A Grand Hungarian

25 March marks the birthdate of Hungarian composer and pianist, Bela Bartok, in 1881. The picture above is of a statue of Bartok in Mako, Hungary.

In Pozsony, Bartok gave his first public recital at age 11 to a 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”.

From 1899 to 1903, Bartók studied piano under István Thomán, a former student of Franz Liszt, and composition under János Koessler at the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest. In 1903, Bartók wrote his first major orchestral work, Kossuth, a symphonic poem which honored Lajos Kossuth, hero of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.

Bartok was influenced both by the music of Richard Strauss and composer Claude Debussy. Bartok also had a lifelong affinity for the folk music of south central Europe which he was exposed to in his youth.

Bartok was an opponent of the Third Reich and European Fascism. When the government of Hungary collaborated to become a puppet State of Nazi Germany, Bartok emigrated to the USA. Bartok found it difficult to adjust to life in the United States, and while there was little demand for his music in terms of live performances, he did make several recordings for Columbia Records many of which included Bartók’s own spoken introductions. Bartók died at age 64 in a hospital in New York City from complications of leukemia in 1945.

Below is a brief Bartok musical selection, “Allegro pizzicato” from Bartók’s String Quartet No. 4