Bela Bartok

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  • Topic: Béla Bartók, Folk music, Hungary
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  • Published : September 22, 2012
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Bela Bartok

      Bela Bartok was born on March 25th, 1881 in Baratian, a small town in Hungary. His father, Bela Bartok Sr., belonged to a lower noble family of Hungary though his mother Paula came from a Roman Catholic Serbian family in Serbia. At an early age, Bela started showing talent for music and often distinguished rhythms when his mother played the piano. This was before he could even properly speak. At the age of 4, he played 40 pieces on the piano and his mother, recognizing his talent, began teaching him formally. [1]       Bela was a sick child till the age of 5. He suffered from eczema, which was caused by a smallpox inoculation, and because of this he spent his early years in isolation away from other children. At the age of 7, he lost his father, and his mother moved to Pozgony along with Bela and his sister, Erzsebet. At Pozgony, Bela who was then 11, gave his first recital in public, performing his own composition, which he composed two years earlier. Immediately after this, Laszio Erkel accepted him as his pupil.       Bela graduated from grammar school in 1899. Up to 1903, he studied piano and composition at the Royal Academy of music in Budapest. At this academy Bela met Zoltan Kodaly, who totally influenced him, and remained his life long friend and colleague. His first major orchestral work, a symphonic poem, ‘Kossuth’, honoring Lajos Kossuth, the hero of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, came out in 1903.[2]       He was influenced in his early work by the music of Richard Strauss whom he met in 1902. Then in 1904, at a holiday resort, he overheard Lidi Doza sing folk songs and this marked the beginning of his life-long dedication to folk music. He was also influenced by Claude Debussy, the French Composer. Bela’s style of orchestral work resembled those of Johannes Brahmas and Richard Strauss. He wrote a lot of small piano pieces showing great interest in folk music. The first of such piece was the ‘String Quartet No.1’ in 1908. He became a piano professor at the Royal Academy in 1907. His famous pupils were Gyongy Samdor, Fritz Reiner, Lili Knaus, Emo Balogh, Jack Besson and Violet Archer.[3]       In 1908, Bela and Kodaly jointly researched old Magyar Folk Melodies. This collaboration coincided with the contemporary social interests in traditional culture. They discovered that Magyar Folk Music, which had earlier been termed as Gypsy Music, was based on pentatonic scales, similar to Asian Folk traditions. They incorporated elements of Magyar Peasant Music in to their compositions. They mostly quoted folk song melodies verbatim and wrote pieces derived from authentic songs. They would travel around to all areas of the countryside pioneering for these ethno-musical fieldworks. His style in art and musical compositions formed the synthesis of folk music, modernism and classicism. Bela’s harmonic and melodic senses were very much influenced by the folk music of Hungary and Romania. Asymmetrical dance rhythms and pungent harmonies found in Bulgarian music were his favorites.       In 1909 Bartok married Marta Ziegler and they had their first son Bela III, in 1910. Bela’s one and only Opera, ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’, dedicated to his wife Marta was written in 1911. He divorced Marta in 1923 after “putting up” with her for 15 years. He married Ditta Pasztony, a piano student and had his second son, Peter born in 1924. He began teaching Peter, and for his lessons Bela began composing a six-volume collection of piano pieces called ‘Mikrokosmos’ for teaching. This collection began with very easy pieces and gradually increased to very hard concert pieces. He then concentrated on collecting and arranging folk music. The first examples of his collections were in Caroathian Basin, where he rotated Romanian, Hungarian, Bulgarian and Slovakian folk music. The out break of World War I forced him to put aside the expeditions and concentrate on writing and composing.       Bela, influenced by Arnold...
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