ON THIS DAY | Hungarian Composer Béla Bartók Was Born in 1881

A virtuoso pianist, Bartók is also known for using his native folk themes and rhythms into his various compositions



Hungarian composer and pianist Béla Bartók was born on March 25, 1881, in Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary which is present-day Sânnicolau Mare, Romania.

Remembered as one of the most influential composers of the twentieth century, Bartók made a sizeable contribution to today’s violin repertoire — including two concertos and a large body of chamber and solo works. Alongside Franz Liszt, he is thought to be one of Hungary's most significant composers

Bartók chose to remain in his home country for his early study in Budapest, despite being offered a place at the university in Vienna, which had a much better reputation. During these years, he met fellow composer Zoltan Kodály, who became a treasured friend and colleague; additionally, the pair strongly influenced each other's musical style.

While today, Bartók is mainly remembered as a composer, in his own time, he was equally renowned for his work in ethnomusicology. He undertook serious study of Hungarian, Romanian, and Slovak folk music, often with the help of Kodály, and both composers integrated these styles into their own writing. Whether in their solo piano, violin-piano duo, or string orchestra arrangements, Bartók's set of Romanian Folk Dances remains one of his most enduring works today.


While Bartók frequently described his musical language as tonal, the harmonic inflections brought on by his extensive use of folk music often allowed him to push at the boundaries of tonality — though he never abandoned it completely, as many of his colleagues in the early to mid-twentieth century did.

Bartók was appointed to the faculty of the Academy of Music in 1907 and retained that position until 1934. The onset of the Second World War forced Bartók and his family to emigrate to the United States in 1940, where he was to remain until his death in 1945. He worked as a research assistant in music at Columbia University, in New York, where he continued to work with folk music and contribute to a collection of Balkan folk music.

While he was initially buried in New York, his remains were eventually exhumed and taken home to Hungary in 1988, where he could finally be given a state funeral.