Bartók: Life & Career

History notes for Bartók, 20th Century Composer: complete with Bartók’s life, works, contributions, influences, and musical styles.

  • Bartók (1881 – 1837) was born in Sînnicôlau Mare (Hungary). When Czechoslovakia was formed, Bartók and his mother were on opposite sides of the border.
  • Bartók’s father died when Bartók was young, thus he was raised by his mother, who first taught him piano.
  • From 1899 – 1903, Bartók attended the Budapest Academy.
  • In 1905, Bartók began collecting folk music with Zoltán Kodály, a Hungarian composer. This collection of folk music was published in 1907.
  • In 1908, Bartók taught at the Budapest Academy, although the main task of his life was to collect, analyze, catalogue folk music.
  • Bartók married in 1911, but was divorced at after 11 years, to marry Ditta Pastorzy, his piano student, immediately after. The couple had a son, for whom Bartók composed Mikrokosmos.
  • Bartók received many commissions from distinguished figures, including conductor Paul Sacher. Bartok also created scholarly editions of folk songs at the Hungarian Academy for Science.
  • Bartók was against the fascist regime; he and Kodály were temporarily suspended from the Academy post for political reasons in 1919. Bartók refused to have pieces performed or broadcast in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy.
  • Bartók moved to New York in 1939, and studied a collection of Serbo-Croation folk music at Columbia University.
  • The ASCAP (American Society for Composers, Authors, and Publishers) paid Bartók’s medical bills after he was diagnosed of cancer. Serge Koussevitzky’s foundation also commissioned Concerto for Orchestra to aid Bartók financially.



  • Orchestral: Concerto for Orchestra, Dance Suite, Divermento for Strings, Music for Strings Percussion, and Celesta
  • Concertos: Romanian Dancess
  • Chamber music: Piano quintet and quartet, string quartet, violin duo, Contrasts
  • Solo Piano: Introduction and Allegro, 85 Pieces for Children, Bagatelles, Two Suites, Mikrokosmos
  • Vocal: Székely for Male Chorus, Four Hungarian Songs for Mixed Chorus
  • Ballet: Wooden Prince, Miraculous Orange
  • Opera: Bluebeards Castle

Style, Contributions & Influences


  • Asymmetrical rhythms, ostinato, polytonality, modality, syncopations
  • Harsh leaps and sudden dynamic changes (characteristics of Expressionism)
  • Influenced by folk music; many different scales used
  • Expressionism
  • Tonal centre established by repetition.
  • Complex harmonic language
  • Changing meter
  • Instrumental effects suited to the instrument; pizzcato, strumming effects, etc.
  • Developed cyclical form
  • Used Fibonnacci series as the basis for several works.
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