Throughout history, nationalism has affected the music of many composers. Defined as “devotion and loyalty to one’s own country,” nationalism takes on many guises in music. While some composers use folk songs from their native lands, some may write music to reflect the visual images of their homeland. This month, Clef Notes travels to different areas across the globe, examining how composers use nationalism in their music. This week, we begin with Hungary.
Bela Bartok (1881–1945) is known as a talented pianist, composer, teacher, and one of the first practicing ethnomusicologists. He grew up in a musical family, studying piano and composition at the Hungarian Royal Academy of Music in Budapest where he later returned to teach. He had a passion for the folk music of Hungary, Romania, and the surrounding areas, and spent much of his time collecting peasant songs and dances. Many of these were edited and made into collections. Bartok also arranged folk tunes and wrote some of his own works based on these traditional tunes.
Staccato and Legato from Mikrokosmos is just one of many examples of a piece Bartok wrote that combines folk peasant music of the region with classical tradition. It contains qualities attributed to J.S. Bach, but also a melody that mirrors ideas used in Hungarian songs.
Bartok spent part of his life working at the Academy of Sciences as an ethnomusicologist. There, he worked alongside another prominent Hungarian musician, Zoltan Kodaly. We will learn more about him next time!