Bela Bartok the Hungarian composer is well-known among the masses as he emerged as one of the most significant musicians of the twentieth century. He devoted his life to folk music and he was strongly passionate about ethnomusicology which is the scientific study of music that involves the use of different musical terminologies. Bela Bartok studied music in order to make his own musical distinctive style by blending folk music of different cultures and Hungarian music. Folk music was the basis of his musical contribution to emergent folk music which later was categorized as bluegrass music.
Bela Bartok was born in Nagyszentimklos which later became Romania after the world war. He was influenced by his mother to study music and play musical instruments which led him to develop musical Empfindungs. Bela Bartok at the age of five remained at home instead of going outside the home and playing with other kids like him, he used to listen to his mother playing musical stanzas on piano. Soon this became his passion and he learned how to play piano and later on his passion compelled him to study and enter into the field of music (Somfai).
The connection between the Bela Bartok and folk music was established when he met a woman who sang many folk songs and influenced Bela Bartok to study folk music. His companions helped him order to collect Hungarian folk music in order to grasp the complete knowledge of folk music but Bela Bartok unlike his companions was more interested in the folk music of different cultures all around the world. He has the desire to blend all sorts of folk music to develop his own style in folk music.
Bela Bartok studied folk music of different civilizations and for this reason, he rejected the idea of working in any other field but music. His obsession to learn and understand the folk music of other civilizations got him caught in complicated situations. People criticized Bela Bartok for his keen interest in the folk music of the civilizations that were unfair to Hungary.
The oldest melodies of folk music approximately 8200 were collected by composers Bela Bartok, Laszlo Lajtha and Ziltan Kodaly. Bela Vikar also contributed to this collection of melodies was a folklorist. Bela Bartok collected 2,700 melodies in the collection of these melodies.
Folk music was found to be the central of his own work but he was not the only composer who made use of the folk melodies in his work but he was successful in admitting the values of folk music to his work where others failed to make their distinctive style with.
By collecting folk melodies he learned many of the new elements which he later on used in his own work of melodies. The blend of folk music of different civilizations was his hallmark and he has often called the saltando which is a musical terminology that means jumping.
Bartok’s contribution to music was not only the collection of folk music of different civilizations but also he was the one who categorized the collected folk music into four categories in his first publication of collected folk melodies named “The Romanian Folk songs from Bihor country”. According to him, this categorization lacked the major of the most important features of Romanian folk music that’s why he published another collection in the name of “Volksmusic der Romanen Von Maramures” in which the categories were named in the Christmas songs, laments, songs which were beyond customs and dance tunes. These categories were further divided by him (Somfai).
The contribution of Bela Bartok was not just the collection of folk melodies but also the arrangement and division of melodies on the basis of style and delineation. Through his method of classification and the investigation of the change in the tradition of rhythms in the different regional folk music revealed many of the facts of musicology.
He observed Slovakians, Romanians, Hungarians and Ruthenians for their approaches towards folk music and concluded that the tunes and melodies cross borders and then are used by others in their rhythms and this is known as comparative musicology. Bartok was successful in comparing folk music because of his close research. Even though the change in languages was considered as the barrier for the research of musical traditions in different civilizations but somehow Bela Bartok made it possible to investigate as much work as he could have.
This involvement of Bartok in folk music positively changed his entire life. He started as a seeker of information regarding folk music but later on his seek of information took a scientific approach. He became a rigorous scientific researcher. This changed his approach towards producing music and the language he used in his composition (Bartók and Suchoff).
This change in his musical approach to folk music further matured his style of music composing. His documents and composed melodies were like a bridge towards the modern world and urban pre-world music.
Bela Bartok’s work was published in many languages for folk music history as it is regarded as the complete source of folk music. But his work was given less importance in Hungary and was looked upon as an unpatriotic act.
Bela Bartok had provided insight of folk music through his recorded work, manuscripts of the melodies, memos, and notes which evidently elaborate the complete information of the folk music. Many researchers have been conducted by keeping the profile of Bela Bartok as the primary source for the search of the different civilizations. Bela Bartok visited many countries in the world in order to integrate a clear understanding of folk music.
Bela Bartok contributed to the field of musicology by playing three characters in his life first, as the composer he produced the blend of folk music secondly as a pianist who taught others to play piano in institutes. At last, he played the third and most important character in his life that keeps him in the mind of singers and orchestra, as an ethnomusicologist, he contributed to the field, all different attributes of the folk music of different civilizations.
His orientation towards the pedagogy took place as a piano teacher and he took his job seriously. For he knew that to impart the musical method is important just like he learned how to play piano because music isn’t about entertaining only but also a custom and tradition of a great many civilizations (Bayley).
His works deal with all sorts of musical epistemology including orchestral works, stage works, choral works, chamber works, piano works and he composed many songs as well. It would have been impossible to understand and find the history of folk music if Bela Bartok would not have conducted his scientific approach towards musicology. Through his contribution music and all the genres of music have gained great recognition in the world as a separate field.
Some of the people often doubtfully asked Bed Bartok about how he understood the tradition and custom of different civilizations when it was impossible to learn English at that time. In reply to their question, Bela Barton replied that a folklorist is a polyhistor and should have a complete understanding of phonetics and dialectic to understand the language of the manuscripts and nuances in the same way a choreographer must know the folk music to understand the folk dance in order t9o perceive the clear knowledge of how and why before conducting scientific research.
Bartok was a patriotic Hungarian and for this reason, he wrote the poem Kossuth inspired by Ein Heldenleben in which he described the Lajos Kossuth who was a leader of the Hungarian revolution.
Bela Bartok’s work is appreciated by many of the contemporary as well as old singers because of the precision of execution in his work. His work includes Fantasia, Valcer, Rhapsody Piano, Concerto for piano and orchestra, etc (Bartók and Suchoff).
He was subjected to extreme criticism and he refused to play for Nazis. This period was the post-war era and therefore Bela Bartok had to migrate to New York which caused him financial, health, and emotional problems as he lived his entire life in Hungarian, therefore it was complicated for him to settle down in New York. The most famous work by Bela Bartok was published in the latter part of his life in New York known as Concerto for Orchestra which he commissioned. He died in New York because of Leukemia. The community of folk music which possesses the complete history and systematic work of the Bela Bartok gave provided his medical fee in the hospital when his condition was critical. This shows that he didn’t live in complete poverty and the work he commissioned earned him enough revenue for a living (Bartók and Suchoff).
Bela Bartok is a musical legend and he is valued by many of the musicians of the contemporary world. Bela Bartok’s work was of Hungarian origin but had a slight effect on Romanian folk music. His analytical work for the contributions and the songs based on romanticism is famous among the masses. Contemporary music is the developed form or a new version of his songs as he had provided all forms of the musical contribution of the genre folk. Other contributors have also worked in the same field but he stands out because he has been able to provide the real meaning of ethnomusicology and imparted the knowledge of transition in musical tradition among nations and old civilizations.
Bela Bartok has devoted his life to musicology and in order to provide a separate position to the field of music, he had traveled and learned all the different languages which were necessary for him to understand the custom and traditions of civilizations. His work illustrated folk music and the transition of civilizations which will be used by the people of the contemporary world. The music field is broadened and made vast for the new musicians because of musical contributors like Bela Bartok.
- Bartók, B and B Suchoff. Béla Bartók Essays. New York: U of Nebraska Press, 1992.
- Bayley, B. The Cambridge companion to Bartók. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
- Somfai, L. Béla Bartók: Composition, Concepts, and Autograph Sources. California: University of California Press, 1996.