Béla Bartók (Nagyszentmiklós, 25 March 1881 – New York, 26 September 1945), Hungarian composer, pianist and ethnomusicologist. Bartók is recognized today as one of the leading composers of the 20th century and one of the greatest Hungarian composers of all time, together with Franz Liszt. His mature works show the influence of his ethnomusicological studies and of folk music, as well as the influence of Western contemporaries as Debussy, Stravinsky and Schoenberg, together with “classical” composers as Beethoven and Bach.
Bartók began to learn music with his mother, and later he studied with a former student of Franz Liszt, István Thomán, and János Koessler, who taught him composition.
At first, Bartók drew attention more as a pianist than as a composer. He found his compositional model in Richard Strauss (Also sprach Zarathrustra and Ein Heldenleben), who exerted a significant influence on Bartók’s major orchestral work of this period, Kossuth.
In 1903, with his own Kossuth and the performance of Ein Heldenleben, Bartók’s career as a pianist-composer was launched. His career as a piano performer was discontinuous: he almost completely abandoned it between 1907-1909, and resumed it after World War I. Due to his reserved character, Bartók was never able to excite the audience, and it was overshadowed by his own contemporary and compatriot Ernő Dohnányi. Also his compositional activity had creative peaks and pauses. His best creative moments date to the years 1934–40, when he wrote abundantly in any major genre, and in the last years of his life, when, despite he knew he was fatally ill, he composed almost uninterruptedly.
Although as a performer Bartók did not leave his stamp, he was more successful as a teacher and his most notable students include Fritz Reiner, Sir Georg Solti and György Sándor.
Also as a composer Bartók cannot be considered the founder of a “school”, but he exerted his influence (and was influenced in his turn) on another of the greatest composers of the last century and his lifelong friend, Zoltán Kodály.
The two of them shared also a significant passion for folk music and tunes. Bartók enthused over peasant music in 1904, when he overheard a young nanny sing folk songs to her pupils, leaving a deep impression on him. Bartók, together with Kodály, became a keen collector of Hungarian, Romanian and Slovak folk songs and incorporate them in his own compositions. In 1918, his collection counted around 10000 melodies, and he dedicated several years to categorize and to examine them comparatively.
Bartók’s works include one opera, Bluebeard’s Castle (dedicated to his first wife Márta), the pantomime ballets A fából faragott királyfi (“The Wooden Prince”) and A csodálatos mandarin (“The Miraculous Mandarin”) and especially orchestral music as the six String Quartets, two Violin Concertos, three Piano Concertos, and a conspicuous number of other orchestral works (dances) and choral and vocal compositions.
The Wooden Prince
The Miraculous Mandarin
◊ The Miraculous Mandarin; Hungarian Peasant Songs; Roumanian Folk Dances: Hungarian Radio Choir; Budapest Festival Orchestra; Iván Fischer; Philips, 1997 View Details / Buy from Amazon