Listen to part of a lecture in a music history class.
So I just finished reviewing your papers on the influence of nationalism on a composer's music – and initially I was surprised none of you chose to write about Béla Bartók– that is until I remembered we haven't had a chance to discuss him in class yet.
He was a wonderful and groundbreaking composer.
Béla Bartók was a Hungarian whose life stretched from the late nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, but he was not a fan of the Romantic style of music that was popular in his homeland during his youth.
Wait, Hungary wasn't a country in 1900, was it?
You're right, I should've been clearer.
Bartók was born in Austria-Hungary, a nation that broke apart when he was about forty years old— actually, the town where he was born is presently part of Romania.
The political history of that region is complex; suffice it to say Bartók is generally known as a Hungarian composer.
So ... during Bartok's youth, the music played in the concert halls of Austria–Hungary was dominated by romantic pieces by mostly German composers.
We discussed the romantic style last week.
These pieces were long and lyrical—they were meant to have a sort of ... grandeur about them.
And in the early 1900s, composers who worked in the romantic style were the most popular in Austria–Hungary.
But Bartok, he was part of a musical community that was trying to change this, and it led him to ... well, the first thing it did was lead him to travel.
He looked to the countryside for the music of the farmers and the people who lived in small towns.
And their music ... well, you could say he discovered the music that was popular in those areas.
What do you mean?
Well ... all the music we've been talking about the past few weeks, it really was all in the cities. That's where the composers and the orchestras were.
Out in remote areas of the countryside, in rural locations, music was more traditional— the same songs that were enjoyed by previous generations.
Bartok went out, he traveled through a significant portion of eastern Europe actually, he roamed the countryside and listened to the music heard in small towns and at all sorts of celebrations.
He attended weddings, dances, and religious ceremonies where he heard a very different sort of music from the romantic stuff being played in the concert halls in the cities.
The music he heard is what we would consider "folk music."
And then he had those same songs played in the concert halls?
No. At first, he went around to document the folk music.
He really wanted to make sure the folk songs were written down before they disappeared.
In fact, Bartok didn't start out the trip thinking of himself as a composer.
He was an ethnomusicologist— he studied the traditional music of the region.
But it turns out that what would later have a notable influence on European music on the whole was the way Bartok used elements he heard in folk songs in his own compositions.
He adopted a number of elements from what he heard, like, unusual rhythms ... and ... he liked to use the glissando as his hallmark, which he probably got from listening to Croatian folk music.
A glissando is ... well, I've got a recording of Bartok here ... let's wait until the music is fresh in our minds.
Suzy, do you have something you want to ask first?
Yeah, before you mentioned nationalism and—
Ah, right, yes. When Bartok had his new pieces performed, their folk music roots made them instantly popular.
It happened to be a time of strong nationalism in Austria–Hungary, so his compositions came at just the right time— he became very successful there.
Particularly, when Bartok's ballet The Wooden Prince opened, there was great excitement for music that included musical elements from local folk songs, music that reflected the region's musical traditions.
However, as popular as Bartok was in his homeland, he did not get much international recognition during his lifetime.