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Bartók, Béla

The Oxford Dictionary of Music
Michael KennedyMichael Kennedy, Joyce BourneJoyce Bourne

Bartók, Béla (b Nagyszentmiklós, Hung. (now Romania), 1881; d NY, 1945) 

Hungarian composer, pianist, and folklorist. Parents were musical and mother gave him his first pf lessons. In 1894 at Bratislava (then Pozsony) studied with the cond. László Erkel until 1899 when he entered Budapest Royal Acad. of Music. In 1902 heard a perf of Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra, which stimulated his powers of comp. to such a degree that he wrote his nationalistic tone‐poem Kossuth in 1903. By this time was travelling abroad as solo pianist in music by Liszt and other kbd virtuosi. In 1905 began systematic exploration of Hungarian peasant music and in 1906, with Kodály, pubd a coll. of 20 folk‐songs. In 1907 became prof. of pf at the Budapest RAM. For the next decade, while his music was badly received in his own country, continued systematic coll. of Magyár folk‐songs. In 1917 his ballet The Wooden Prince was successfully prod. in Budapest and led to the staging in the following year of his 1‐act opera Duke Bluebeard's Castle (1911). In 1922 and 1923 his first 2 vn sonatas had their in London, and in 1923 comp. the Dance Suite to celebrate the 50th anniv. of the union of Buda and Pest. During the 1920s resumed career as pianist, composing several works for his own use. In 1934 was given a salaried post in the Hung. Acad. of Sciences in order that he could prepare his folk‐song coll. for publication. In the spring of 1940, in view of political developments in Hungary, emigrated to USA. This was not a happy time for him; his health began to fail, his music was infrequently perf, and there was little demand for his services as a pianist. Nevertheless the Koussevitzky Foundation commissioned the Concerto for Orchestra, Yehudi Menuhin a solo vn sonata, and William Primrose a vla conc. (left unfinished but completed by Tibór Sérly). He died from leukaemia.

Bartók's music is a highly individual blend of elements transformed from his own admirations: Liszt, Strauss, Debussy, folk‐music and Stravinsky. Perhaps his greatest achievement lies in his 6 str qts, in which formal symmetry and thematic unity were successfully related. But the melodic fertility and rhythmical vitality of all his music have ensured its consistent success since his death. Prin. comps.:


Duke Bluebeard's Castle (A kékszakállù herceg vára), Op.11, 1‐act opera (1911, rev. 1912, 1918);

The Wooden Prince (A fából fargott királyfi), Op.13, 1‐act ballet (1914–17);

The Miraculous Mandarin (A csodálatos mandarin), Op.19, 1‐act pantomime (1918–19, orch 1923, rev. 1924, 1926–31).


Kossuth, sym.‐poem (1903);

Rhapsody, pf, orch, Op.1 (1904);

Suite No.1, Op.3 (1905, rev. c.1920), No.2 (small orch), Op.4 (1905–7, rev. 1920, 1943);

vn conc. No.1. (1907–8;

1st movt rev. as No.1 of 2 Portraits), No.2 (1937‐8);

2 Portraits, Op.5 (No.1 1907–8, No.2 orch 1911);

2 Pictures, Op.10 (1910);

Romanian Dance, Op.11 (1911);

4 Pieces, Op.12 (1912, orch 1921);

Suite (3 dances), The Wooden Prince (1921–4);

Suite, The Miraculous Mandarin (1919, 1927);

Dance Suite (1923);

pf conc. No.1 (1926), No.2 (1930–1), No.3 (1945);

Rhapsody, vn, orch, No.1 (1928), No.2 (1928, rev. 1944);

Transylvanian Dances (1931);

Hungarian Sketches (1931);

Hungarian Peasant Songs (1933);

Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936);

Divertimento, str (1939);

2‐pf conc. (arr. of sonata for 2 pf, perc) (1940);

Concerto for Orchestra (1942–3, rev. 1945);

vla conc. (completed from draft by Sérly) (1945).

v(v). & orch:

3 Village Scenes, women's vv. (1926);

Cantata Profana (The 9 Enchanted Stags), ten., bar., double ch, orch (1930);

5 Hungarian Folk Songs, low v. (1933).


Evening, male vv. (1903);

4 Old Hungarian Folk Songs, male vv. (1910, rev. 1912);

5 Slovak Folk Songs, male vv. (1917);

5 Hungarian Folk Songs (1930);

5 Székely Songs, male vv. (1932);

27 Traditional Choruses, children's and women's vv. (1935);

From Olden Times, male vv. (1935).


pf qt (1898);

pf qnt (1903–4, rev. ?1920);

str qt No.1, Op.7 (1908), No.2, Op.17 (1915–17), No.3 (1927), No.4 (1928), No.5 (1934), No.6 (1939);

vn sonatas, No.1 (1921), No.2 (1922);

Rhapsody No.1, vn, pf (1928, also orch vers.), No.2 (1928, rev. 1945, also orch vers.);

Rhapsody, vc, pf (1928);

44 Duos, 2 vn (1931);

sonata, 2 pf, 2 perc (1937, orch 1940);

sonata, unacc. vn (1944);

Contrasts, vn, cl, pf (1938).


3 Klavierstücke, Op.13 (1897);

Scherzo (Fantasie), Op.18 (1897);

Scherzo in B minor (1900);

12 Variations (1900–1);

4 Pieces (1903);

Rhapsody, Op.1 (1904, also orch vers.);

14 Bagatelles, Op.6 (1908);

10 Easy Pieces (1908);

85 Pieces for Children (1908–9, rev. 1945);

2 Romanian Dances, Op.8a (1909–10, No.1 orch 1911);

7 Sketches, Op.9b (1908–10);

4 Dirges, Op.9a (1909–10, No.2 orch as No.3 of Hungarian Sketches, 1931);

3 Burlesques, Op.8c (1908–11, No.2 orch as No.4 of Hungarian Sketches, 1931);

Allegro barbaro (1911); sonatina (1915, orch as Transylvanian Dances, 1931);

Romanian Dances (1915, orch 1917);

Suite, Op.14 (1916);

3 Hungarian Folk Tunes (c. 1914–18);

15 Hungarian Peasant Songs (1914–18, Nos. 6–12, 14–15 orch 1933);

3 Studies, Op.18 (1918);

8 Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, Op.20 (1920);

Dance Suite (1925, arr. of orch work); sonata (1926);

Out of Doors (1926);

9 Little Pieces (1926);

Mikrokosmos, 6 vols. containing 153 ‘progressive pieces’ (1926, 1932–9).

Also many solo songs, editions of Italian kbd music, etc.