Hungarian composer Bela Bartok's musical training began at the family piano, where his mother gave him lessons after realizing that the boy was a musical prodigy: he had perfect rhythm at the age of two, and could play dozens of folk... [more]
Hungarian composer Bela Bartok's musical training began at the family piano, where his mother gave him lessons after realizing that the boy was a musical prodigy: he had perfect rhythm at the age of two, and could play dozens of folk tunes by heart at the age of four. As a young man, Bartok traveled to Budapest, eager to learn and develop a truly Hungarian music. After several years of piano study at Budapest's Royal Academy of Music, he began to compose. Early works show the influence of the late Romantics: Franz Lizst, Richard Strauss, Richard Wagner, and Johannes Brahms. Around 1905, soon after his decision to abandon a career as a concert pianist, he met the composer Zoltan Kodaly, who became a life-long musical friend. The pair found a common passion for folk music, and began to travel in the countryside collecting folk songs, which they recorded on an unwieldy but serviceable Edison phonograph. Bartok captured performances in villages all over Hungary, neighboring Slavic countries, and even North Africa; by the end of his life he had accumulated over 6000 songs. Gradually, he worked the material into his own compositions, creating a daring new sound that quoted the rhythms and modalities of peasant music.
Bartok's mature works for orchestra, piano, and string quartet are marked by impressionistic harmonies, dissonant chordal combinations, and exotic scales (such as the chromatic and the pentatonic). His piano pieces often explore the extreme registers of the keyboard, and his works for strings show a fondness for pizzicato and glissando -- sounds peculiar to those instruments. In using folk as the inspiration for completely original modern music, Bartok epitomized Modernism's fascination with the earthy and untutored. In 1931, he expressed this dedication in more political terms: "My guiding idea, which I have been conscious of ever since I found myself a composer, is the idea of the brotherhood of nations, a brotherhood in spite of war and strife. This is the idea I am trying to serve, with the best of my ability, in my music." Bartok's extensive oevre is considered one of the lasting legacies of twentieth-century European music. [show less]