Composer, pianist, and ethnomusicologist; b. Nagyszentmiklós (now Romania), March 25, 1881; d. New York, N.Y., Sept. 26, 1945. After studying at the Royal Hungarian Academy of Music in Budapest, he became the principal piano teacher there (1907–34), simultaneously pursuing an international career as concert pianist. In 1905 he began collecting and systematizing Hungarian peasant music (of which little was then known) and subsequently published an important series of ethnomusicological studies of the music of Hungarians, Romanians, Slovakians, Turks, and North African Arabs. His early compositions were strongly influenced by Brahms, Liszt, and Richard Strauss, but with the discovery of an authentic Magyar folk music he developed a highly personal style based upon its rhythmic and melodic elements, while not ignoring the influence of other folk music or that of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and the French Impressionists. His works include six remarkable string quartets; three piano concertos; two violin concertos; an opera, Duke Bluebeard's Castle; two ballets; several important works for orchestra (among them the Dance Suite; Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta; and Concerto for Orchestra ); the Cantata Profana for chorus, soli, and orchestra; and Mikrokosmos, a set of 153 didactic piano pieces providing a comprehensive introduction to 20th-century styles. His influence upon younger composers in Hungary, Western Europe, and America has been considerable.
Bartók was occupied at times with problems of philosophy and theology and in 1907 declared himself an atheist. In 1919, however, he and his family joined the First Unitarian Church in Budapest, where he was musical adviser, especially in compilation of the Hungarian Unitarian hymn book. In the U.S., where he had settled in 1940, he held an appointment for folk-song research and appeared frequently in concert. His autobiography, correspondence, and many writings on music (all edited by J. Demény) have been published in Budapest but are not yet translated.
Bibliography: Hungarian Folk Music, tr. m. d. calvocoressi (London 1931). h. stevens, The Life and Music of Béla Bartók (rev. ed. New York 1964), extensive bibliog. d. bartha, Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, ed. f. blume (Kassel-Basel 1949–) 1:1345–50. n. slonimsky, ed., Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians (5th ed. New York 1958) 93–94. b. szabolcsi, Bela Bartok: His Life in Pictures (New York 1964). j. bouËt and b. lortat-jacob, "Quatre-vingts ans après Bartók: pratiques de terrain en Roumanie," Revue de Musicologie, 81 (1995) 5–24. m. gillies, ed. The Bartók Companion (Boston 1993); "Bartók and Boosey and Hawkes: The European Years," Tempo, 200 (1997) 4–7; "Bartók and Boosey and Hawkes: The American Years," Tempo, 205 (1998) 8–11. e. gollin, "Transformational Techniques in Bartók's Etude op. 18, no. 2," Theory and Practice, 20(1995) 13–30. e. lendvai, "Duality and Synthesis in the Music of Béla Bartók (Part One)," Hungarian Music Quarterly, 5/1 (1994) 5–14; "Duality and Synthesis in the Music of Béla Bartók (Part Two)," Hungarian Music Quarterly, 5/2 (1994) 8–16. v. rÜlke, "Bartóks Wende zur Atonalität: Die Études op. 18," Archiv Für Musikwissenschaft, 57 (2000) 240–263. d. e. schneider, "A Context for Béla Bartók on the Eve of World War II: The Violin Concerto (1938)," Repercussions, 5 (1996) 21–68. l. somfai, Béla Bartók: Composition, Concepts, and Autograph Sources (Los Angeles 1996).
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.
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.
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.
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. □