When he wasn’t composing, Béla Bartók (1881-1945) was out in the field recording the songs and dances of Eastern European peasant cultures. Bartók was a trailblazing ethnomusicologist, accumulating thousands of recordings of the folk music of Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania, above all. He even ventured further afield, recording music in Turkey and northern Africa. Not surprisingly, his ethnomusicological research seeped into his own compositions, mainly in the form of scales and harmonies that lie outside the Western tonal tradition, and rhythms and time signatures that likewise do not conform to ‘classical’ norms. In addition to his own original music, Bartók arranged some of the music which he collected out in the field for Western ensembles (e.g. the Romanian Folk Dances for small ensemble). His six-volume piano collection Mikrokosmos is an important pedagogical resource (the 153 pieces are arranged in ascending order of difficulty) as well as a fascinating anthology of his personal style(s). Bartók left his native Hungary in 1940 and settled in the United States. Sadly, his final years were marked by declining health and professional neglect. He was diagnosed with leukaemia in 1944 and died in New York the following year. Bartók’s most significant works include the Concerto for Orchestra, three piano concertos, two violin concertos, six string quartets and the one-act opera, Bluebeard’s Castle.

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