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Béla Bartók

Béla Bartók

Béla Bartók (1881-1945) was a Hungarian composer and pianist. His profound studies of folk songs not only revolutionized scholarship in this field but also furnished him with rich sources for his own creative work.

In the 19th century the wealth of Magyar folk music was virtually unknown to Hungarian composers. When Béla Bartók first transcribed a Hungarian folk tune in the field in 1904, he realized that this world of music was unknown to him. Subjecting it to systematic study, he soon gained a new basis for his musical esthetics. His mature work was founded on the assimilation of the essence of Hungarian folk music into his personal musical language. Appreciation of this accomplishment often lagged during his lifetime; in the quarter century after his death, however, Bartók's status as a major musical figure was firmly established.

Bartók was born in Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary (now Sânnicolaul-Mare, Romania), on March 25, 1881. His father was director of a government agricultural school; his mother, a teacher and pianist. She gave Béla his first piano lesson on his fifth birthday; his great gifts as pianist soon became evident, and at the age of 9 he began to compose. After he entered the Academy of Music at Budapest in 1899, his composing temporarily stopped. However, in 1902 the first Budapest performance of Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra inspired him to resume creative work. Bartók's first major composition was the symphonic poem Kossuth (1903). Three years later his first work based upon Hungarian peasant music was published: the Twenty Hungarian Folksongs, produced in collaboration with Zoltán Kodály (each composer set 10 songs).

In 1907 Bartók became professor of piano at the Academy of Music in Budapest. His tenure lasted nearly 30 years, being interrupted occasionally for folk-song research and concert tours. His first wife, Márta Ziegler, and second wife, Ditta Pásztory, were both his piano pupils. He never taught composition, fearing that to do so might endanger his own creative work.

Important Bartók works composed between 1907 and 1922 include the opera Bluebeard's Castle (1911), the First and Second String Quartets (1909, 1918), the ballet The Wooden Prince (1914-1916), the two Violin and Piano Sonatas (1921-1922), and the pantomime The Miraculous Mandarin (1918-1919).

After World War I Bartók intensified his career as a concert pianist. He gave the first performances of his first two Piano Concertos (1927, 1930-1931). In 1927 he made his first United States tour, performing a number of his own works to mixed critical reception. Significant compositions include the Two Rhapsodies for violin and piano (1928), the Fourth and Fifth String Quartets (1928, 1934), the Cantata profana (1930), and the earliest books of Mikrokosmos, which is a series of 153 progressive pieces for piano on which Bartók worked from 1926 to 1939.

Bartók's Views on Folk Music

Bartók's artistic intent at this point in his career is excellently summarized in his essay "The Influence of Peasant Music on Modern Music" (1931). He describes the various ways in which folk music can be transmuted into contemporary art music. In the simplest form the folk melody may be taken over unchanged or only slightly varied, with the addition of an accompaniment and perhaps some opening and closing phrases. The additional material may be merely ornamental in nature, or it may be of primary importance. The next logical step is for the composer to invent his own imitation of a folk melody, then to treat it exactly like the borrowed tune. To Bartók it made no difference whether the composer invented his own themes or borrowed material. He stated emphatically that the composer "has a right to use musical material from all sources. What he has judged suitable for his purpose has become through the very use his mental property…. The question of origins can only be interesting from the point of view of musical documentation."

The highest form of folk-influenced music, Bartók believed, is that in which the folk atmosphere has been completely assimilated. He described such music as follows: "Neither peasant music nor imitations of peasant melodies can be found in his [the composer's] music, but it is pervaded by the atmosphere of peasant music. In this case we may say he has completely absorbed the idiom of peasant music which has become his musical mother tongue." No better description could be given of the part played by folk music in Bartók's mature work.

Later Works

The political situation of Hungary became more and more unsettled in the mid-1930s. During this period Bartók produced important works: Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta (1936); Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (1937); Contrasts for violin, clarinet, and piano (1938); the Violin Concerto (1937-1938); and the Sixth String Quartet (1939). When Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938, he realized he would have to leave Hungary soon. After the death of his mother in 1939 his last tie was broken.

The following year Bartók and his wife settled in New York City. He was given a temporary appointment at Columbia University, transcribing the records of Serbo-Croatian folk songs in the Parry Collection, which lasted through 1942. Bartók's persistent ill health and resultant inability to perform publicly or to take another position left his financial situation precarious. Fortunately he received important commissions, and assistance from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers. The Concerto for Orchestra (1943) was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky; the solo Violin Sonata (1944) by Yehudi Menuhin; and the Viola Concerto (1945) by William Primrose. The last-named work remained unfinished; it was completed by Tibor Serly, one of Bartók's pupils. Bartók worked on his Third Piano Concerto, which he composed for his wife, until a few days before his death. The last 17 measures were still incomplete when he died of leukemia on Sept. 26, 1945.

Bartók's works have steadily risen in popularity since his death. The Concerto For Orchestra, Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta, and Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion have been widely performed and recorded; the six String Quartets belong to the classic repertory of 20th-century chamber music; and Mikrokosmos is considered standard piano-teaching material.

Further Reading

The standard biography of Bartók in English is Halsey Stevens, The Life and Music of Béla Bartók (1953; rev. ed. 1964). An excellent collection of essays from Tempo magazine, including selections from Bartók's writings, is Béla Bartók: A Memorial Review (1950). Agatha Fassett, The Naked Face of Genius: Béla Bartók's American Years (1958), gives a moving account of Bartók's last years. Bence Szabolcsi, Béla Bartók, His Life in Pictures (1956; trans. 1964), is a good pictorial biography. □

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"Béla Bartók." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 22 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Bartók, Béla

Bartók, Béla (b Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary (now Romania), 1881; d NY, 1945). Hung. composer, pianist, and folklorist. Parents were musical and mother gave him his first pf. lessons. In 1894 at Bratislava (then Pozsony) studied with the cond. Laszlo Erkel until 1899 when he entered Budapest Royal Acad. of Mus. In 1902 heard a perf. of Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra which stimulated his powers of comp. to such a degree that he wrote his nationalistic tone-poem Kossuth in 1903. By this time was travelling abroad as solo pianist in mus. by Liszt and other kbd. virtuosi. In 1905 began systematic exploration of Hungarian peasant mus. and in 1906, with his fellow-composer Kodály, pubd. a coll. of 20 folk-songs. In 1907 became prof. of pf. at the Budapest RAM. For the next decade, while his mus. was badly received in his own country, continued systematic coll. of Magyár folk-songs. In 1917 his ballet The Wooden Prince was successfully prod. in Budapest and led to the staging in the following year of his 1-act opera Duke Bluebeard's Castle (1911). In 1922 and 1923 his first 2 vn. sonatas had their f.ps. in London, and in 1923 comp. the Dance Suite to celebrate the 50th anniv. of the union of Buda and Pest. During the 1920s resumed career as pianist, composing several works for his own use. In 1934 was given a salaried post in the Hung. Acad. of Sciences in order that he could prepare his folk-song coll. for publication. In the spring of 1940, in view of political developments in Hungary, emigrated to USA. This was not a happy time for him; his health began to fail, his mus. was infrequently perf., and there was little demand for his services as a pianist. Nevertheless the Koussevitzky Foundation commissioned the Concerto for Orchestra, Yehudi Menuhin a solo vn. sonata, and William Primrose a va. conc. (left unfinished but completed by Tibór Sérly). He died from leukaemia.

Bartók's mus. is a highly individual blend of elements transformed from his own admirations: Liszt, Strauss, Debussy, folk-mus., and Stravinsky. Perhaps his greatest achievement lies in his 6 str. qts. in which formal symmetry and thematic unity were successfully related. But the melodic fertility and rhythmical vitality of all his mus. have ensured its consistent success since his death. Prin. comps.:STAGE: Duke Bluebeard's Castle (A kékszakállù herceg vára), Op.11, 1-act opera (1911, rev. 1912, 1918); The Wooden Prince (A fából fargott királyfi), Op.13, 1-act ballet (1914–17); The Miraculous Mandarin (A csodálatos mandarin), Op.19, 1-act pantomime (1918–19, orch. 1923, rev. 1924, 1926–31).ORCH.: Kossuth, sym.-poem (1903); Rhapsody, pf., orch., Op.1 (1904); Suite No.1, Op.3 (1905, rev. c.1920), No.2 (small orch.), Op.4 (1905–7, rev. 1920, 1943); vn. conc. No.1. (1907–8; 1st movt. rev. as No.1 of 2 Portraits), No.2 (1937–8); 2 Portraits, Op.5 (No.1 1907–8, No.2 orch. 1911); 2 Pictures, Op.10 (1910); Romanian Dance, Op.11 (1911); 4 Pieces, Op.12 (1912, orch. 1921); Suite (3 dances), The Wooden Prince (1921–4); Suite, The Miraculous Mandarin (1919, 1927); Dance Suite (1923); pf. conc. No.1 (1926), No.2 (1930–1), No.3 (1945); Rhapsody, vn., orch., No.1 (1928), No.2 (1928, rev. 1944); Transylvanian Dances (1931); Hungarian Sketches (1931); Hungarian Peasant Songs (1933); Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936); Divertimento, str. (1939); 2-pf. conc. (arr. of sonata for 2 pf. and perc.) (1940); Concerto for Orchestra (1942–3, rev. 1945); va. conc. (completed from draft by Sérly) (1945).VOICE(S) & ORCH.: 3 Village Scenes, women's vv. (1926); Cantata Profana (The 9 Enchanted Stags), ten., bar., double ch., orch. (1930); 5 Hungarian Folk Songs, low v. (1933).CHORUS: Evening, male vv. (1903); 4 Old Hungarian Folk Songs, male vv. (1910, rev. 1912); 5 Slovak Folk Songs, male vv. (1917); 5 Hungarian Folk Songs (1930); 5 Székely Songs, male vv. (1932); 27 Traditional Choruses, children's and women's vv. (1935); From Olden Times, male vv. (1935).CHAMBER MUSIC: pf. qt. (1898); pf. quintet (1903–4, rev. ?1920); str. qt. No.1, Op.7 (1908), No.2, Op.17 (1915–17), No.3 (1927), No.4 (1928), No.5 (1934), No.6 (1939); vn. sonatas, No.1 (1921), No.2 (1922); Rhapsody No.1, vn., pf. (1928, also orch. vers.), No.2 (1928, rev. 1945, also orch. vers.); Rhapsody, vc., pf. (1928); 44 Duos, 2 vn. (1931); sonata, 2 pf., 2 perc. (1937, orch. 1940); sonata, unacc. vn. (1944); Contrasts, vn., cl., pf. (1938).PIANO: 3 Klavierstücke, Op.13 (1897); Scherzo (Fantasie), Op.18 (1897); Scherzo in B minor (1900); 12 Variations (1900–1); 4 Pieces (1903); Rhapsody, Op.1 (1904, also orch. vers.); 14 Bagatelles, Op.6 (1908); 10 Easy Pieces (1908); 85 Pieces for Children (1908–9, rev. 1945); 2 Romanian Dances, Op.8a (1909–10, No.1 orch. 1911); 7 Sketches, Op.9b (1908–10); 4 Dirges, Op.9a (1909–10, No.2 orch. as No.3 of Hungarian Sketches, 1931); 3 Burlesques, Op.8c (1908–11, No.2 orch. as No.4 of Hungarian Sketches, 1931); Allegro barbaro (1911); sonatina (1915, orch. as Transylvanian Dances, 1931); Romanian Dances (1915, orch. 1917); Suite, Op.14 (1916); 3 Hungarian Folk Tunes (c.1914–18); 15 Hungarian Peasant Songs (1914–18, Nos. 6–12, 14–15 orch. 1933); 3 Studies, Op.18 (1918); 8 Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, Op.20 (1920); Dance Suite (1925, arr. of orch. work); sonata (1926); Out of Doors (1926); 9 Little Pieces (1926); Mikrokosmos, 6 vols. containing 153 ‘progressive pieces’ (1926, 1932–9).

Also many solo songs, editions of Italian kbd. mus., etc.

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Bartók, Béla

Béla Bartók (bā´lə bär´tŏk, Hung. bā´lô bôr´tōk), 1881–1945, Hungarian composer and collector of folk music. He studied (1899–1903) and later taught piano at the Royal Academy, Budapest. In 1905 he and Zoltán Kodály began to collect folk music of Eastern Europe, and throughout his life Bartók devoted much attention to folk music of varied origin. As a composer he gained his first success with his mime play The Wooden Prince (1914–16). An opera, Duke Bluebeard's Castle (1911), and a ballet, The Miraculous Mandarin (1919), also gained notice. He became better known, however, for his compositions for piano, for violin, and for orchestra. Among his piano works are a set of progressive studies called Mikrokosmos (1926–39), three piano concertos (1929, 1931, 1945), and a sonata for two pianos and percussion (1927). Bartók's important orchestral works include Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936) and Concerto for Orchestra (1943). Among his most important achievements are his six string quartets. Utilizing in varying degrees folk elements, atonality, and traditional techniques, Bartók achieved an original modern style, which has had a great influence on 20th-century music. In 1940 he emigrated to the United States and was commissioned by Columbia Univ. to transcribe a large collection of Yugoslav folk melodies. He spent his last years in poverty and neglect, but after his death his fame grew steadily. Among his studies of folk music that have been published in English are The Hungarian Folk Song (tr. 1931) and Serbo-Croatian Folk Songs (with A. B. Lord, 1951).

See his letters, ed. by J. Demeny (1971); biographies by H. Stevens (rev. ed. 1964), A. Fassett (1958, repr. 1971), and P. Griffiths (1984); study by E. Antokoletz (1989).

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Bartók, Béla

Bartók, Béla (1881–1945) Hungarian composer and pianist. With Zoltán Kodály, Bartók amassed a definitive collection of Hungarian folk music. His orchestral works include Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936), two violin concertos (1908 and 1938) and the Concerto for Orchestra (1943). He wrote one opera, Bluebeard's Castle (1911). He also composed three piano concertos and six five-string quartets. His compositional style combines folk music idioms with dissonance and great rhythmic energy.

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