Bela Bartok (Composer)
Born: March 25, 1881, Sînnicolau Mare, Hungary
Died: September 26, 1945, New York
In his own words....
"Many people think it is a comparatively easy task to write a composition on found folk tunes...This way of thinking is completely erroneous. To handle folk tunes is one of the most difficult tasks; equally difficult, if not more so, than to write a major original composition. If we keep in mind that borrowing a tune means being bound by its individual peculiarity, we shall understand one part of the difficulty. Another is created by the special character of folk tune. We must penetrate it, feel it, and bring out its sharp contours by the appropriate setting...It must be a work of inspiration just as much as any other composition."
Hungarian composer and pianist. Bartok is best known for his use of Hungarian folk music to create a distinct individual style.
The folk music of Hungary was central to the music of Béla Bartok. He was not the first composer to make use of this music (we can see it as far back as Haydn), but he was one of the first to take it at face value, and to exploit its idiosyncrasies. More important, he integrated it fully into his own style, so much so that one of his biographers talks about Bartok‘s music as "imaginary folk music"—music that is wholly his own, yet of a piece with the folk music that was its inspiration.
Bartok was born into a musical family and received good pianistic training from his mother. He was something of a prodigy, and began composing at the age of ten. In 1898 he was accepted at the prestigious Vienna Conservatory, but chose instead to stay in Hungary at the Budapest Academy. His early work was influenced greatly by Strauss and Liszt, but his first major work, the symphonic Kossuth (1903), also stands out for its telling of a nationalist story.
In 1904 Bartok began collecting folk music by recording musicians on wax cylinders. This had a profound impact on his compositional style, for in these pieces he found elements that he began to incorporate into his own writing. The melodies of these folk tunes, removed from the traditional major/minor tonality of Western music, provided new melodic and harmonic resources, and the powerful and often asymmetrical rhythms (often freely mixing groupings of twos and threes) became a hallmark of Bartok‘s rhythmic style.
In 1907 Bartok was appointed professor of piano at the Budapest Academy and he continued his compositional activity, creating works of greater complexity. By the early 1920s his music was verging on an atonal style. He gained international success with a less challenging work, The Wooden Prince (1917), and by the late 1920s his music started to take on more of a neoclassical approach.
The crises leading up to World War II forced Bartok to flee Hungary and settle in the United States. The move caused both financial and personal difficulties, and failing health heightened these. Nonetheless, in his final few years he created a group of important pieces, including the Concerto for orchestra.
Bartok‘s music is marked by its precision of execution. His forms (especially in his later works) are intensely symmetrical. often they create an arch or palindrome (ABACABA, for example). He also exploited different sonorities and instrumental effects, including an antiphonal orchestra in Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936). His tonal language continued to be colored by his work with folk music, and in some cases he made use of quarter tones. Although Bartok wrote in all mediums, he may well be best remembered for his six string quartets. These works, a summation of his compositional style and development are often viewed as the logical successors to those of Beethoven.
Orchestral works, including Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta (1936), Concerto for orchestra (1943), 2 violin concertos (1908, 1938), and three piano concertos (1926, 1931, 1945)
1 opera, Bluebeard‘s Castle (1911)
2 ballets, The Wooden Prince (1917) and The Miraculous Mandarin (1926)
Chamber music, including 6 string quartets (1908–39); Contrasts (for violin, clarinet, and piano, 1938); sonatas, duos
Piano music, including Allegro barbaro (1911) and Mikrokosmos (6 books, 1926–39)
Choral music, including Cantata profana (1930); folk song arrangements
Songs, including folk song arrangements
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