Through his far-reaching endeavors as composer, performer, educator and ethnomusicologist, Béla Bartók has always interested me.
I was involved with the Hungarian Bilingual Program at Albany Elementary School sponsored by the Livingston Parish School Board, Southeastern Louisiana University and the World Federation of Hungarians (Budapest, Hungary).
Southeastern availed its education department in this venture and offered credit for Hungarian courses off campus at Albany Elementary School and at a Teacher Training School in Debrecen, Hungary.
In 1978 about 12 of us from the local area traveled to Hungary to participate in the first summer institute.
Two classes were offered. The first was Hungarian Language while the second class gave us a crash course in Hungarian history, geography and the arts.
I was always interested in Hungarian music so the lesson on Bartók was extremely enlightening.
Born on March 25, 1881, he received his first instruction in music from his mother, a very capable pianist. His father was also musical.
He gave his first public concert at age 11 and as a result began to establish a reputation as a fine pianist that spread beyond Hungary’s borders. Today he is considered one of the most significant composers of the early 1900s.
Bartók’s style emphasized scales and harmonies of folk music. To achieve this element in his compositions, he was an outstanding ethnomusicologist.
In 1907 he traveled to the most remote villages in Hungary to obtain older songs – songs perhaps centuries old. Not an easy task and living in some of the most primitive conditions.
Songs were sung by peasants and recorded on a phonograph, then transcribed by re-writing these songs into understandable notation with new harmonization. Bartók took pride in this accomplishment.
In the 1920s and ’30s Bartók was famous internationally and he toured widely both as a pianist and as a composer.
With the outbreak of World War II and despite his deep attachment to his beloved Hungary, he and his second wife emigrated to the United States.
Although he obtained a post at Columbia University, conditions worsened – fewer concerts and fewer commissions. He died on Sept. 26, 1945. Through the miracle of modern technology, many of his works are available on line.
The Hungarian Settlement Museum is open on each Tuesday of the month and the second and fourth Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 225-294-5732 or 225-610-7474 for more information.