Béla Bartók- Greatest Composer _of_ the 20th C.

I find myself thinking of Bartók today. For me, he seemed to rise to the musical challenges of the early 20th C with more vision and creativity than anyone else. In his music, we find blood and mathematics, folks songs and atonal cells, head and heart, earth and dreams. Who is to say who the greatest composer “in” the 20th C was, but I think he was the greatest composer “of” and “for” the 20th C. He answered all the big musical questions of his time.

It is one of the great regrets of my conducting career that I don’t get to do his music more often, and some of my absolute favorite works I have yet to perform (I’d sell a kidney to do a good Bluebeard’s Castle). It’s a sad commentary on the economics of music.

One piece I used to play a lot, and which I miss terribly, is his Second String Quartet. To me, the little red volume which holds the scores of his six string quartets is just about the ultimate “how to compose” textbook.

Here is a live performance of the 2nd with my old quartet from my years in Cincinnati. There are so many wonderful memories of working with my dear friends in this group- Kio Seiler, Eva Richey and Sheridan Kamberger Currie. Fun times!


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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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2 comments on “Béla Bartók- Greatest Composer _of_ the 20th C.”

  1. Andrew

    Ken, could you make a list of Bartok’s greatest works, and name your preferred recordings?

  2. Gwyntaglaw

    I concur with this view. Bartok is in many ways the supreme, universal composer of his generation. And that’s in spite of his very personal and distinctive sound.

    He was a composer who not only discovered his own personal voice (many 20th century greats did that) but actually honed and developed and grew it.

    I love a comment that I heard once, loosely paraphrased: “Bartok shows us what the classical music of Beethoven and Brahms would end up sounding like if it had been based on Hungarian folk music instead of German.”

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