Béla Bartók (1881-1945) was born in Hungary on March 25, 1881. His parents were both avid amateur musicians who quickly realized that their son was very talented. Bartók’s mother gave him his first piano lessons when he was five and it wasn’t long after that time that he began composing. In 1898 he auditioned at and was accepted to the Vienna Conservatory, which was then THE place to study music. After careful consideration, though, he decided to stay in Hungary and attend the Budapest Academy of Music. Bartók loved his homeland and lived there until the late 1930s.
Bartók was successful as a pianist as well as composer. By the early 1920s he had earned an international reputation and toured most of Europe and the United States. Besides performing and composing, he spent a great deal of time studying and documenting the folk music of Hungary and Romania. He was fascinated with the music of peasants and he implemented many of the styles of their music into his own compositions.
Bartók wrote extensively in genres for orchestra, piano, and voice, and he also wrote many great chamber music pieces. His string quartets are among the greatest works in that medium. He was a Hungarian nationalist and celebrated the music and culture of his country through his own style. Although Bartók’s music is often dissonant and sometimes even atonal, like that of Schoenberg, his melodies are usually clear and show the influence of Hungarian folk tunes. Also, his music has a rhythmic drive similar to that of Stravinsky, but again, with the influence of folk dances.
Bartók was very disturbed by fascism and was outspoken against the Nazi’s in the 1930s. He even went so far as to forbid the performance of any of his works in Germany and Italy and he cut off ties with his German publisher. In 1939 he emigrated to the United States and lived in New York City. While in the US he completed some of his greatest works and also was given a position as visiting assistant in music at Columbia University.