Bartok (1881- 1945)

Vital StatisticsBartok

Born: March 25, 1881, Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary 
Died: September 26, 1945, New York, USA
Nationality: Hungarian
Genre: 20th Century


Béla Bartók was a Hungarian composer and pianist and is considered to be one of the most important 20th century composers.

He was born in the small town of Nagyszentmiklós in Hungary. He displayed notable musical talent very early in life. By the age of four he was able to play 40 pieces on the piano and his mother began formally teaching him the next year. Bartok gave his first public recital at eleven to 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".

In 1899, Bartók entered the Budapest Academy of Music where he was known as a star pianist, studying under István Thomán, a former student of Franz Liszt. During his time there, he met Zoltán Kodály, who influenced him greatly and became his lifelong friend and colleague. He and Kodály often travelled into the countryside to collect and research old Magyar folk melodies. This led to the premiere of Bartók’s First String Quartet in 1910, which utilised these folk tunes. Over the following years he went on to refine this new musical style.

In 1917, Bartók’s only opera, Bluebeard’s Castle (1911), successfully premiered at the Budapest Opera. In the following decade, his performing career unexpectedly took off, resulting in the composition of much piano music including two piano concertos (1926, 1931), and the publication of his music. In the second half of the 1930s he became full-time ethnomusicology professor at the Budapest Academy and during this time produced his best-known compositions, including Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936) and his Violin Concerto (1938).

In 1940 Bartók relocated to New York and in 1943 took up a visiting professorship at Harvard. In 1944, the Boston Symphony Orchestra premiered Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra. In his last year before his death in 1945, he finished his third piano concerto and nearly completed his viola concerto.

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