Béla Bartok

He began lessons with his mother, who brought up the family after his father's death in 1888. In 1894 they settled in Bratislava, where he attended the Gymnasium (Dohnanyi was an elder schoolfellow), studied the piano with Laszlo Erkel and Anton Hyrtl, and composed sonatas and quartets. In 1898 he was accepted by the Vienna Conservatory, but following Dohnanyi he went to the Budapest Academy (1899-1903), where he studied the piano with Liszt's pupil Istvan Thoman and composition with Janos Koessler. There he deepened his acquaintance with Wagner, though it was the music of Strauss, which he met at the Budapest premiere of Also sprach Zarathustra in 1902, that had most influence. He wrote a symphonic poem, Kossuth (1903), using Strauss's methods with Hungarian elements in Liszt's manner.

In 1904 Kossuth was performed in Budapest and Manchester; at the same time Bartok began to make a career as a pianist, writing a Piano Quintet and two Lisztian virtuoso showpieces (Rhapsody op.1, Scherzo op.2). Also in 1904 he made his first Hungarian folksong transcription. In 1905 he collected more songs and began his collaboration with Kodaly: their first arrangements were published in 1906. The next year he was appointed Thoman's successor at the Budapest Academy, which enabled him to settle in Hungary and continue his folksong collecting, notably in Transylvania. Meanwhile his music was beginning to be influenced by this activity and by the music of Debussy that Kodaly had brought back from Paris: both opened the way to new, modal kinds of harmony and irregular metre. The 1908 Violin Concerto is still within the symphonic tradition, but the many small piano pieces of this period show a new, authentically Hungarian Bartok emerging, with the 4ths of Magyar folksong, the rhythms of peasant dance and the scales he had discovered among Hungarian, Romanian and Slovak peoples. The arrival of this new voice is documented in his String Quartet no.1 (1908), introduced at a Budapest concert of his music in 1910.

There followed orchestral pieces and a one-act opera, Bluebeard's Castle, dedicated to his young wife. Influenced by Mussorgsky and Debussy but most directly by Hungarian peasant music (and Strauss, still, in its orchestral pictures), the work, a grim fable of human isolation, failed to win the competition in which it was entered. For two years (1912-14) Bartok practically gave up composition and devoted himself to the collection, arrangement and study of folk music, until World War I put an end to his expeditions. He returned to creative activity with the String Quartet no.2 (1917) and the fairytale ballet The Wooden Prince, whose production in Budapest in 1917 restored him to public favour. The next year Bluebeard's Castle was staged and he began a second ballet, The Miraculous Mandarin, which was not performed until 1926 (there were problems over the subject, the thwarting and consummation of sexual passion). Rich and graphic in invention, the score is practically an opera without words.

While composing The Mandarin Bartok came under the influence of Stravinsky and Sch oenberg, and produced some of his most complex music in the two violin sonatas of 1921-2. At the same time he was gaining international esteem: his works were published by Universal Edition and he was invited to play them all over Europe. He was now well established, too, at home. He wrote the confident Dance Suite (1923) for a concert marking the 50th anniversary of Budapest, though there was then another lull in his composing activity until the sudden rush of works in 1926 designed for himself to play, including the Piano Concerto no.1, the Piano Sonata and the suite Out of Doors. These exploit the piano as a percussion instrument, using its resonances as well as its xylophonic hardness. The search for new sonorities and driving rhythms was continued in the next two string quartets (1927-8), of which no.4, like the concerto, is in a five-section palindromic pattem (ABCBA).

Similar formal schemes, with intensively worked counterpoint, were used in the Piano Concerto no.2 (1931) and String Quartet no.5 (1934), though now Bartok's harmony was becoming more diatonic. The move from inward chromaticism to a glowing major (though modally tinged) tonality is basic to the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936) and the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (1937), both written for performance in Switzerland at a time when the political situation in Hungary was growing unsympathetic.

In 1940 Bartok and his second wife (he had divorced and remarried in 1923) sadly left war-torn Europe to live in New York, which he found alien. They gave concerts and for a while he had a research grant to work on a collection of Yugoslav folksong, but their finances were precarious, as increasingly was his health. It seemed that his last European work the String Quartet no.6 (1939), might be his pessimistic swansong, but then came the exuberant Concerto for Orchestra (1943) and the involuted Sonata for solo violin (1944). Piano Concerto no.3, written to provide his widow with an income, was almost finished when he died, a Viola Concerto left in sketch.

He died very poor. Friends had to collect money for a proper funeral.
(Grove Dictionary of Music)

Bartok and World Timelines
A year by year alignment of his life with events in the wider world
by Malcolm Gillies (Boosey and Hawkes)
Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1904 Rhapsody for Piano and Orchestra Opus 1 3.50 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
Géza Anda - Piano
Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin cond. Ferenc Fricsay
1905 Two Portraits Opus 5 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
Suisse Romande Orchestra cond. Ernest Ansermet
1907-1908 Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No 1 4.00 stars 2 CD
Béla Bartok Comments:
Kyung-Wha Chung - Violin
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Georg Solti
1908-1909 String Quartet No 1 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
Fine Arts Quartet
1908-1909 String Quartet No 1 4.00 stars CD
Comments:
Keller Quartet
1907-1911 Deux Images 4.00 stars CD
Béla Bartok - Concerto for Orchestra - Deux Images Comments:
Concertgebouw Orchestra cond. Antal Dorati
1916 Five Songs Opus 15 3.50 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
Julia Hamari - Mezzo Soprano
Konrad Richter - Piano
1916 Five Songs Opus 16 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
Julia Hamari - Mezzo Soprano
Konrad Richter - Piano
1915-1917 String Quartet No 2 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
Fine Arts Quartet
1915-1917 String Quartet No 2 4.00 stars CD
Comments:
Keller Quartet
1917 Two Rumanian Dances 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
(Original 1915 for piano)
Suisse Romande Orchestra cond. Ernest Ansermet
1917 Two Rumanian Dances 4.00 stars 2 CD
Béla Bartok Comments:
Chicago Symphony Orchestra cond. Georg Solti
1911-1918 Duke Bluebeard's Castle 4.00 stars CD
Béla Bartok - Duke Bluebeard's Castle Comments:
I am not a special opera lover. But modern opera's often have a deep psychological insight. And in this case the music is overpowering. Unbelievable that Bartok is not considered a major composer, nowadays.
Walter Berry, Christa Ludwig, London Symphony Orchestra with Istvan Kertesz.

Synopsis:

Young Judith leaves her family and her betrothed and flees with Bluebeard to his castle.

When they enter the castle, Judith plans to make improvements on the dark and generally dreary home the lovers will share.

Bluebeard instructs her not to open any of the seven doors in the castle, but she is insistent.

The first door reveals Bluebeard's torture chamber, where the walls drip with fresh blood. This doesn't deter Judith: she is both inquisitive and, perhaps, a bit insecure, ultimately prodding Bluebeard into handing over the keys to all seven doors so that she might know him better.

Against Bluebeard's wishes she continues to open doors, ultimately revealing various aspects of Bluebeard's past.

At the seventh door, Bluebeard's three former wives step out into the hall. They are the Duke's morning, noon, and evening wives, and Judith is now his midnight wife. 

He weighs her down with jewels, a crown, and a cloak, and she follows a moonbeam into the seventh chamber, the door closing behind her. 

Bluebeard is left alone in darkness.
(www.boosey.com)

Béla Bartok - Bluebeard's Castle  [Hungarian]

Comments:
This is the original version sung in Hungarian.
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Julia Varady
Bayersches Staatsorchester cond. Wolfgang Sawallisch

Te vagy varam fényessége,
Csokolj, csokolj, sohse kérdezz.
1921 Violin Sonata No 1, Sz 75 4.00 stars 8 CD
Comments:
Itzhak Perlman - Violin
Martha Argerich - Piano
1922 Sonata No 2 for Violin and Piano 4.00 stars LP
Comments:
Rafael Druian - Violin
John Simms - Piano
1923 Dance suite 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
Suisse Romande Orchestra cond. Ernest Ansermet
1923 Dance Suite 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
Hungarian Orchestra RTV cond. Gyorgy Lehel
1923 Dance Suite 4.50 stars 2 CD
Béla Bartok Comments:
Chicago Symphony Orchestra cond. Georg Solti
1923 Dance Suite 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
Concertgebouw Orchestra cond. Bernard Haitink
1924 Dorfszenen 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
Five Slovak folksongs
Julia Hamari - Mezzo Soprano
Konrad Richter - Piano
1926 Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No 1 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
Géza Anda - Piano
Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin cond. Ferenc Fricsay
1926 Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No 1 4.00 stars 2 CD
Béla Bartok Comments:
Vladimir Ashkenazy - Piano
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Georg Solti
1918-1927 The Miraculous Mandarin 5.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok - Béla Bartók: The Miraculous Mandarin/Music For Strings, Percussion & Celesta Comments:
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Georg Solti.

This performance is truly electrifying.

1918-1927 The Miraculous Mandarin 5.00 stars CD
Béla Bartok - Béla Bartók: The Miraculous Mandarin/Music For Strings, Percussion & Celesta Comments:
Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Georg Solti.

More than a match for the LSO version with Solti.

1918-1927 The Miraculous Mandarin 4.50 stars LP
Béla Bartok - Concerto for Orchestra - Deux Images Comments:
Hungarian RTV Orchestra cond. Gyorgy Lehel
1927 String Quartets No 3 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok - Six String Quartets [The Fine Arts Quartet] Comments:
Fine Arts Quartet
1927 String Quartet No 3 4.00 stars CD
Comments:
Keller Quartet
1928 String Quartets No 4 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok - Six String Quartets [The Fine Arts Quartet] Comments:
Fine Arts Quartet
1928 String Quartet No 4 4.50 stars CD
Comments:
Keller Quartet
1930 Cantata Profana 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok - Concerto for Orchestra - Deux Images Comments:
For tenor, bass choir and orchestra.

Hungarian RTV Orchestra cond. Gyorgy Lehel

1931 Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No 2 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
Gyorgy Sandor - Piano
Wiener Symphoniker cond. Michael Gielen
1931 Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No 22 4.00 stars 2 CD
Béla Bartok Comments:
Vladimir Ashkenazy - Piano
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Georg Solti
1931 Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No 2 4.00 stars DVD-R
Comments:
Bertrand Chamayou - Piano
Orchestre de Paris cond. Pierre Boulez

Recorded from Mezzo TV

1931 Hungarian Sketches 4.5 out of 5 importance 2 CD
Béla Bartok Comments:
Chicago Symphony Orchestra cond. Georg Solti
 1931 Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No 2 4.5 out of 5 importance CD
 

Comments:

Live recording from 1967
Did they have a flu epidemic? Or was this a Kleenex commercial?
Maddening background noise!

Sviataslav Richter - Piano
USSR State Symphony Orchestra cond. Evgeny Svetlanov

1934 String Quartets No 5 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok - Six String Quartets [The Fine Arts Quartet] Comments:
Fine Arts Quartet
1934 String Quartet No 5 4.00 stars CD
Comments:
Keller Quartet
1936  Music For Strings, Percussion & Celesta 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok - Music For Strings, Percussion & Celesta Comments:
BBC Symphony Orchestra cond. Pierre Boulez
1936 Music For Strings, Percussion & Celesta 5.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok - Béla Bartók: The Miraculous Mandarin/Music For Strings, Percussion & Celesta Comments:
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Georg Solti.
This performance is truly electrifying.
1936 Music For Strings, Percussion & Celesta 5.00 stars 2 CD
Béla Bartok - Béla Bartók: The Miraculous Mandarin/Music For Strings, Percussion & Celesta Comments:
Chicago Symphony Orchestra cond. Georg Solti

Maybe even more stunning as the LSO version.

1937 Sonata for two Piano's and Percussion 5.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok - Sonata for two Piano's and Percussion Comments:
This is one of the great Magic Moments of serious music. Don't miss it!

Alfons and Aloys Kontarsky, piano
Christoph Caskel and Heinz König, percussion.

1937 Sonata for two Piano's and Percussion 5.00 stars 2CD
Béla Bartok - Sonata for two Piano's and Percussion Comments:
Martha Argerich - Piano
Stephen Kovacevitch - Piano
Willy Goudswaard - Percussion
Michael de Roo - Percussion
Béla Bartok - Sonata for two Piano's and Percussion  [Alfred Brendel - Ch. Zelka] Comments:
This is an old tired record, but of great quality.

Piano Alfred Brendel - Charlotte Zelka
Percussion Gustav Schuster - Rudolph Zimmermann
Comments:
Gyorgy Sandor, Rolf Reinhardt - Piano
Otto Schad, Richard Sohm - Percussion
Comments:
Georg Solti, Murray Perahia - Piano
David Corkhill, Evelyn Glennie - Percussion
1937-1938 Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No 2 4.00 stars 2 CD
Béla Bartok Comments:
Kyung-Wha Chung - Violin
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Georg Solti
1937-1938 Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No 22 4.00 stars 3 CD
Comments:
Anne-Sophie Mutter - Violin
Boston Symphony Orchestra cond. Seiji Ozawa
1937-1938 Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No 2 4.00 stars BD-R

Comments:

Leonidas Kavakos - Violin
Berliner Philharmoniker cond. Simon Rattle

Live recording at the 2005 Europa Konzert , recored from BRAVA KLASSIEK TV

1938 Contrasts 4.00 stars 8 CD

Comments:

Michael Collins - Clarinet
Chantal Juillet - Violin
Martha Argerich - Piano

1938 Contrasts 4.00 stars CD

Comments:

Benny Goodman - Clarinet
Joseph Szigeto - Violin
Bela Bartok - Piano

1939 String Quartets No 6 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok - Six String Quartets [The Fine Arts Quartet] Comments:
The last of the six finished string quartets was completed in 1939. The six works span a period of forty years.
I lack the talent and ability to describe this music. If you like Bartok these works are essentials. The Fine Arts Quartet give a very good performance. Because of the price, which no one could refuse, these recordings were rather popular, in a relative sort of way.
1939 String Quartet No 6 4.00 stars CD
Comments:
Keller Quartet
1939 Divertimento 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
Moscow Chamber Orchestra cond. Rudolf Barshai
1939 Divertimento 4.50 stars 2 CD
Béla Bartok Comments:
Chicago Symphony Orchestra cond. Georg Solti
1940 Concerto for two Pianos, Percussion and Orchestra 4.00 stars 2CD
Béla Bartok - Sonata for two Piano's and Percussion Comments:
Bartok's version of the Sonate for two pianos and percussion

Martha Argerich - Piano
Nelson Freire - Pano
Jan Labordus - Percussion
Jan Pustjens - Percussion
Concergebouw Orchestra cond. David Zinman

1943 Concerto for Orchestra 4.50 stars CD
Béla Bartok - Concerto for Orchestra - Deux Images Comments:
This wonderful music with its very special atmosphere gets a very good interpretation by Antal Dorati and the Concertgebouw Orchestra.
1943 Concerto for Orchestra 4.50 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
Concertgebouw Orchestra cond. Bernard Haitink
1943 Concerto for Orchestra 4.00 stars 7 CD
Comments:
Concertgebouw Orchestra cond. Bernard Haitink
1943 Concerto for Orchestra 4.50 stars 2 CD
Béla Bartok Comments:
Chicago Symphony Orchestra cond. Georg Solti
1943 Concerto for Orchestra 3.50 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
Suisse Romande Orchestra cond. Ernest Ansermet
1943 Concerto for Orchestra 4.50 stars CD
Béla Bartok Comments:
New York Philharmonic cond. Pierre Boulez
1945 Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No 3 4.00 stars 2 CD
Béla Bartok Comments:
Vladimir Ashkenazy - Piano
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Georg Solti
1945 Piano Concerto No 3 4.00 out of 5 stars CD
Comments:
Martha Argerich - Piano
Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal cond. Charles Dutroit
1945 Posth. Concerto for Viola 3.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
Rafphael Hillyer - Viola
Japan Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Akeo Watanabe
1945 Posth. Concerto for Viola 4.00 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
Pal Lukacs - Viola
Staatliches Konzert-Orchester cond. Janos Ferencsik
Compilation. Part Songs 4.50 stars LP
Béla Bartok Comments:
Breadbaking
Wandering
Bird Song

Kodaly Girls Choir of Budapest cond. Ilona Andor