Bartók's 44 Duos for two violins were written to introduce techniques and musical approaches to beginning violinists. However these pieces along with other pedagogical works of Bartók also helped serve a larger purpose. In the beginning of the 20th century, western classical music reached a turning point where composers were searching for new means of expression. This led to a variety of different approaches both musically and socially. To find a unique voice, Bartók sought to combine folk music and art music, and by doing so, educate a wider public. Since folk songs were an untapped source of material, were based on simple scales that were easy to sing, and fit in with already developing historical trends of nationalism and pride of country, they were the perfect way to create completely new musical material through already familiar means. The Duos were a good introduction of this style at the time for beginning violinists and amateur musicians.
Today the role of the 44 Duos has changed, but their status as staples of the repertoire for young violinists remains the same. The pieces have a huge untapped pedagogical application and though there are many other ways to introduce Bartók's style and concepts to a wider public, they still serve as one of the best ways to teach various techniques and methods of performing Bartók's music. The Duos focus on many techniques of articulation for young violinists. A study of the performance practice of musicians who were close to Bartók and the performance practice of Hungarian folk musicians themselves will also show us that these articulations were sometimes performed in ways very different than those we are used to. Perhaps most importantly, the Duos serve as an introduction to the parlando-rubato style – a much more subjective way of experiencing rhythm which is more free than modern tastes usually allow. This feeling for rubato has its roots in folk music which was by nature unwritten music, and finds application not only in Bartók's music, but also in other pieces, such as the music of Kurtág.
The 34 Duetti of Luciano Berio were inspired by the 44 Duos of Bartók. Just as Bartók intended to introduce young musicians to his style, so did Berio attempt the same. Berio's focus however, was on finding a more modern set of techniques and colors that the violin could create, and he used these pieces for children to illustrate his own ideas of theater and dramaturgy in music. Because his ideas of theater consist of putting two completely different ideas together to make a third reality, the 1st and 2nd violin parts in his duets often sound as if they are in totally different worlds – with different dynamics, tone colors, and sometimes even tempi. This results in a novel approach to chamber music in which each partner is equal, but also very independent of the other. A beginning student can therefore contribute just as much musical value to a piece (indeed, sometimes much more) than a seasoned professional. Since Berio doesn't specify the level or age that the student needs to be in order to play these pieces, this allows for a lot of freedom in the choice of performers. The same piece can sound totally different if performed by two professionals, two young students, or one young student and one professional.
Additionally, each duet is dedicated to a friend, musician, or person that Berio admired, and can be likened to a musical portrait. Berio said that the pieces were inspired by the “fragile thread of daily occasions” and therefore the pieces are not true portraits, but sometimes illustrations of an event which happened, a shared history between Berio and the dedicatee, or as in the case of Stravinsky, Bartók, or Boulez, an homage to a piece composed by that composer.
Finally, the Duetti serve not only to introduce young musicians to Berio's style, but the full performance of the 34 duets is also a great introduction of 20th century musical concepts to audiences. Since each duet is very short, there is much variety in a performance of the works, and since each duet focuses on one or two 20th century techniques while still staying in a very familiar tonal world, audiences can be challenged while still maintaining a handhold on familiar territory.