What is intensity in a musical sense

composer : "Volcano of tragic intensity"

Bielefeld - From a musical point of view, 2006 is one thing above all: Mozart year. Bartók, also a musical child prodigy, is not considered to be genius, but is known for being artistically uncompromising and a innovator of modern music, who mainly drew from folk music. Bartók was born 125 years ago, on March 25, 1881, in the Hungarian - now Romanian - Nagyszentmiklos.

What made Bartók a modern composer? His studies at the music academy in Budapest introduced him to the lush soundscape of German late romanticism, which for him - like for many of his fellow generations - became the starting point, but not his musical home. Arnold Schönberg swore by tonality - that wasn't Bartók's business. Instead, he looked for the real music of the rural population of his homeland; "Peasant music", as he himself called it. He dealt intensively with the folk music of Hungary and Romania - a result of the influence of Zoltán Kodály, whom he met around 1905.

Unlike Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms, Bartók did not fall for the so-called gypsy music of Hungary, which was known and loved in the cities of the Danube Monarchy. Rather, he explored a music in Hungary, Romania and Slovakia whose strange tone systems and idiosyncratic rhythms also had a lasting influence on his own work. It was not difficult to listen to his string quartets, dance movements, but also larger creations such as the opera “Duke Bluebeard's Castle” and the ballet “The Wood-Carved Prince”.

Frightened the critics

In addition, the professor at the Royal Academy in Budapest, who originally aspired to a career as a soloist as an outstanding pianist, collected more than 10,000 songs. The importance of folklore in his music was shown in his major piano pedagogical work «Mikrokosmos» consisting of 153 pieces. But out of disappointment he turned to science again and again; contemporary criticism was often disgusted and even feared by his music. The Hungarian Commission for Fine Arts had rejected "Duke Bluebeard's Castle" as a competition entry because it was allegedly unplayable. The work, completed in 1911, was not premiered in Budapest until 1918 - although Kodály spoke of a “volcano that erupts with tragic intensity for 60 minutes”.

Bartók was considered a closed, but also proud person. When after the annexation of Austria by the Nazis, Bartók's co-ordinated Viennese publisher asked the composer to provide proof of Aryan evidence, he responded with proud silence. With his emigration in 1940, the composer faced another uncertain fate in the USA. It was difficult for him to gain a foothold there. He hesitated to take composition commissions because of his poor health, but spent months studying folk songs for a research assignment from Columbia University. Nonetheless, he wrote some of his most important works, including the famous «Concerto for Orchestra».

But his clock was running out. Bartók died impoverished of leukemia in a New York hospital on September 26, 1945. He never saw his homeland again, whose music he had explored like no other. (By Thomas Strünkelberg, dpa)

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