Culture and Recreation


Why does the music of Bartók figure prominently in concert programs today?

Béla Bartók (1881–1945) is revered today not only for his ability as a pianist (his teacher compared him to Franz Liszt [1811–1886], who was perhaps the greatest pianist of the nineteenth century), but for his compositions, which are steeped in the tradition of Hungarian folk music. Bartók studied and analyzed Hungarian, Romanian, and Arabian folk tunes, publishing thousands of collections of them in his lifetime. While ethnic music had influenced the works of other composers, Bartók was the first to make it an integral part of art music composition. His works were unique in that the folk music provided the sheer essence and substance of the music, lending the compositions a primitive quality. Among his masterpieces are his three stage works: the ballets The Wooden Prince and The Miraculous Mandarin, and the one-act opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle.

The introduction of folk music as the core of a musical composition has had far-reaching influence, which must have been felt by American composer Aaron Copland (1900–1990), whose Appalachian Spring (1944) features a simple Shaker tune, front and center.


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