- Category : Entertain-Music-Composer/Arranger
- Type : MS
- Profile : 1/4 - Investigating / Opportunist
- Definition : Split - Small (44)
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Service 1
Béla Viktor János Bartók (March 25, 1881 – September 26, 1945) was a Hungarian composer, pianist and collector of Eastern European and Middle Eastern folk music. He is considered one of the greatest composers of the 20th century and was also one of the founders of the field of ethnomusicology, the study and ethnography of folk music.
Childhood and early years
Béla Bartók was born in the small Transylvanian town of Nagyszentmiklós in Austria-Hungary (now Sânnicolau Mare, Romania). He displayed notable musical talent very early in life: according to his mother, he could distinguish between different dance rhythms that she played on the piano even before he learned to speak in complete sentences. By the age of four, he was able to play 40 songs on the piano, and his mother began formally teaching him the next year.
Béla was a small and sickly child, and suffered from a painful chronic rash until the age of five. In 1888, when he was seven, his father (the director of an agricultural school) died suddenly, and Béla's mother then took him and his sister Erzsebet to live in Nagysz?l?s (today Vinogradiv, Ukraine), and then to Pozsony (today Bratislava, Slovakia). In Pressburg Béla gave his first public recital at age eleven to a warm critical reception. Among the pieces he played was his own first composition, written two years previously: a short piece called "The Course of the Danube." Shortly thereafter he was accepted as a student of László Erkel.
Early musical career
He studied piano under István Thoman (a former student of Franz Liszt) and composition under János Koessler at the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest from 1899 to 1903. There he met Zoltán Kodály, who would influence him greatly and who become his lifelong friend and colleague. In 1903, Bartók wrote his first major orchestral work, Kossuth, a symphonic poem which honored Lajos Kossuth, hero of the Hungarian revolution of 1848.
It was the music of Richard Strauss, whom he met at the Budapest premiere of Also sprach Zarathustra in 1902, that had the most influence on his early work. From 1907 his music also began to be influenced by the music of Claude Debussy that Kodály had brought back from Paris. His large scale orchestral works were still in the manner of Johannes Brahms or Richard Strauss, but also around this time 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 in A minor (1908), which has a few folk-like elements in it.
In 1908, inspired by both their own interest in folk music and by the contemporary resurgence of interest in traditional national culture, he and Kodály undertook an expedition into the countryside to collect and research old Magyar folk melodies. Their findings came as somewhat of a surprise: previously, most people had considered real Magyar folk music to be Gypsy music. The classic example of this misperception is Franz Liszt's famous Hungarian Rhapsodies for piano, which were actually based on popular Gypsy tunes of the time.
In contrast, the old Magyar folk melodies discovered by Bartók and Kodály bore little if any resemblance to the popular music of the Gypsies. Instead, the songs they found were almost all based on pentatonic scales similar to those found in various Oriental folk traditions, notably those of Central Asia and Siberia. (Indeed, Kodály later discovered striking parallels between some ancient Magyar songs and songs of the Mari and Chuvash peoples of north-eastern Russia.)
Bartók and Kodály quickly set about incorporating elements of this real Magyar peasant music into their compositions. While Kodály would frequently quote folk songs verbatim and write pieces derived entirely from authentic folk melodies, Bartók's style was more of a synthesis of folk music, classicism, and modernism. He rarely used actual peasant melodies in his compositions, but his melodic and harmonic sense was still profoundly influenced by the folk music of Hungary and Romania, and he was very fond of the asymmetrical dance rhythms and pungent harmonies found in Bulgarian music.
Middle years and career
In 1909, Bartók married Márta Ziegler. Their son, Béla Jr., was born in 1910.
In 1911, Bartók wrote what was to be his only opera, Bluebeard's Castle, dedicated to his wife, Márta. He entered it for a prize awarded by the Hungarian Fine Arts Commission, which rejected it out of hand as unplayable. In 1917-1918, Bartok completely reworked the score of the opera, and then he was pressured by the government to remove the name of the librettist, Béla Balázs, from the program on account of his political views. Bartók refused, and eventually withdrew the work. For the remainder of his life, although he was passionately devoted to Hungary, its people and culture, he never felt much loyalty to its government or official establishments.
After his disappointment over the Fine Arts Commission prize, Bartók wrote very little for two or three years, preferring to concentrate on collecting and arranging folk music (in Central Europe, the Balkans, Algeria, 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 1914–16 and the String Quartet No. 2 in 1915–17, both influenced by Debussy. It was The Wooden Prince which gave him some degree of international fame.
Raised as a Roman Catholic, Bartók had by his early adulthood become an atheist, decrying the existence of God as unknowable and unnecessary. He would later become attracted to Unitarianism, and publicly converted to the Unitarian faith in 1916. His son would later become president of the Hungarian Unitarian Church.
He 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 (written in 1921 and 1922 respectively) which are harmonically and structurally some of the most complex pieces he wrote. 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. He wrote his third and fourth string quartets in 1927–28, after which he finally found his true voice, starting broadly incorporating folk music in his compositions. Notable examples of this period are Divertimento for strings (1939) and Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936). The String Quartet No. 5 (1934) is written in somewhat more traditional style. Bartók wrote his sixth and last string quartet in 1939.
Bartók divorced Márta in 1923, and married a piano student, Ditta Pásztory. His second son, Péter, was born in 1924.
World War II and later career
In 1940, as the European political situation worsened after the outbreak of World War II, Bartók was increasingly tempted to flee Hungary.
Bartók was strongly opposed to the Nazis. After they came into power in Germany, he refused to give concerts there and switched away from his German publisher. His liberal views caused him a great deal of trouble from conservatives in Hungary.
Having first sent his manuscripts out of the country, Bartók reluctantly emigrated to the USA with Ditta Pásztory, settling in New York City. Péter Bartók joined them in 1942 and later enlisted in the United States Navy. Béla Bartók, Jr. remained in Hungary.
Bartók did not feel comfortable in the USA, and found it very difficult to write. He was also not very 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 folk songs. While their finances were always precarious, it is a myth that he lived and died in poverty. There were enough supporters to see to it that there was enough money and work available for him to live on. Bartók's health began to deteriorate in 1944, making composing difficult for him. 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, at the behest of the violinist Joseph Szigeti and the conductor Fritz Reiner (who had been Bartók's friend and champion since his days as Bartók's student at the Royal Academy). This quickly became Bartók's most popular work, and one which would ease his financial burdens. He was also commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin to write a 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.
Bartók died in New York from leukemia (as a result of secondary polycythemia) on September 26, 1945 at age 64. He left the viola concerto unfinished at his death; it was later completed by his pupil, Tibor Serly.
He was interred in the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, but during the gradual fall of Hungarian communism in the late 1980s, his remains were transferred to Budapest, Hungary for a state funeral on July 7, 1988 with interment in Budapest's Farkasreti Cemetery.
There is a statue of Béla Bartók in Brussels, Belgium near the central train station in a public square, Spanjeplein-Place d'Espagne, and another in London, opposite South Kensington Underground Station. There is a third statue in front of one of the houses (now a museum) that Bartók owned in the hills above Budapest.
In 1907, Bartók began teaching as a piano professor at the Royal Academy. This position freed him from touring Europe as a pianist and enabled him to stay in Hungary. Among his notable students were Fritz Reiner, Sir Georg Solti, György Sándor, Ernö Balogh, Lili Kraus, and, after Bartók moved to the United States, Jack Beeson.
Bartók also made a lasting contribution to the literature for younger students: for his son Péter's music lessons, he composed Mikrokosmos, a six-volume collection of graded piano pieces. It remains popular with piano teachers today.
Paul Wilson lists as the most prominent characteristics of Bartók's music from late 1920s onwards the influence of the folk music of rural Hungary and eastern Europe and the art music of central and western Europe, and his changing attitude toward (and use of) tonality, but without the use of the traditional harmonic functions associated with major and minor scales (Wilson 1992, p.2-4).
Bartók is an influential modernist and his music used or may be analysed as containing various modernist techniques such as atonality, bitonality, attenuated harmonic function, polymodal chromaticism, projected sets, privileged patterns, and large set types used as source sets such as the equal tempered twelve tone aggregate, octatonic scale (and alpha chord), the diatonic and heptatonia seconda seven-note scales, and less often the whole tone scale and the primary pentatonic collection (ibid, p.24-29).
He rarely used the aggregate actively to shape musical structure, though there are notable examples such as the second theme from the first movement of his Second Violin Concerto, commenting that he "wanted to show Schoenberg that one can use all twelve tones and still remain tonal". More thoroughly, in the first eight measures of the last movement of his Second Quartet, all notes gradually gather with the twelfth (G?) sounding for the first time on the last beat of measure 8, marking the end of the first section. The aggregate is partitioned in the opening of the Third String Quartet with C?-D-D?-E in the accompaniment (strings) while the remaining pitch classes are used in the melody (violin 1) and more often as 7-35 (diatonic or "white-key" collection) and 5-35 (pentatonic or "black-key" collection) such as in no. 6 of the Eight Improvisations. There, the primary theme is on the black keys in the left hand, while the right accompanies with triads from the white keys. In measures 50-51 in the third movement of the Fourth Quartet, the first violin and 'cello play black-key chords, while the second violin and viola play stepwise diatonic lines (ibid, p.25).
Lendvai (1971) analyses Bartók's works as being based on two opposing systems, that of the golden section and the acoustic scale, and tonally on the axis system (ibid, p.7).
Milton Babbitt, in his 1949 critique of Bartók's string quartets, criticized Bartók for using tonality and non tonal methods unique to each piece. Babbitt noted that "Bartók's solution was a specific one, it cannot be duplicated." Bartók's use of "two organizational principles"—tonality for large scale relationships and the piece-specific method for moment to moment thematic elements—was a problem for Babbitt, who worried that the "highly attenuated tonality" requires extreme non-harmonic methods to create a feeling of closure. However, Babbitt praised Bartók for the "identification of the personal exigency with the fundamental musical exigency of the epoch".