Bela Bartok (1881 – 1945)

March 25, 1881 - Sînnicolau Mare, Hungary
Died: September 26, 1945 - New York, NY, USA

Béla Bartók started playing the piano at age 4 and started producing his first composition at age 9. In 1899, he entered the Budapest Academy of Music.

It was in 1902, a meeting with Richard Strauss at the Budapest premiere, that Bartok’s composing career sparked off. Bartok soon became a renowned piano virtuoso, travelling abroad performing music of Liszt and other romantic composers.

Another landmark in his career was his acquaintance with Zoltan Kodaly. Together with Kodaly, he travelled to the outskirts of pre-war Hungary in 1906, symtematically and diligently collecting and recording folk music. In 1907, Bartok became the professor of piano at the Budapest Royal Academy of Music, a post which enabled him to settle in Hungary and continue his folksong collecting, notably in Transylvania. Meanwhile his music was beginning to be influenced by the music of Debussy that Kodály had brought back from Paris - both opened the way to new, modal kinds of harmony and irregular metre.

The outbreak of World War II and the rise of  Nazi power in Hungary had compelled Bartok to resettled in the United States. Being an unknown composer in a new country, Bartok was happy. He gave concerts and for a while had a research grant to work on a collection of Yugoslav folksong, but his finances were precarious and his wealth was increasing bad.

In 1945, just when he was getting recognition as one of the major European composers, he died of leukemia and was buried in New York. His remains were transferred to Budapest after the fall of Hungarian communism in 1988.

Major influences on Bartók's style were Liszt, Brahms, Richard Strauss, Debussy, Stravinsky, and of course folk music, and all these were blended into a unique and highly personal style full of melodic fertility and rhythmical vitality. Bartok’s fascination with native Hungarian folk music was to permeate much of his music, and the essence and style of which is always evident in many of his compositions.

~ Written by Boon Sin Ler

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