Pianist, teacher, and one of the most important composers of the 20th century, Béla Bartók is also considered one of the founding fathers of ethnomusicology:

Hearing a nanny sing folk songs to her proteges in the early 1900s sparked his lifelong interest in folk music of his native Hungary, which he analytically studied, collected, and also frequently quoted and incorporated in this compositions.

Today would be his 134. birthday, and to mark the occasion, members of the Bachtrack team have put together their favourite Bartók pieces.

Classical and Opera Editor Mark opted for the Romanian Folk Dances. They were originally written for violin and piano, but as a clarinettist, this is the version in which he encountered them. Mark actually crossed the Atlantic on the QE2 with Bartók in 1988! The composer died in exile in America in 1945, but in 1988 his remains were exhumed and his coffin was transported by sea to Europe, after which he was buried in his native Hungary. 

Our French Editor Luce has chosen something vocal that illustrates his collecting of folk music along with Zoltán Kodály. His only opera, Duke Bluebeard's Castle, is infused with the characteristics of traditional Hungarian folk songs that are particularly noticeable in the spoken prologue and the speechlike rhythm of the setting of the (Hungarian) libretto – non-native speakers, beware!


As an opera fan, this would also have been David's choice, but instead he settled for Bartók's Divertimento for Strings: „It's one of the tautest, most propulsive pieces of music I know, with some heart wrenching tension.“ Here's a great rendition of the first movement:


Simon chose his graceful Piano Concerto No. 3, played here by fellow countryman András Schiff:


Felicity also is in favour of the piano and suggested one of the very few of Bartók's works with programmatic titles, the Ouf of Doors-Suite:


Both Spanish Editor Katia and German Editor Hedy opted for Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, one of his most well-known works showing the mature composer's skills in combining the major musical influences of the 1920s. The second movement, an often wild and always colourful Allegro, reveals a variety of effects as well as elements of jazz and swing.


If our playlist has whetted your appetite, why not have a look at our dedicated composer page to browse reviews and find concerts near you featuring Bartók's music?