Béla Bartok

Hungarian composer and pianist (Nagyszentmiklos/Austria-Hungary, 1881 – New York, 1945)

Béla Bartók was a Hungarian composer and pianist from the first half of the 20th century. He made important works revolving around the popular music of Eastern Europe – especially the Hungarian folkloric music – and can be considered as one of the ethnomusicology pioneers.

Bartók studied the piano and harmony, first in Bratislava then in Budapest. He studied under Hans von KoesslerLeo Weiner and more importantly Zoltán Kodály. Starting in 1905, they would work together on traditional popular music study and transcription.Bartók became a teacher at the Budapest Royal Academy in 1907 and composed at that time his first great pieces: Three Hungarian Folk Tunes, the first strings quartet of a series of 6 very accomplished quartets, his sole opera Bluebeard’s Castle and two ballets (The Wooden Prince and The Miraculous Mandarin). Afterwards, he wrote sonatas, other quartets and toured around Europe with Ditta Pástory, a previous student who had become his second wife. From 1934,Bartók dedicated himself to composing and got frequent orders: he had a big success in 1937 with his Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, then again with Concerto for violin and orchestra and Mikrokosmos. Forced to move to the United States when the war broke out, he stayed in New York where he met Koussevitzky, Yehudi Menuhin and Benny Goodman. He died there of a leukaemia. At the same time, his Concerto for Orchestra of 1943 had just aroused the public’s admiration and increased the number of orders.

Bartók’s style is imprinted of a nationalist inspiration combined with a savant musical research: he fought the ties of the tonal system, used the principle of proportion for the intern structure of his pieces and systematized the connections between tonalities.

Six landmark dates in the life of Béla Bartók

• 1892: Bartók’s first concert, he is 11
• 1898: student at the Budapest Royal Academy
• 1903: first big symphonic piece, Kossuth, in Budapest.
• 1908: collection of short pieces for piano for children, emphasizes the importance Bartók gave to teaching
• 1935: Bartók gets enough orders to stop giving piano lessons
• 1939: beginning of his concert artist career

Six key pieces by Béla Bartók

• 1908Strings quartet n°1, op. 7.
• 1911Bluebeard’s Castle, (Bartók’s only opera) on a booklet by Béla Balázs.
• 1926-1939Mikrokosmos, for piano (153 pieces divided in six booklets).
• 1933Concerto for piano n°2.
• 1936Music for strings, Percussion and Celesta.
• 1943Concerto for orchestra