Bartók, Béla

Hungarian composer Bela Bartók is known as one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century for creating an original modern music style combined with folk elements.

Profession: Pianist, Composer
Country of Origin: Hungary
Country of Asylum: United States of America
Date of birth: 25 March 1881
Died: September 1945

Béla Bartók began performing at the age of 11. His first compositions revealed the influence of Liszt, Brahms and Strauss, but most of his inspiration came from exploring national folk music. This included Hungarian folk but also other ethnic rhythms that he discovered while travelling through his native Transylvania. His hometown is now part of Romania.

Using folk elements and traditional techniques, Bartók achieved an original modern style that has had a great impact on 20th-century music. He became known for his compositions for piano (such as “Mikrokosmos”, 1926-27), for violin (“Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta”, 1936), and for orchestra (“Concerto for Orchestra”, 1943).

Béla Bartók using a phonograph to record folk songs sung by peasants in what is now Slovakia. Wikipedia


Bartók firmly opposed the rise of Nazism, its persecution of the Jews and the banning of their work. He was not a Jew, but said he was ready to become one just to protest against the persecution which was extending itself to Austria and Hungary. “My main idea, which dominates me entirely, is the brotherhood of man over and above all conflicts … This is why I am open to influence by any fresh and healthy outside sources, be they Slovak, Romanian, Arabic or other,” he said.

So, when war took over Europe, he reluctantly decided to go into exile and moved to the United States in 1940. He received an honorary PhD from Columbia University, and continued with folk song research as a visiting assistant in Music until 1942.

In September 1945 he died, leaving unfinished the last 17 bars of his “Concerto for Viola”. His works were performed more often during the years following his death than during his entire lifetime. In 1988, 43 years after his death, his remains were brought back to Hungary for a state funeral.