BARTÓK ON MUSIC AND THE WORDS OF OTHERS
BARTÓK ON MUSIC:
''Debussy restored a feeling for chords to all musicians. He was as important as Beethoven who revealed to us progressive form, and as Bach who introduced us to the transcendence of counterpoint. I always ask myself, could one make a synthesis of these three masters and create a vital contemporary style?"
''I was roused as by a lightning stroke by the first performance in Budapest of Also Sprach Zarathustra. The work was received with real abhorrence in musical circles here, but it filled me with the greatest enthusiasm.”
''Everyone, on reaching maturity, has to set himself a goal and must direct all his work and action towards this. For my own part, all my life, in every sphere, always and in every way, I shall have one objective: the good of Hungary and the Hungarian nation."
“I never created new theories in advance, I hated such ideas. I had, of course, a very definite feeling about certain directions to take, but at the time of the work I did not care about the designations which would apply to those directions or to their sources. This attitude does not mean that I composed without set plans and without sufficient control. The plans were concerned with the spirit of the new work and with technical problems (for instance, formal structure involved by the spirit of the work), all more or less instinctively felt, but I never was concerned with general theories to be applied to the works I was going to write.”
ON THE PROBLEMS OF COLLECTING FOLK MELODIES FROM PEASANTS:
''Nothing is more difficult than the collection of melodies of this kind. We have to look for them among the simplest and poorest peasants, far away from the railroad, if we intend to find material untouched by the contaminating influence of the cities. But it is just these peasants of 'untouched' territories who will usually greet with fierce mistrust the stranger knocking at their door! It is in vain that one tries to explain to them why their old, almost forgotten melodies are being collected; they don't listen to reason. Many of them are totally convinced that this means some extra tax, this time on their music! They are nearly always afraid that the gentleman might make fun of their ingenuous and simple melodies."
"A year ago a sentence of death was passed on me as a composer. Either those people are right, in which case I am an untalented bungler; or I am right, and it's they who are the idiots. I have resigned myself to write for my writing-desk only.”
"I have been so upset by world events that my mind has been almost completely paralyzed." (1914)
"I have never meddled in everyday politics. But figuratively speaking, every bar of music, every folk tune I have recorded has been a political act. In my opinion, that is true patriotism; a policy of actual deeds, not of mere slogans."
“There may come a time when I shall be recognized as a Hungarian composer. Though perhaps by that time I shall no longer be alive.”
“My own idea, however -- of which I have been fully conscious since I found myself as a composer – is the brotherhood of peoples, brotherhood in spite of wars and conflicts, I try -- to the best of my ability -- to serve this idea in my music; therefore, I don't reject any influence, be it Slovakian, Romanian, Arabic, or from any other source. The source must only be clean, fresh, and healthy!”
“As long as there shall be any squares or streets in Hungary named after these two men (Hitler and Mussolini) no square, street or public building shall be named after me in this country; and until then no memorial plaque shall be put in any public place.”
BARTÓK IN THE WORDS OF OTHERS:
“Bartók was rather small…very thin, pale, white-haired. (This is no mistake. Bartók had then at thirty-four, white-grey hair). He had thin lips, barely moving for a timid smile, and barely parting to allow softly-spoken words to be heard; a fine, straight nose and eyes!--there was never such a pair of eyes! Large, burning, piercing -- his looks had something of a branding iron -- they seemed to mark everybody on whom they fixed."
-----ANTAL DORATI (conductor) ON BARTÓK
"Bartók and his wife played his Sonata for Two Pianos in a small hall in Amsterdam; some days before, they had performed Mozart's Double Concerto with orchestra. I have rarely been as upset as I was in that rather empty hall on seeing these two pale emigrants before their pianos. It has always seemed to me a peculiar lesson of fate that Bartók should be the only famous musician of our age to die in want and, what's more, in America. Such genius, purified by the fire of a wonderful creativity, must, in the end, fall prey to martyrdom."
-----FRANCIS POULENC ON BARTÓK
"I met Bartók at least twice in my life, once in London, in the 1920s and later in New York in the early forties, but I had no opportunity to approach him closer either time. I knew the most important musician he was, I had heard wonders about the sensitivity of his ear, and I bowed deeply to his religiosity. However, I never could share his lifelong gusto for his native folklore. This devotion was certainly real and touching, but I couldn't help regretting it in the great musician. His death in circumstances of actual need has always impressed me as one of the tragedies of our society."
-----IGOR STRAVINSKY ON BARTÓK
"I was about 14 years old. He was a teacher of piano in the Budapest Liszt Academy: he never taught composition, strangely enough -- always only taught piano. I was not his pupil, but my teacher got pneumonia and was away for six weeks. At that point there was no penicillin so pneumonia could not be cured more quickly.
So we in the class were assigned to Bartók to our terrible fright, because I cannot explain what it was like to go on the Monday afternoon -- eight of us appeared in that classroom -- and he came in. He never raised his voice in the six weeks that we saw him; he always spoke softly and slowly. He had unforgettable big eyes which looked at one in a most piercing way. Of course I worshipped him together with the whole of the younger generation; we knew that one of the living geniuses of the twentieth century was in that classroom. We knew that very well; but this was not a well-known fact either in Hungary or the outside world at that point."
-----GEORG SOLTI (conductor) ON BARTÓK
"In September 1945, after he had been taken to hospital, I visited him several times. The doctors had determined that he was suffering from leukemia. He was growing a beard, as he couldn't shave. On the hospital bed I saw only the broken shell of a man. After having finished the proof reading of the Concerto for Orchestra, on the day before his death, I again hastened to the hospital. The sister said I could not go in to him because they were carrying out a blood transfusion, as Bartók needed fresh blood. On the following day, 26 September, he died."
-----GYORGY SANDOR ON BARTÓK'S LAST DAYS
"In 1933 I conducted Bartók's Second Piano Concerto in Vienna with him as soloist. That was a great experience for me. He was a wonderful pianist and musician. The beauty of his tone, the energy and lightness of his playing were unforgettable. It was almost painfully beautiful. He played with great freedom, that was what was so wonderful. He was a strange man -- very reserved, very shy, but very sympathetic. He had a new wife at the time. But the old also came to the rehearsal, so he appeared with two wives."
-----OTTO KLEMPERER (conductor) ON BARTÓK
“Mr. Bartók is old enough to know better. We managed to live through his Piano Concerto. We read Dr. Gilman’s notes with respect, listened to a few of the masterminds afterwards, and in our own unimportant opinion, this work from first to last was one of the most dreadful deluges of piffle, bombast and nonsense ever perpetrated on an audience in these environs….One of our handsome young managers asserted during Bartók’s Concerto that he was rushing home to drink thirty quarts of bitter champagne.”
----H. Noble, Musical America, New York, February 18, 1928
“If the reader were so rash as to purchase any of Béla Bartók’s compositions, he would find that they each and all consist of unmeaning bunches of notes, apparently representing the composer promenading the keyboard in his boots. Some can be played better with the elbows, others with the flat of the hand. None require fingers to perform or ears to listen to. . .”
----Frederick Corder, ‘On the Cult of Wrong Notes’, Musical Quarterly, New York, July 1915
“I never liked his music anyway.”
----Igor Stravinsky (statement of 27 September 1945, as reported in
Vera Stravinsky and Robert Craft, Stravinsky in Pictures and Documents)
“I consider Bartók has a very original and powerful character, although his character is far distant from me, personally.”
“By now I have met many hundreds of composers, but I should not think that one of them has been able to approach Bartók in sensitivity and musical sincerity. In his presence one felt inescapably that here was an extraordinary personality. I feel that the American public is now fully aware of the unrivalled legacy which Bartók left to the development of contemporary music.”
----Aaron Copland (In Memoriam, 1945)
“I was seventeen when I met Belá Bartók, and doing work in the fields of the Wenckheim estate in Kertmegpuszta, nest to Véstő. Bartók’s brother-in-law was the estate manager there. We were working in the fields when a man of about thirty-five, with fair hair –not tall—came over to us and asked if anyone knew any old songs and would be prepared to sing them to him. There were many girls all together but they were all diffident and, in their shyness, said that they did not know any old songs. But I volunteered.
In the evening he came to our quarters and sat down on a worker’s case, with a night-light beside him. I sat opposite him and sang. He noted it down. I sang two songs, the “Fehér László” and the “Angoli Borbála”. I was undoubtedly awe-struck, for no more songs came to my mind at that time. He was such a modest man, and did not press me to sing any further.”
----Róza Ökrös, Hungarian folk singer who sang for Bartók in 1917
“All of his students admired and loved him for his genius, of which we were convinced, for his profound knowledge of every phrase in music, for his gentle and kind manners, for his unfailing logic, for his convincing explanation of every detail. He was just and fair, but could not conceal his annoyance with his less gifted students.
The essence of his approach was that he taught music first and piano second. Immaculate musicianship was the most important part of his guidance and influence. . . He had unlimited patience to explain details of phrasing, rhythm, touch, pedaling. He was unforgiving for the tiniest deviation or sloppiness in rhythm. . . Bartók insisted on first solving the musical problems and then the pianistic ones. In fact, he was not deeply interested in pianistic problems. He had a natural technique and although he was recognized in time as a virtuoso, virtuoso problems did not interest him.”
----Ernő Balogh, one of Bartók’s piano pupils