Béla Bartók

Essay by Revenellii November 2002

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Béla Bartók

Mast. Of Music and Music Lit. 10:00MWF

Béla Bartók was born in 1881 in Greater Hungary. With the title of "the greatest Hungarian composer" he is considered one of the most significant musicians of the twentieth century. He shared with his friend Zoltán Kodály, another leading Hungarian composer, a passion for ethnomusicology. His music was invigorated by the themes, modes, and rhythmic patterns of the Hungarian and other folk music traditions he studied, which he synthesized with influences from his contemporaries into his own distinctive style.

Bartók grew up in the Greater Hungary of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which was partitioned by the Treaty of Trianon after World War I. His birthplace, Nagyszentmiklós (Great St Nicholas), became Sînnicolau Mare, Romania. After his father died in 1888, Béla's mother, Paula, took her family to live in Nagyazöllös, later known as Vinogradov, Ukraine, and then to Pozsony, or Bratislava, in her native Slovakia.

When Czechoslovakia was created Béla and his mother found themselves on opposite sides of a border.

A smallpox inoculation gave the infant Béla a rash that persisted until he was five years old. Because of this he spent his early years in isolation from other children, often listening to his mother playing the piano. Béla showed precocious musical ability and began to compose dances at the age of nine. The frequent moves of the family were motivated, in part, by Paula Bartók's desire to obtain the best possible musical instruction for her son.

At Pozsony, Bartók studied piano under distinguished teachers. He taught himself composition by reading scores (copies of a musical composition in written or printed notation). Under the influence of composer Ernö Dohnányi, four years ahead of him in his school, teenage Bartók wrote chamber music in the style of Brahms, the german romantic who created...