Béla Bartók (1881–1945) was a Hungarian composer, pianist, and ethnomusicologist who greatly influenced twentieth-century music. Bartók achieved an original modem style by combining folk elements, atonality, and traditional techniques.
Born in Sânnicolau Mare, Romania, Bartók had taught himself to play 40 songs on the piano by the age of four. At age 23, while on holiday, he listened in on a nanny from Transylvania singing folk songs to her children and he became captivated with folk music and its study. He dedicated his life to collecting 6,000 folk songs from Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Algeria, and Turkey, recording them on a gramophone.
Working with fellow Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály, Bartók amassed an authoritative collection of Hungarian folk music. His orchestral works include Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936,) two violin concertos (1908 and 1938) and the Concerto for Orchestra (1943.) He wrote one opera, Bluebeard’s Castle (1911.) He also composed piano concertos and six five-string quartets. His musical style combines folk music idioms with dissonance and great rhythmic energy.
Bartók was also a virtuoso pianist and taught piano at the Royal Academy, Budapest. His works have steadily risen in popularity since his death.
Bartók’s set of progressive piano studies, the Mikrokosmos (1926–39,) is considered standard piano-teaching material.