Béla Bartók

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Béla Bartók

  • A lecture presentation by
  • Julie Tunstall, Flute and Laura Peterson, Piano
  • 2012 National Flute Convention
  • Sunday, August 12, 2012
  • Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, NV

On the nature of folk music…

  • “A folk melody is like a living creature: it changes minute by minute, moment by moment. One should never state, therefore, that a melody is as notated on the spot, but rather that it was such at the time it was notated…”
  • ~Béla Bartók, “Why and How do We Collect Folk Music?” (1936)

Bartók as International Figure

Interest in Folk Music

  • 1904 – Slovakian countryside
    • Overheard Lidi Dósa
    • Realized that Hungarian folk songs traditionally employed by “classical” composers were not autochthonous (biography, 1918)
    • Began search for true indigenous Hungarian folk melodies and rhythms

Work with Zoltán Kodály

  • Kodály had already published a study of folk music
  • Began lifelong collaboration
    • 1906 – Magyar népdalok (Hungarian folk songs)
      • 20 settings of Hungarian folk melodies harmonized for voice and piano
        • 10 by Bartók
        • 10 by Kodály
  • Intent: to popularize Hungarian folk music

Finding the music

  • Traveled to remote villages
    • Sought out those who could replicate true or original folk songs
      • Recorded
      • Transcribed
      • Analyzed
      • Classified

Further Documentation – Bartók’s photographs

  • Romania: Alpenhorn, fiddle
  • Slovakian peasant girls

Split with Kodály

  • Bartók’s interest expanded to include indigenous musics of
    • Hungary
    • Romania
    • Slovakia
    • Serbia
    • Croatia
    • Bulgaria
    • Turkey
    • Transylvania
    • North Africa
      • “… before World War I went to North Africa as well to collect and study the Arabic music of the Sahara. I was not averse to the influence of Arabic folk music either: the third movement of Suite for Piano was influenced, for example, by Arabic folk music.” http://www.bartoknewseries.com/en/bartok-new-series-27

Research and writing

  • Books, Essays, Articles and Monographs
    • 1929: “Hungarian Folk Music”
    • 1931: “What is Folk Music?
    • 1936: “Why and how do We Collect Folk Music?”
    • 1937: “Folk Song Research and Nationalism”
    • 1943: “Folk Song Research in Eastern Europe”
    • 1951: Serbo-Croatian Folk Songs
    • 1954: Serbo-Croatian Heroic Songs
    • And many more…
  • Collected and edited by Benjamin Suchoff
    • Béla Bartók Essays
    • Béla Bartók Studies in Ethnomusicology

A sample of folk music in his compositions…

  • Orchestral
    • 1931: Erdélyi táncok (Transylvanian dances)
    • 1931 Magyar kepék (Hungarian sketches)
  • Piano:
    • c. 1914-18: Three Hungarian Folk Tunes
    • *1914-18: Tizenöt magyar paraszdtal (15 Hungarian peasant songs)
  • Vocal:
    • 1906: Magyar népdalok (Hungarian folksongs)
    • c. 1907 Four Slovakian Folksongs
    • 1915: Nine Romanian Folksongs

Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs

  • 1914-17: Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs
    • SZ 71, BB 79
  • Miniatures for piano
    • Created as brief set of concert works for piano
    • Transcribed melodies to fit a modern “western” instrument, added harmony
    • “Peasant” music, but suitable for concert stage

Bartok’s transcription of Peasant Song #7, becomes 1st piece in dance set

Final Version for piano

  • Four Old Sorrowful Songs
  • Ballade (Theme and Variations)
  • Scherzo
    • Four Verses of a Humorous Song
  • Nine Old Dances
  • All movements played attacca


  • 1939: transcribed for orchestra
    • By composer
  • 1956: transcribed for flute and piano by Paul Arma
    • Suite Paysanne Hongroise
    • Ballade not included in set

“What is Folk Music?” 1931

  • Use of terms “peasant music” and “primitive” melody intended not a pejorative sense, rather…”to point to the concept of ideal simplicity devoid of trashiness.”
  • “What is Folk Music?” Béla Bartók Essays, ed. Benjamin Suchoff, pg 8

Folk Songs Used in Suite Paysanne Hongroise

  • Of the 6000 songs Bartok catalogued, he used 600 in his compositions
    • 300 of these were Hungarian in origin
    • The others were Romanian, Slovakian, Romanian, Bulgarian and more
    • Vera Lampert catalogued the songs used in these compositions in her book Folk Music in Bartok’s Compositions, 2008
  • Hungary before the Treaty of Trianon (1920) New borders after World War I
  • Map source @ 1955 by Francis Laping, from the book Remember Hungary 1956
  • 182 I tie my horse to the weeping willow,
  • I bow my head On his forelegs.
  • Suite Paysanne Hongroise
  • I. Chants populaires tristes
  • Mrs. Berndt Doboczi (26), Tjszasz (Pest-Pilis-Solt-Kiskun), August 1918
  • 1.
  • 183 The flower my beloved gave me Withered before he left me, ay-ay-ay. He left me because of a woman, She should be punished by the Lord of the heavens, ay-ay.
  • 2. Andante
  • Mrs. Gyorgy Balog (50, illiterate), Jobbagytelke (Maros-Torda), April 1914
  • 184 Where are you going, you three orphans?
  • We go far away to become servants.
  • 3. Poco rubato
  • Ferenc Kis (55) illiterate, Nyaradkoszvenyes, Maros Torda, April 1914
  • 185 Blue forget-me-not bent over my shoulder,
  • My mother sent me away to wander about.
  • Why did she leave me to become an orphan
  • Who wanders about in the world at large?
  • 4. Andante
  • Kata Palinkas Kulcsar, Zentelke (Kolozs); year not listed
  • 186 My wife is so clean that only once a month she washes herself. Hey, let’s be merry, All my life I’ll worry because I got married!
  • Scherzo - allegro
  • Panna Pe-to (19), Mrs. Berndt Doboczi (26), Ujszasz (Pest-
  • Pilis-Solt-Kiskun), August 1918
  • 188 Come, follow where I go, You will soon know where I live: By the hedge of hawthorne, Come, my love, into my arms.
  • Vieilles danses
  • 1. Allegro
  • Man, Ipolysag, Hont Nov 1910
  • 189 Climbing the plum tree, I tore my breeches. Darn!
  • Huszul, My beloved will mend them.
  • 2. Allegretto
  • Elderly man, Ipolysag, Hont, November 1910
  • 190 The girls are spinning flax, And keep saying to each other: Ay, mother, the spinning...
  • The waiting is so hard.
  • 3. Allegretto
  • Ferenc Orosz (62) and others, Dercen, Bereg, April 1912
  • 191 The cricket in the green woods prepares to marry,
  • He hugs the fly and would like to wed her.
  • 4. L’istesso tempo
  • Ileanna Kovacs (20) Korostarkany, Bihar, January 1912
  • 192 You are not a maiden, no, you're not. You don't dare to kiss me, Maybe you are afraid I cannot return it.
  • 5. Assai moderato
  • Istvan balog (elderly man), Nagymegyer, Komarom, 1910
  • 193 Ailing woman, tired lad, Play for me, Gypsy lad, hey-ya, hey!
  • Wait a little while I eat my fill, I'll play for you later, hey-ya, hey!
  • 6. Allegretto
  • Mihaly Szabo (70) Felsoiregh, Tolna, April 1907
  • 194 My rusty horse, Sari, I brought him from Szolnok yesterday. But I ride him to buy some wine, because of a pretty woman's fancy.
  • 7. Poco piu vivo
  • Man, Nagymegyer, Komaro, March 1910
  • 195 They gathered, they gathered, The girls of Izsap,
  • Em, ey-ya, The girls of Izsap.
  • 8. Allegro
  • Woman (70) Nagymegyer Komarom March 1910
  • 196 Bagpipe solo
  • 9. Allegro
  • Ipolysag, Hont, 1910


  • Bartok, Bela. “Hungarian Folk Music,” (1929), Bela Bartok Essays, ed. Benjamin Suchoff, the Estate of Bela Bartok, 1976.
  • Bartok, Bela. “What is Folk Music?” (1931), Bela Bartok Essays, ed. Benjamin Suchoff, the Estate of Bela Bartok, 1976.
  • Bartok, Bela. “Why and How do We Collect Folk Music (1936), Bela Bartok Essays, ed. Benjamin Suchoff, the Estate of Bela Bartok, 1976.
  • Bartok, Bela. “Hungarian Peasant Music,” (1933), Bela Bartok Essays, ed. Benjamin Suchoff, the Estate of Bela Bartok, 1976.
  • Bartok, Peter My Father, Rinaldi Printing Company, Tampa FL, 2002.
  • Bonis. Ferenc, Bela Bartok His Life in Pictures Boosey & Hawkes, Budapest Hungary 1964.
  • Hinson, Maurice; Guide to the Pianist’s Repertoire, Second, Revised and Enlarged Edition. Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis. 1987.
  • Knapp, Calvin Horace. “A Study, Analysis and performance of Representative Piano Works of Various periods of Bela Bartok.” Ph.D. thesis Columbia University, 1973.
  • Lampert, Vera, and Laszlo Vikarius, ed.; Folk Music in Bartok’s compositions – A Source Catalog – Arab, Hungarian, Romanian, Ruthenian, Servian, and Slovak melodies; Hungarian Heritage House, Helicon Kiad/o, Museum of Ethnography, Institute for Musicology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 2008; G. Henle Verlag, Germany 2008.
  • Lesznai, Ljos, Bartok JM Dent & Sons Ltd Aldine Press London 1961.
  • Sadie, Stanley et al. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol 2. MacMillan Publishers LTD, London, 1980.
  • Yeomans, David; Bartok for Piano; Indiana University press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1988.
  • Images courtesy of Google Images, http://www.bartoknewseries.com/en/bartok-new-series-27 , http://www.zti.hu/bartok/exhibition/de_P9.htm
  • Piano score for use in scan: http://imslp.org/wiki/15_Hungarian_Peasant_Songs,_Sz.71_(Bart%C3%B3k,_B%C3%A9la)

Bartók on composition

  • "Many people think it is a comparatively easy task to write a composition on found folk tunes...
  • This way of thinking is completely erroneous. To handle folk tunes is one of the most difficult tasks; equally difficult, if not more so, than to write a major
  • original composition.
  • If we keep in mind that borrowing a tune means being bound by its individual peculiarity, we shall understand one part of the difficulty. Another is created by the special character of folk tune. We must penetrate it, feel it, and bring out its sharp contours by the appropriate setting...It must be a work of inspiration just as much as any other composition.”
  • ~Béla Bartók 1881-1945

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