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Encyclopedia > Bela Bartok

B la Bart k (March 25, 1881September 26, 1945) was a composer, pianist and collector of East European folk music. Bart k was one of the founders of the field of ethnomusicology, the study of folk music and the music of non-Western cultures.

B la Bart k
B la Bart k


Bart k grew up in the Greater Hungary of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which was partitioned by the Treaty of Trianon after World War I. His birthplace, Nagyszentmikl s (Great St Nicholas), became S nnicolau Mare, Romania. After his father died in 1888, B la's mother, Paula, took her family to live in Vinogradiv (Hungarian: Nagysz s, now in Ukraine), and then to Prešporok (Hungarian: Pozsony, now Bratislava) in her native Slovakia. When Czechoslovakia was created in 1918 B la and his mother found themselves on opposite sides of a border.

He later studied piano under Istv n Thoman and composition under J nos Koessler at the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest. There he met Zolt n Kod ly and together they collected folk music from the region. This was to have a major impact on his style. Previously, Bart k's idea of Hungarian folk music was derived from the gypsy melodies to be found in the works of Franz Liszt, and in 1903 Bart k had written a large orchestral work, Kossuth, which honored Lajos Kossuth, hero of the Hungarian revolution of 1848, incorporated such gypsy melodies.

Upon discovering Magyar peasant folk song, not the gypsie music of Liszt, which Bart k regarded as true Hungarian folk music, he began to incorporate folk songs into his own compositions and write original folk-like tunes, as well as frequently using folksy rhythmic figures.

It was the music of Richard Strauss, which he met at the Budapest premiere of Also sprach Zarathustra in 1902, that had most influence.

This new style emerged over the next few years. Bart k was building a career for himself as a pianist, when in 1907, he landed a job as piano professor at the Royal Academy. This allowed him to stay in Hungary rather than having to tour Europe as a pianist, and also allowed him to collect more folk songs, notably in Transylvania. Meanwhile his music was beginning to be influenced by this activity and by the music of Claude Debussy that Kod ly had brought back from Paris. His large scale orchestral works were still in the manner of Johannes Brahms or Richard Strauss, but he wrote a number of small piano pieces which show his growing interest in folk music. Probably the first piece to show clear signs of this new interest is the String Quartet No. 1 (1908), which has several folk-like elements in it.

In 1909, Bart k married M rta Ziegler. Their son, B la Jr., was born in 1910.

In 1911, Bart k wrote what was to be his only opera, Bluebeard's Castle, dedicated to his wife, M rta. He entered it for a prize awarded by the Hungarian Fine Arts Commission, but they said it was unplayable, and rejected it out of hand. The opera remained unperformed until 1918, when Bart k was pressured by the government to remove the name of the librettist, B la Bal zs, from the program on account of his political views. Bart k refused, and eventually withdrew the work. For the rest of his life, Bart k did not feel greatly attached to the government or institutions of Hungary, although his love affair with its folk music continued.

After his disappointment over the Fine Arts Commission prize, Bart k wrote very little for two or three years, preferring to concentrate on folk music collecting and arranging (in Central Europe, the Balkans and Turkey). However, the outbreak of World War I forced him to stop these expeditions, and he returned to composing, writing the ballet The Wooden Prince in 191416 and the String Quartet No. 2 in 191517. It was The Wooden Prince which gave him some degree of international fame.

Bart k subsequently worked on another ballet, The Miraculous Mandarin, influenced by Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg, as well as Richard Strauss, following this up with his two violin sonatas which are harmonically and structurally some of the most complex pieces he wrote. He wrote his third and fourth string quartets, regarded as some of the finest string quartets ever written, in 192728, after which his harmonic language began to become simpler. The String Quartet No. 5 (1934) is somewhat more traditional from this point of view. Bart k wrote his sixth and last string quartet in 1939.

The Miraculous Mandarin was started in 1918, but not performed until 1926 because of its sexual content: a sordid modern story of prostitution, robbery, and murder.

Bart k divorced M rta in 1923, and married a piano student, Ditta P sztory. His second son, ter, was born in 1924. For P ter's music lessons Bart k began composing a six-volume collection of graded piano pieces, Mikrokosmos, which is popular with piano students today. It was to be the last piece he wrote in Europe.

In 1940, after the outbreak of World War II, and the European political situation worsened, Bart k was increasingly tempted to flee Hungary.

Bart k was strongly opposed to the Nazis. After they came into power in Germany, he refused to concertize there and switched away from his German publisher. And his liberal views (as evident in the opera Bluebeard's Castle and the ballet The Miraculous Mandarin) caused him a great deal of trouble from right-wingers in Hungary.

Having first sent his manuscripts out of the country, Bart k reluctantly moved to the USA with Ditta P sztory. P ter Bart k joined them in 1942 and later enlisted in the United States Navy. B la Bart k, Jr. remained in Hungary.

Bart k did not feel comfortable in the USA, and found it very difficult to write. As well, he wasn't well known in America and there was little interest in his music. He and his wife Ditta would give concerts; and for a while, they had a research grant to work on a collection of Yugoslav folksongs, but their finances were precarious, as was Bart k's health.

His last work might well have been the String Quartet No. 6, were it not for Serge Koussevitsky commissioning him to write the Concerto for Orchestra (Bart most popular work, which was to ease his financial burdens). He was also commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin to write Sonata for Solo Violin. This seemed to reawaken his interest in composing, and he went on to write his Piano Concerto No. 3, an airy and almost neo-classical work, and begin work on his Viola Concerto.

B la Bart k died in New York in the United States from leukemia. He left the viola concerto unfinished at his death, which was later completed by his pupil, Tibor Serly.

He was interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, but after the fall of Hungarian communism in 1988, his remains were transferred to Budapest, Hungary for a state funeral on July 7, 1988 with interment in Budapest's Farkasreti Cemetery.

Selected works

Orchestral music

Choral music

  • Cantata Profana (1930)
  • From Olden Times (1935)

Chamber music


Music for the stage

  • Bluebeard's Castle, opera
  • The Miraculous Mandarin, ballet
  • The Wooden Prince, ballet

See also

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related
B la Bart k
  • Bartok at Naxos (http://www.naxos.com/composer/btm.asp?fullname=Bartok,%20Bela)
  • Bart Memorial House, Budapest (http://www.bartokmuseum.hu/)
  • Piano Society – Bart k (http://www.pianosociety.com/index.php?id=108) – A short biography and some recordings.

  Results from FactBites:
Bela Bartok (732 words)
Bela Bartok not only is the greatest composer Hungary has produced, but his music - a unique synthesis of the Western classical tradition with mid-European folk music - is one of the outstanding musical achievements of the twentieth century.
Paula Bartok was fully aware of her son's musical gifts - his earliest compositions date from his ninth year - and she finally managed to find a permanent teaching position in Poszony (now Bratislava), where she found excellent piano and harmony teachers for the young composer.
In 1899 Bartok had to decide where to continue his studies, and although the Vienna Conservatoire was the obvious choice, Bartok followed the advice of his schoolfellow, Erno Dohnanyi, and went to the Budapest Academy.
  More results at FactBites »



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