Bartók`s Folk Music Research

Béla Bartók
The Folk Music Tradition
A lecture presentation by
Julie Tunstall, Flute and Laura Peterson, Piano
2012 National Flute Convention
Sunday, August 12, 2012
Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, NV
On the nature of folk music…
“A folk melody is like a living
creature: it changes minute
by minute, moment by
moment. One should never
state, therefore, that a melody
is as notated on the spot, but
rather that it was such at the
time it was notated…”
~Béla Bartók, “Why and How do We Collect Folk Music?”
Bartók as International Figure
• Pianist
• Teacher/Pedagogue
• Composer
• Ethnomusicologist
Images courtesy of Google Images; Bela Bartok,,
Interest in Folk Music
• 1904 – Slovakian countryside
– Overheard Lidi Dósa
• Szekely Hungarian woman from
– “Piros alma” – Red Apple
• Picked her brain for more songs
– Realized that Hungarian folk
songs traditionally employed by
“classical” composers were not
autochthonous (biography,
– Began search for true
indigenous Hungarian folk
melodies and rhythms
Work with Zoltán Kodály
• Kodály had already
published a study of folk
• Began lifelong collaboration
– 1906 – Magyar népdalok
(Hungarian folk songs)
• 20 settings of Hungarian folk
melodies harmonized for voice
and piano
– 10 by Bartók
– 10 by Kodály
• Intent: to popularize
Hungarian folk music
Finding the music
• Traveled to remote villages
– Sought out those who could replicate true or
original folk songs
Further Documentation – Bartók’s
• Romania: Alpenhorn, fiddle
• Slovakian peasant girls
Split with Kodály
• Bartók’s interest expanded to include indigenous
musics of
North Africa
• “… before World War I went to North Africa as well to collect and study the
Arabic music of the Sahara. I was not averse to the influence of Arabic folk
music either: the third movement of Suite for Piano was influenced, for
example, by Arabic folk music.”
Research and writing
• Books, Essays, Articles and Monographs
1929: “Hungarian Folk Music”
1931: “What is Folk Music?
1936: “Why and how do We Collect Folk Music?”
1937: “Folk Song Research and Nationalism”
1943: “Folk Song Research in Eastern Europe”
1951: Serbo-Croatian Folk Songs
1954: Serbo-Croatian Heroic Songs
And many more…
• Collected and edited by Benjamin Suchoff
– Béla Bartók Essays
– Béla Bartók Studies in Ethnomusicology
A sample of folk music in his compositions…
• Orchestral
– 1931: Erdélyi táncok (Transylvanian dances)
– 1931 Magyar kepék (Hungarian sketches)
• Piano:
– c. 1914-18: Three Hungarian Folk Tunes
– *1914-18: Tizenöt magyar paraszdtal (15
Hungarian peasant songs)
• Vocal:
– 1906: Magyar népdalok (Hungarian folksongs)
– c. 1907 Four Slovakian Folksongs
– 1915: Nine Romanian Folksongs
Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs
• 1914-17: Fifteen Hungarian
Peasant Songs
– SZ 71, BB 79
• Miniatures for piano
– Created as brief set of concert
works for piano
– Transcribed melodies to fit a
modern “western” instrument,
added harmony
– “Peasant” music, but suitable
for concert stage
Bartok’s transcription of Peasant Song
#7, becomes 1st piece in dance set
Final Version for piano
• Four Old Sorrowful Songs
• Ballade (Theme and Variations)
– Longest of the set
• Scherzo
– Four Verses of a Humorous Song
• Nine Old Dances
• All movements played attacca
• 1939: transcribed for
– By composer
• 1956: transcribed for flute
and piano by Paul Arma
– Suite Paysanne Hongroise
– Ballade not included in set
“What is Folk Music?” 1931
Use of terms “peasant music” and
“primitive” melody intended not a
pejorative sense, rather…”to point to the
concept of ideal simplicity devoid of
“What is Folk Music?” Béla Bartók Essays, ed. Benjamin Suchoff, pg 8
Folk Songs Used in Suite Paysanne Hongroise
Of the 6000 songs Bartok catalogued, he used
600 in his compositions
– 300 of these were Hungarian in origin
– The others were Romanian, Slovakian,
Romanian, Bulgarian and more
Vera Lampert catalogued the songs used in
these compositions in her book Folk Music in
Bartok’s Compositions, 2008
Hungary before the Treaty of Trianon
(1920) New borders after World War I
Map source @ 1955 by Francis Laping, from the book Remember Hungary 1956
Suite Paysanne Hongroise
I. Chants populaires tristes
182 I tie my horse to the weeping willow,
I bow my head On his forelegs.
Mrs. Berndt Doboczi (26), Tjszasz (Pest-Pilis-Solt-Kiskun), August 1918
2. Andante
183 The flower my beloved gave me
Withered before he left me, ay-ay-ay. He
left me because of a woman, She should
be punished by the Lord of the heavens,
Mrs. Gyorgy Balog (50, illiterate), Jobbagytelke (Maros-Torda), April 1914
4. Andante
185 Blue forget-me-not bent over my shoulder,
My mother sent me away to wander about.
Why did she leave me to become an orphan
Who wanders about in the world at large?
Kata Palinkas Kulcsar, Zentelke (Kolozs); year not listed
Scherzo - allegro
186 My wife is so clean that only
once a month she washes herself.
Hey, let’s be merry, All my life I’ll
worry because I got married!
Panna Pe-to (19), Mrs. Berndt Doboczi (26), Ujszasz (PestPilis-Solt-Kiskun), August 1918
Vieilles danses
1. Allegro
188 Come, follow where I go, You will
soon know where I live: By the hedge
of hawthorne, Come, my love, into
my arms.
Man, Ipolysag, Hont Nov 1910
2. Allegretto
189 Climbing the plum tree, I tore my
breeches. Darn!
Huszul, My beloved will mend them.
Elderly man, Ipolysag, Hont, November 1910
3. Allegretto
190 The girls are spinning flax,
And keep saying to each other:
Ay, mother, the spinning...
The waiting is so hard.
Ferenc Orosz (62) and others, Dercen, Bereg, April 1912
4. L’istesso tempo
191 The cricket in the green woods
prepares to marry,
He hugs the fly and would like to wed
Ileanna Kovacs (20) Korostarkany, Bihar, January 1912
5. Assai moderato
192 You are not a maiden, no, you're not.
You don't dare to kiss me, Maybe you are
afraid I cannot return it.
Istvan balog (elderly man), Nagymegyer, Komarom, 1910
6. Allegretto
193 Ailing woman, tired lad, Play for
me, Gypsy lad, hey-ya, hey!
Wait a little while I eat my fill, I'll play
for you later, hey-ya, hey!
Mihaly Szabo (70) Felsoiregh, Tolna, April 1907
7. Poco piu vivo
194 My rusty horse, Sari, I brought him from
Szolnok yesterday. But I ride him to buy
some wine, because of a pretty woman's
Man, Nagymegyer, Komaro, March 1910
8. Allegro
195 They gathered, they gathered,
The girls of Izsap,
Em, ey-ya, The girls of Izsap.
Woman (70) Nagymegyer Komarom March 1910
9. Allegro
196 Bagpipe solo
Ipolysag, Hont, 1910
Bartok, Bela. “Hungarian Folk Music,” (1929), Bela Bartok Essays, ed. Benjamin Suchoff, the Estate of
Bela Bartok, 1976.
Bartok, Bela. “What is Folk Music?” (1931), Bela Bartok Essays, ed. Benjamin Suchoff, the Estate of Bela
Bartok, 1976.
Bartok, Bela. “Why and How do We Collect Folk Music (1936), Bela Bartok Essays, ed. Benjamin Suchoff,
the Estate of Bela Bartok, 1976.
Bartok, Bela. “Hungarian Peasant Music,” (1933), Bela Bartok Essays, ed. Benjamin Suchoff, the Estate of
Bela Bartok, 1976.
Bartok, Peter My Father, Rinaldi Printing Company, Tampa FL, 2002.
Bonis. Ferenc, Bela Bartok His Life in Pictures Boosey & Hawkes, Budapest Hungary 1964.
Hinson, Maurice; Guide to the Pianist’s Repertoire, Second, Revised and Enlarged Edition. Indiana
University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis. 1987.
Knapp, Calvin Horace. “A Study, Analysis and performance of Representative Piano Works of Various
periods of Bela Bartok.” Ph.D. thesis Columbia University, 1973.
Lampert, Vera, and Laszlo Vikarius, ed.; Folk Music in Bartok’s compositions – A Source Catalog – Arab,
Hungarian, Romanian, Ruthenian, Servian, and Slovak melodies; Hungarian Heritage House, Helicon
Kiad/o, Museum of Ethnography, Institute for Musicology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 2008;
G. Henle Verlag, Germany 2008.
Lesznai, Ljos, Bartok JM Dent & Sons Ltd Aldine Press London 1961.
Sadie, Stanley et al. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol 2. MacMillan Publishers LTD,
London, 1980.
Yeomans, David; Bartok for Piano; Indiana University press, Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1988.
Images courtesy of Google Images, ,
Piano score for use in scan:,_Sz.71_(Bart%C3%B3k,_B%C3%A9la)
Bartók on composition
"Many people think it is a comparatively easy task to
write a composition on found folk tunes...
This way of thinking is completely erroneous. To handle
folk tunes is one of the most difficult tasks; equally difficult,
if not more so, than to write a major
original composition.
If we keep in mind that borrowing a tune means being
bound by its individual peculiarity, we shall understand
one part of the difficulty. Another is created by the special
character of folk tune. We must penetrate it, feel it, and
bring out its sharp contours by the appropriate setting...It
must be a work of inspiration just as much as any other
~Béla Bartók 1881-1945
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