Bartók, Béla

Period: Early 20th Century

Born: Friday, March 25, 1881 in Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary

Died: Wednesday, September 26, 1945 in New York, New York (USA)

Nation of Origin: Hungary

Major Works:

Cantata Profana
Duke Bluebeard's Castle (1911)
Allegro Barbaro for piano (1911)
Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta (1936) Concerto for Orchestra (1943) - tonal opulence and warmth
Third Piano Concerto (1945)
Stage works, choral music, orchestral music, string quartets, works for solo strings, and three piano concertos.

Other Information:

Please note: Bartok's birthplace, Nagyszentmiklós, is now a part of Romania. After World War I, Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory and 60% of its population as the result of the Trianon Treaty of 1920. In a recent article, entitled "Bad Treaty That Won't Go Away," concert pianist Dr. Balint Vazsonyi wrote "Of Hungary's four greatest composers, all born in Hungary of course, only Zoltan Kodaly's birthplace remains [in Hungary]. On today's maps, it appears as if Franz Liszt had been born in Austria,Erno Dohnanyi in Slovakia, and Bela Bartok in Romania. On Bartok's birthday, the Hungarian delegation, wishing to lay a wreath, was turned back at the Romanian border." Many thanks to D.K. Bognar, editor of Hungarians in America, for contributing the valuable information above.

Quick Facts

  • His first musical experiences consisted of piano lessons with his mother.
  • He studied from 1894 to 1899 in Pozsony, now called Bratislava, with conductor Laszlo Erkel. He was inspired by the music of Dohnányi and Brahms.
  • In 1899 he enrolled in the Budapest Royal Academy of Music. He studied composition with János Koessler.
  • He was inspired by a 1902 performance of Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra.
  • In 1903 he wrote a tone-poem called Kossuth containing Hungarian elements. This was a symphonic poem in ten sections and was inspired by the tone poems of Strauss.
  • He traveled as a concert pianist playing the works of Liszt and others.
  • His study of Hungarian peasant music (Magyár folk songs) began formally in 1905.
  • In 1906 he published a collection of 20 Hungarian folk songs with fellow composer and folk-song enthusiast, Zoltan Kodály.
  • In 1907 he began to teach piano as a faculty member of the Budapest Royal Academy of Music. His lifelong friend, Kodály, introduced him to the music of Debussy.
  • In 1909 he married one of his piano students.
  • He received little recognition for his own compositions until the 1917 performance of his ballet, The Wooden Prince and the 1918 performance of his one-act opera, Duke Bluebeard's Castle.
  • His first two violin sonatas were performed in London in 1922 and 1923.
  • In 1923 he was commissioned to write an orchestral work for the 50th Anniversary of the Union of Buda and Pest. The result was Dance Suite. Dohnányi and Kodály were also commissioned to write orchestral works for this ocassion. In 1923 he also divorced his wife and married another of his piano students.
  • Bartok gave a concert tour of the USA in 1927 and 1928. He performed 26 concerts. In 1929 he also toured Russia.
  • He worked at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1934 to create a scholarly edition of the folk songs he had been collecting.
  • In 1940 he emigrated to the United States to avoid the political problems in Europe. He was awarded an honorary doctorate at Columbia and given an appointment to conduct folksong research.
  • One of his best known works composed in the USA was Concerto for Orchestra (1943).
  • In 1945 he died in New York of Leukemia. His last completed work was the Pianoforte Concerto No. 3. He died in poverty.
  • His music is generally divided into two periods. The early period shows more influence from Brahms and other traditional composers. The later period explores almost every composition device used in the 20th century. The works that bridge the gap between the two periods are Dance Suite (1923) and Dorfszenen (1924).


General Bibliography:

Slonimsky, Nicolas, Music Since 1900, Schirmer Books, July 1994, ISBN: 0028724186

Salzman, Eric, Twentieth Century Music: An Introduction, Pearson, October 2001, ISBN: 0130959413

Slonimsky, Nicolas and Kuhn, Laura; Editors, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Gale Group, December 2000, ISBN: 0028655257

Sadie, Stanley and Tyrrell, John; Editors, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Groves Dictionaries, Inc., January 2004, ISBN: 0195170679

Rutherford-Johnson, Tim, Kennedy, Michael, and Kennedy, Joyce The Oxford Dictionary of Music, Oxford University Press, 6th Edition, 2012, ISBN: 0199578109

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Biographical essay from Wikipedia

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