The Hungarian composer, pianist, teacher and ethnomusicologist Béla Bartók was born at Nagyszentmiklos, now Sannicolau Mare in Romania, on 25 March 1881. He showed great musical talent at a very early age and could play forty pieces on the piano by the time he was four years old.
Following the death of his father, his mother took him to live first at Nagyszolos, now Vinogradiv in the Ukraine, and then to Pozsony or Pressburg, now Bratislava. It was there that he gave his first public recital at the age of eleven, including a performance of one of his own pieces.
At Budapest's Royal Academy of Music (1899-1903) he studied piano with Istvan Thoman (who had studied with Franz Liszt) and composition with János Koessler. It was there that he first met his lifelong friend Zoltán Kodály.
In 1902 he attended the Budapest premiere of Also sprach Zarathustra and met the work's composer, Richard Strauss, who, with Brahms, was the strongest influence on Bartók's early music. Whilst on holiday in 1904, however, Bartók first heard folksong in Transylvania, and this was the catalyst for a life dedicated to folk music, and expeditions to notate Algerian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Moldavian, Romanian, Slovakian and Wallachian music.
Another influence was Debussy, from 1907, at which time he began teaching piano at the Royal Academy. His students there included Georg Solti, Fritz Reiner and György Sándor.
World War I caused difficulties for Bartók's folksong collection activities - many of his favourite areas (including where he was born and grew up) were cut off from Hungary, and so he turned his efforts towards experimentation with extreme methods of composing.
From 1926 onwards, his mature style included a synthesis of various influences, including classicism, folk music, Bach and pre-Bachian music. In this period he tended to write large-scale works. He considered the Cantata Profana of 1930, based on a Romanian colinda, to be his most personal work, representing his own beliefs.
In 1940, when Bartók's liberal ideas started to cause trouble with the pro-German Hungarian authorities, he emigrated to the USA with his second wife, Ditta Pásztory. Things did not go well from this point onwards, however - he never settled in the USA, found it difficult to work, and the first symptoms of leukemia began to show.
When, in 1944, leukaemia was finally diagnosed, Bartók had a final burst of creativity before his death in New York on 26 September 1945, resulting in a Sonata for Solo Violin commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin, the Concerto for Orchestra (destined to become his most popular work) and the Piano Concerto No 3.
A selection of M&V articles about Béla Bartók
Ensemble. Boundless Energy - Hungarian pianist János Balázs and the Cziffra Festival Chamber Orchestra, heard in Bratislava by Anett Fodor
CD Spotlight. Grace and Beauty - Music by Bartók for Piano and Orchestra, heard by Geoff Pearce. 'I would recommend this disc for a great recording of the Piano Concerto No 3 ...'
Ensemble. Risky on Paper - Mark Elder and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain impress Mike Wheeler
CD Spotlight. Explosive Classics - A Chandos orchestral compilation, enjoyed by Gerald Fenech. '... the programme is as explosive as one can hope for.'
Ensemble. Devil-may-care Frolics - Sinfonia Viva at Derby Folk Festival, reviewed by Mike Wheeler
CD Spotlight. Violinistic Aggression - Herwig Zack, heard by the late Howard Smith. 'Others are more brilliant but few, if any, more powerful.'
Ensemble. Real Emotions - Two concerts in Salzburg impress Giuseppe Pennisi
CD Spotlight. Stylistic Evolution - Béla Bartók's six string quartets, highly recommended by Gerald Fenech
CD Spotlight. Sheer Joy - Som Howie's debut recital, recommended by Geoff Pearce. '... a lovely expansive open sound ...'
CD Spotlight. Genuine Profundity - Annie Fischer plays Mozart and Bartók, appreciated by Béla Hartmann. 'Her phrasing makes even the most complex and profound passages instantly understandable ...'
Ensemble. Sheer Enjoyment - Haydn, Bartók and Dvorák from the Chilingirian Quartet, reviewed by Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. Distinctly Gallic - Rosanna Ter-Berg and Leo Nicholson, heard by Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. Symphonic Thinking - Smetana, Bartók and Dvorák from Augustin Hadelich, Juanjo Mena and the BBC Philharmonic, reviewed by Mike Wheeler
CD Spotlight. Lucid and Commanding - Bartók piano music, heard by Gerald Fenech. 'American pianist Terry Eder despatches this difficult repertoire with great rhythmic vitality and expressive exuberance ...'
Ensemble. A Compelling Musical Experience - Beethoven, Bartók and Tchaikovsky from the Eeden Quartet, reviewed by Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. Woman for all Seasons - Gerald Fenech returns to Festival Maribor in Slovenia
CD Spotlight. Contrasting Sonatas - Fauré, Schumann and Bartók from the Jade Duo, heard by Howard Smith. '... high-powered performances ...'
Ensemble. A Thought Provoking Combination - Iolanta and Bluebeard in high definition from New York, reviewed by Maria Nockin
CD Spotlight. Early Genius - Orchestral works by the young Bartók, heard by Gerald Fenech. '... performances are consistently exciting ...'
CD Spotlight. Deeply Affecting - Jennifer Koh and Shai Wosner's Janáček, Kurtág and Bartók, heard by Andrew Schartmann. '... a delightful array of sensitive performances ...'
Ensemble. Simply Magical - Mike Wheeler listens to pianist Francesco Piemontesi
CD Spotlight. On Top Form - Géza Anda plays Bartók and Tchaikovsky, heard by Robert Anderson. '... splendid unanimity between pianist and conductor.'
CD Spotlight. Approachable Pieces - Enescu and Bartók, heard by Robert Anderson. 'Laura Buruiana triumphs in what is ultimately an exacting work.'
Ensemble. Depth and Elegance - Giuseppe Pennisi visits the Printemps des Arts in Monte Carlo
Ensemble. High Spirits - The Piatti String Quartet, heard by Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. Suave and Polished - Mike Wheeler discovers the Heath Quartet
CD Spotlight. A Fine Protagonist - Isabelle Faust plays Bartók violin concertos, recommended by Robert Anderson. 'The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Harding has accompanied with alert sensitivity ...'
Ensemble. Household Rituals - Contemporary and modern music at Aix-en-Provence, heard by Giuseppe Pennisi
A Thoughtful Account - Richard Uttley plays Beethoven, Grieg, Britten, Bartók, Debussy, Timothy Jackson, Liszt and Schumann, reviewed by Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. Stylized and Abstract - Bartók and Cambodian music in Monte Carlo, experienced by Giuseppe Pennisi
Impressive Control - A piano recital by Richard Uttley, heard by Mike Wheeler
Especially Brilliant - An evening of piano music from Giuseppe Andaloro, heard by Giuseppe Pennisi
Ensemble. Technically Perfect - Suzanne Torrey listens to and watches Joshua Bell
Innovative Content - A piano journey on the Danube, with Giuseppe Pennisi
CD Spotlight. Truth in Music - The Zodiac Trio, heard by Keith Bramich. '... young wine, already highly palatable ...'
CD Spotlight. Communicative Aplomb - Joseph Rackers' debut recording, heard by Howard Smith. '"Eureka" moments ... are conspicuous by their absence.'
CD Spotlight. Uniquely English - A tribute to violinist Ralph Holmes, heard by Howard Smith. '... an invigorating spontaneity ...'
CD Spotlight. Diverse Miniatures - Bartók duos for two violins, heard by Howard Smith. '... impressive credentials ...'
CD Spotlight. Uncompromising Integrity - Music by Béla Bartók, heard by Robert Anderson. '... a joy to hear.'
South Bank Pianists - Bill Newman listens to Peter Donohoe, Richard Goode and Peter Jablonski
Ensemble. Stunning Portrayals - Debussy and Bartók, reviewed by Bill Newman
Ensemble. Rapturous Praises - Yasmin Rowe, Sarah Sew and Tadashi Imai at London's Wigmore Hall, heard by Bill Newman
CD Spotlight. Compositional Thought - Piano music by John Corigliano, recommended by Karen Haid. 'Oppens and Lowenthal give strong performances of this music.'
Ensemble. Dramatic Beauty - Works by Eötvös and Bartók, reviewed by Giuseppe Pennisi
Ensemble. An Individual Spirituality - Contemporary music from London's Trinity Laban Conservatoire, heard by Malcolm Miller
Ensemble. Zip and Sparkle - Alexandra Dariescu plays Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin and Constantin Silvestri, heard by Mike Wheeler
DVD Spotlight. Ho hum! - Vidor Nagy plays Bach and Paganini, reviewed by Howard Smith. '... moments of splendour.'
Ensemble. Truly Miraculous - The Emerson Quartet, heard by Bill Newman
A Golden Treasury - Havergal Brian on European and American music, read by Patric Standford
CD Spotlight. High Spirits - Music by Dohnányi, heard by Howard Smith. '... the Buffalonians ... make their virtuosity seem almost effortless ...'
Ensemble. Hugely Satisfying - As New Zealand arts funding strikes a sour note, Howard Smith listens to the Vector Wellington Orchestra
CD Spotlight. Exciting Listening - Mykola Suk plays Liszt, enjoyed by Robert Anderson. '... a mastery and range of expression ...'
CD Spotlight. A Vigorous Spirit - Music by Matthew Taylor, heard by Patric Standford. '... skill and personality in equal measures ...'
Ensemble. Impeccable Standards - Bill Newman's pick of June and July concerts at London's Wigmore Hall
Masks - Jennifer Paull continues her investigation of musical and theatrical masks
Masks - Jennifer Paull investigates a layering of musical and theatrical masks, with the omnipresent eerie reminder of the gas mask
Stimulating Fare - Eugene Alcalay plays Bartók, Dutilleux and Beethoven, enjoyed by Malcolm Miller
CD Spotlight. A Flowing Delivery - Bach Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin, heard by Howard Smith. '... vital technical flair ...'
DVD Spotlight. Unfailing Energy - Bartók's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, welcomed by Patric Standford. 'The video reveals Solti's benign authority ...'
CD Spotlight. Highly Challenging - Music for unaccompanied violin, heard by Howard Smith. '... searching performance ...'
Timings - Universal Edition's preparations for the Mahler Centenary years (2010-2011), by Jennifer Paull
Ensemble. Compelling Performance - Members of Psappha at the Buxton Festival, reviewed by Mike Wheeler
Music for Musicians Only? - The public turns a deaf ear to improvised music. As for classical music, Jan Dahlstedt claims that having abandoned improvisation, classical music entered a sidetrack from which it has never escaped, thus badly stifling creative progress. If he is guilty of heresy or may have a point, read on and judge for yourself.
CD Spotlight. Consistently Refined - Debussy transcriptions, reviewed by Howard Smith. '... these alternatives are never less than striking ...'
CD Spotlight. Compositional Mastery - Maxwell Davies' Naxos Quartets 9 and 10, applauded by Howard Smith. '... much to admire ...'
CD Spotlight. Shaken and Stirred - Maurice Steger plays Giuseppe Sammartini, recommended by Jennifer Paull
Record Box. A Theoretician's Knowledge - Andrew Violette's Sonata for unaccompanied violin, reviewed by Howard Smith
CD Spotlight. Pride of Place - Piano music by Frank Bridge, praised by Howard Smith. 'A standing ovation for Mark Bebbington ...'
Lovely Performance - A recital by Bálint Székely and Mariko Kondo, heard by Bill Newman
Ensemble. A Brilliant Idea - A Bernard Stevens celebration at London's Wigmore Hall, reviewed by Bill Newman
CD Spotlight. Poetic Lyricism - Tim Hugh and Olga Sitkovetsky at London's Wigmore Hall, enjoyed by Howard Smith. '... breathtaking musicianship captured my attention ...'
CD Spotlight. Eminently Agreeable - Piano music by Ahmet Adnan Saygun, recommended by Howard Smith. '... unfailing rhythmic clarity and beautifully controlled dynamics ...'
Ensemble. Peak Form - Mike Wheeler finds Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra a joy to hear
CD Spotlight. Unrivalled - János Starker plays Bartók, Boccherini, Kodály, Mozart and Leo Weiner, reviewed by Howard Smith. '... instrumental artistry at its finest.'
Ensemble. Primal Energy - Barenboim and the Vienna Philharmonic play Bartók, Kodály, Enescu and Ligeti
Record Box. Singing Qualities - Jennifer Koh plays Szymanowski, Martinu and Bartók, reviewed by Mike Wheeler
Temperament and Imagination - Alberto Portugheis enjoys a recital by the Romanian-American pianist Eugene Alcalay
Ensemble. Creative Heritage - Regrets and remedies, the Wigmore way, by Bill Newman
Ensemble. Boundaries of the Possible - Malcolm Miller admires Simon Bainbridge's new BBC commission, 'Diptych'
CD Spotlight. Sparkle and Polish - Robin Zebaida plays piano rarities, enjoyed by Bill Newman. '... musical appeal is immediate.'
CD Spotlight. Peking order - Bartók, Bernstein and Gershwin from the Pekinel Sisters, reviewed by Howard Smith. '... positively 'aerodynamic' in its clarity, audacity and panache.'
Giants? - Alistair Hinton replies to Patric Standford's latest Provocative Thoughts
Ensemble. Utterly gripping - A recital by Fiona McNaught and Daniel Tong, appreciated by Mike Wheeler
Provocations - Alistair Hinton and Chad Wozniak discuss Patric Standford's recent 'Provocative Thoughts'
Record box. Emotional shape - Music by Bartók, reviewed by Mike Wheeler
Ensemble. Contrasting pianists - by Bill Newman
Ensemble. A veritable dynamo - A conversation with Paavo Järvi, and a review of his Miami concert in April, by Lawrence Budmen
CD Spotlight. Revelatory success - June de Toth plays Bartók piano music, reviewed by Robert Anderson. '... a magisterial achievement.'
Ensemble. An original statement - Claudio Bohorquez plays Dvorák, appreciated by Lawrence Budmen
CD Spotlight. Powerful and playful - Fritz Reiner conducts Bartók, admired by Robert Anderson. '... agonised intensity of utmost eloquence.'
Ensemble. Bold individuality - Malcolm Miller enjoys a performance by an outstanding young Hungarian duo at the Wallace Collection
Inspiring confidence - David Thompson is motivated by Barbara Nissman's book 'Bartók and the Piano'
Record box. Viola Concerto restored - David Thompson considers an important addition to Bartók's recorded legacy