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Bela Bartok [Apr. 19th, 2008|03:57 pm]
contemporary classical music

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The native form of this personal name is Bartók Béla. This article uses the Western name order.
Béla Bartók in 1927

Béla Bartók in 1927

Béla Viktor János Bartók (March 25, 1881September 26, 1945) was a Hungarian composer and pianist, considered one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. Through his collection and analytical study of folk music he was one of the founders of ethnomusicology.

Childhood and early years

Béla Bartók was born in the small Banatian 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 (Gillies 1990, 6). 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 (Gillies 1990, 5). 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 Nagyszőlős (today Vinogradiv, Ukraine), and then to Pozsony (today Bratislava, Slovakia). In Pressburg (Pozsony) 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" (de Toth 1999). Shortly thereafter László Erkel accepted him as a pupil.

 Early musical career


Bartók on his high school graduation

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 influenced him greatly and 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.

The music of Richard Strauss, whom he met at the Budapest premiere of Also sprach Zarathustra in 1902, was the most significant influence on his early work. From 1907 his music also began to be influenced by Claude Debussy, whose compositions Kodály had brought back from Paris. Bartók's 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. The first piece to show clear signs of this new interest is the String Quartet No. 1 in A minor (1908), which has 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 a surprise: previously Magyar folk music had been categorised as Gypsy music. The classic example of this misconception is Franz Liszt's famous Hungarian Rhapsodies for piano, which were based on popular art-songs performed by Gypsy bands of the time. In contrast, the old Magyar folk melodies discovered by Bartók and Kodály bore little resemblance to the popular music performed by these Gypsy bands. Instead, they found that many of the folk-songs are based on pentatonic scales similar to those in Oriental folk traditions, such as those of Central Asia and Siberia. Kodály later discovered striking parallels between some ancient Magyar songs and songs of the Mari and Chuvash peoples of western Siberia.

Bartók and Kodály quickly set about incorporating elements of real Magyar peasant music into their compositions. Both Bartók and Kodály frequently quoted folk songs verbatim and wrote pieces derived entirely from authentic folk melodies. Later in his career, Bartók's use of the material involved more of a synthesis of folk music, classicism, and modernism. Bartók's melodic and harmonic sense was profoundly influenced by the folk music of Hungary, Romania, and many other nations, and he was especially 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 II, was born in 1910. In 1911, Bartók wrote what was to be his only opera, Bluebeard's Castle, dedicated to Márta. He entered it for a prize awarded by the Hungarian Fine Arts Commission, which rejected it out of hand as un-stageworthy (Leafstedt 1999[citation needed]). In 1917 Bartók revised the score in preparation for the 1918 première, for which he rewrote the ending. Following the 1919 revolution, he was pressured by the government to remove the name of the blacklisted librettist Béla Balázs (by then a refugee in Vienna) from the opera[citation needed]. Bluebeard's Castle received only one revival, in 1936, before Bartók emigrated. For the remainder of his life, although he was passionately devoted to Hungary, its people and its culture, he never felt much loyalty to its government or its official establishments.

After his disappointment over the Fine Arts Commission prize, Bartók wrote little for two or three years, preferring to concentrate on collecting and arranging folk music. He collected first in the Carpathian Basin (the then Kingdom of Hungary), where he notated Hungarian, Slovakian, Romanian and Bulgarian folk music. He also collected in Moldavia, Wallachia and in 1913 in Algeria. 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, and considered the existence of God as undecidable and unnecessary. He later became attracted to Unitarianism, and publicly converted to the Unitarian faith in 1916. His son later became president of the Hungarian Unitarian Church (Hughes 1999–2007).

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, a sordid modern story of prostitution, robbery, and murder, was started in 1918, but not performed until 1926 because of its sexual content. He wrote his third and fourth string quartets in 1927–28, after which his compositions demonstrate his mature style. 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.

In 1936 he traveled to Turkey to collect and study folk music.


World War II and last years

In 1940, as the European political situation worsened after the outbreak of World War II, Bartók was increasingly tempted to flee Hungary. He was strongly opposed to the Nazis and their Hungarian imitators. After they came to power in Germany, he refused to give concerts there, and he broke 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 U.S. with Ditta Pásztory, and settled 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 never became fully at home in the U.S., where he initially found it difficult to compose. Although well-known in America as a pianist, ethnomusicologist, and teacher, he was not well known as a composer, and there was little interest in his music during his final years. He and his wife Ditta gave concerts, and for several years, supported by a research grant, they worked on a large collection of Yugoslav folk songs. Bartók's difficulties during his first years in the US were mitigated by publication royalties, teaching, and performance tours. While their finances were always precarious, it is a myth that he lived and died in poverty and neglect. There were enough supporters to ensure that there was sufficient money and work available for him to live on. Bartók generally refused outright charity. Though he was not a member of ASCAP, the society paid for any medical care he needed in his last two years and Bartók accepted this.

The first symptoms of his leukemia began in 1940, when his right shoulder began to show signs of stiffening. In 1942 symptoms increased, and he started having bouts of fever, but the disease was not diagnosed in spite of medical examinations. Finally, in April 1944, leukemia was diagnosed, but by this time little could be done. As his body failed, Bartók's creative energy reawakened and he produced a final set of masterpieces, partly thanks to the violinist Joseph Szigeti and the conductor Fritz Reiner (Reiner had been Bartók's friend and champion since his days as Bartók's student at the Royal Academy). Bartók's last work might well have been the String Quartet No. 6 but for Serge Koussevitsky's commission for the Concerto for Orchestra. Koussevitsky's Boston Symphony Orchestra premièred the work in December 1944 to glowing reviews. Concerto for Orchestra quickly became Bartók's most popular work, although he did not live to see its full impact. He was also commissioned in 1944 by Yehudi Menuhin to write a Sonata for Solo Violin. In 1945 Bartók composed his Piano Concerto No. 3, a graceful and almost neo-classical work, and he begin work on his Viola Concerto.

Béla Bartók on 1000 Hungarian forint banknote (1983, no longer used).

Béla Bartók on 1000 Hungarian forint banknote (1983, no longer used).

Bartók died in New York from leukemia (specifically, of secondary polycythemia) on September 26, 1945 at age 64. He left his Viola Concerto and his third piano concerto unfinished at his death, and these works were later completed by his pupil, Tibor Serly. The viola piece was made from rough notes left by Bartók, and was never generally accepted as part of the Bartók canon. It was revised and polished in the 1990s by Peter Bartók, and this version is considered to be closer to what Bartók may have intended.

Bartok's body was initially interred in Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, but during the final year of communist Hungary in the late 1980s, his remains were transferred to Budapest for a state funeral on July 7, 1988 with interment in Budapest's Farkasréti 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 statue in London, opposite South Kensington Underground Station. Another statue is in front of one of the houses that Bartók owned in the hills above Budapest, which is now a museum.

 Teaching

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, Ernő Balogh, Lili Kraus, and, after Bartók moved to the United States, Jack Beeson and Violet Archer.

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.


Music

Further information: List of compositions by Béla Bartók

Paul Wilson lists as the most prominent characteristics of Bartók's music from late 1920s onwards the influence of the Carpathian basin and European art music, 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, 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 (Wilson 1992, 24-29).

He rarely used the simple 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" (Gillies 1990, 185). 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 (Wilson 1992, 25). On the other hand, from as early as the Suite for piano, op. 14 (1914), he occasionally employed a form of serialism based on compound interval cycles, some of which are maximally distributed, multi-aggregate cycles (Gollin 2007).

Béla Bartók memorial plaque in Baja, Hungary

Béla Bartók memorial plaque in Baja, Hungary

Ernő 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 (Wilson 1992, 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" (Babbitt 1949, 385). 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 (Babbitt 1949, 377–78).

The cataloguing of Bartók's works is somewhat complex. Bartók assigned opus numbers to his works three times, the last of these series ending with the Improvisations Op. 20 in 1920. He ended this practice because of the difficulty of distinguishing between original works and ethnographic arrangements, and between major and minor works. Since his death, three attempts - two full and one partial - have been made at cataloguing. The first, and still most widely used, is András Szöllősy's chronological Sz. numbers, from 1 to 121. Denijs Dille subsequently reorganised the juvenilia (Sz. 1-25) thematically, as DD numbers 1 to 77. The most recent catalogue is that of László Somfai; this is a chronological index with works identified by BB numbers 1 to 129, incorporating corrections based on the Béla Bartók Thematic Catalogue (Somfai [undated][citation needed]).

One characteristic style of music is his Night music, which he used mostly in slow movements of multi-movement ensemble or orchestral compositions in his mature period. It is characterised by "eerie dissonances providing a backdrop to sounds of nature and lonely melodies" (Schneider 2006, 84). The third movement of his Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (Adagio) (which is used in the suspense film The Shining) is an example of Night music style.

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