Bela Bartok–A Great Composer

Bela Bartok, who lived from 1881-1945, was considered one of the greatest Hungarian composers.  He specialized in the piano and wrote many pieces of music, some of which are in today’s piano exam curriculums.

The modern music period is from 1920 to the present, and it is the period of music Bela Bartok was in.  Modern music includes in mixture of traditional music and the composer’s own artistic and imaginative nature.  Modern music does not have limits, and often consists of a lot of rhythm, melody, and chord progressions.  Bartok included traditional Hungarian folk music in his works, as well as rhythm and melody.  Songs such as “Pentatonic Tune” show the rhythm and melody evident in the modern music era.  Other composers from this period are Zoltan Koldaly, a friend of Bartok’s, and Dmitri Kabalevsky.

Considering the fact that many composers died a lot earlier than he did, Bela Bartok lived a long life.  Bartok was born in a Hungarian town, and began his musical training at the age of four or five.  Since his father, Bela Bartok Senior played the cello and piano, it wasn’t a surprise that Bartok was musical as well, and could soon play around 40 different songs on the piano.  As a child, Bartok suffered from severe eczema, and he was thin and weak.  His father died when he was only seven years old.  After moving to villages and towns all over Europe, Bartok did his first public performance at the age of 11.  From 1899 to 1903, Bartok went to the Royal Academy of Music, where he made many friends that influenced his music.  In 1904, Bartok heard a girl singing traditional folk music, which inspired him to include Hungarian folk music in his songs. He and his friend Zoltan Koldaly traveled along the countryside of Hungary to study folk music.  After traveling, Bartok met and married Maria Ziegler in 1909, and had a son, Bela Bartok Junior, a year later.  In 1923, he divorced and re-married.  With his second wife, Ditta Pasztory, they had a son named Peter.  Around this time, it was World War II.  Opposed to the German regime, Bartok had to flee from Hungary because it was unsafe there.  He refused to make any music for the Germans—or play for them.  Bartok’s youngest son, Peter, joined the U.S. Navy.  In 1940, Bartok traveled to America, and fell ill two years later.  He died in 1945.  Sadly, despite being a famous composer, only 10 people attended his funeral.


The song “Evening at the Village,” currently in the Level 8 piano exam curriculum, strongly represents the modern musical period.  I enjoy playing “Evening at the Village” on the piano, and I notice that it has a lot of rhythm.  The song starts off with legatos, switches over to staccato notes, and repeats this pattern.  To me, this represents the emotions and events in an evening, because legatos show calmness, and staccatos show excitement—these are different emotions that can occur during a typical evening.  There are ties and slurs that form a smooth sound, and staccato notes that are jumpy too.  This shows the different rhythms and melodies in the song.  As well, the song includes Hungarian folk music.  This song is like background music and can be never-ending. “Evening at the Village” is a great song, and it shows the modern style and period of music.

Bela Bartok was a great composer, and his works were carefully written to include elements of modern music intermingled with a touch of his own style.  This makes his music unique and enjoyable for listeners. He was indeed one of the best Hungarian composers as his work is still studied and played by pianists and musicians today, including me.

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