Happy birthday Béla Bartók!


Béla Bartók (March 25, 1881 – September 26, 1945) was a Hungarian composer and pianist who is widely considered one of the most influential composers of the 20th century. From an early point in his career, Bartók was passionately involved with the critical analysis of folk music, and later became one of the founders of ethnomusicology. His interest in exploring the cultural value of folk and peasant music resulted in a collection of thousands of pieces of folk music from all over the world. Bartók's compositions were also greatly influenced by his discoveries, and he would incorporate many elements of traditional music into his work.


bartok2 By the time he was four years old, Bartók was able to play up to forty pieces on the piano, and his mother began formally teaching him the next year. Between the ages of ten and eleven, Bartók gave his first public performance, which included his first composition, "The Course of the Danube." Bartók's natural ability was obvious, and he was subsequently taken on as a pupil by László Erkel. His musical career began in earnest, and he wrote his first major orchestral piece at the age of 22, Kossuth, a symphonic poem in honor of a hero of the Hungarian Revolution of 1948.

In 1904, at age 23, Bartók was on vacation in Transylvania when he overheard a nanny singing traditional folk songs to the children in her care. The event was incredibly meaningful for Bartók and inspired a lifelong pursuit of folk music. In 1908, Bartok and his close friend and collaborator, Zoltán Kodály, embarked on a tour of the countryside in order to research Hungarian folk melodies, which led to their discovery that much of the music was based on pentatonic scales, similar to the music of some central Asian countries. Bartók's subsequent compositions incorporated elements of folk, nationalist, and Romantic influences.

Béla Bartók Bluebeard's Castle Opening Scene Part 1



In 1911, Bartók wrote his only opera, Bluebeard's Castle, and dedicated it to his wife Márta. His collaboration on the opera with a blacklisted librettist, Béla Balázs, caused political objections, and the composition was poorly received. The incident soured Bartók's impression of the government as well as for composition. For the next few years, he concentrated on collecting and arranging folk music, and only returned to composing when the outbreak of World War I forced him to stop traveling. He then composed The Wooden Prince and String Quartet No. 2, both influenced by Claude Debussy.

Béla Bartók - The Wooden Prince, I-II 



Béla Bartók - String Quartet No. 2, I



Subsequent compositions include The Miraculous Mandarin, a ballet; two violin sonatas, and a number of string quartets. By the 1940s, the onset of WWII made Bartók's life increasingly difficult, He refused to give concerts in Germany, opposing Hungary's support of the Nazi regime. He reluctantly left Europe for New York City with his second wife, Ditta.

Béla Bartók - The Miraculous Mandarin, Op. 19, Sz. 73



Béla Bartók, photograph by Fritz Reiner.

In the US, Bartók and his wife worked on a collection of folk music from Serbia and Croatia, supported by a research fellowship from Columbia. Many of Bartók's recordings were later released on LP by Columbia Records. By 1944, Bartók was diagnosed with leukemia following years of ill health.


As his condition worsened, Bartók continued to work, and produced a final set of masterpieces with the help of violinist Joseph Szigeti and conductor Fritz Reiner. His last and most popular work was his String Quartet No. 6 for Serge Koussevitzky's Concerto for Orchestra. A few months later, Bartók died from complications from leukemia, at age 64. His remaining works were later completed by his pupil, Tibor Serly, and recorded by Ditta.

Béla Bartók - Concerto For Orchestra, Introduction

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Tuesday, 25 March 2014
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