The Barbarian (5:06)

Cover of Emerson, Lake & Palmer

From Emerson, Lake & Palmer and 12 other releases

Allegro barbaro, BB 63 (Sz. 49), composed in 1911, is one of Béla Bartók’s most famous and frequently performed solo piano pieces. The composition is typical of Bartók’s style, utilizing folk elements. The work combines Hungarian and Romanian scales; Hungarian peasant music is based on the pentatonic scale, while Romanian music is largely chromatic.

The opening melody of Allegro barbaro is largely pentatonic (the first 22 notes of the melody use a cell that consists only of a whole tone and a minor third, the building block of the pentatonic scale). Indeed, the opening melody uses a Phrygian mode subset.

The composition was arranged for orchestra by Jenő Kenessey in 1946.

Progressive rock group Emerson, Lake & Palmer arranged the piece for the first track, titled “The Barbarian,” on their eponymous 1970 debut.
Although the piece is for piano only, the band made the song for guitar and drums too. The music of the song is aggressive with hard rock influence. Greg Lake used a fuzz box to make the “whines” guitar. The band members didn’t give credit to Bartók, thinking that the label would arrange the matter. Bartók’s family sued ELP for copyright infringement, but eventually, the band gave the credit to Bartók too. The song was never included in a compilation album of the band until the album The Essential Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

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