerically along. The accompaniment is quite sparse and the overall mood is one of pastoral tranquility. Marked Rubato, this charming piece is so disarmingly direct and appealing in its lovely tune, it can hardly be faulted on any level.
The second piece carries the same tempo and much the same mood of innocence and pastoral serenity. Again, the writing is sparse for both melodic and harmonic lines and this time is in the Aeolian mode. The music here seems a bit slower and gentler than that in the previous piece, owing mainly to the hesitations that come at the end of melodic phrases.
The last piece, marked Poco vivo, also features an Aeolian tune. But its vivacious and celebratory manner is in complete contrast to the peacefulness of the two preceding works. The melody has a march-like joviality and is heard just twice. These are among Bartók's earliest folk tune arrangements and their modesty of expression evidences the composer's intentions to present the music in a guise as close to its native sound and character as possible.