About this Recording
9.70179 - BARTÓK, B.: For Children, Vols. 1 and 2 / The First Term at the Piano (L. Kertész)

Béla Bartók (1881–1945)
Piano Music • 2


The Hungarian composer Béla Bartók was born in 1881 in a region that now forms part of Romania. His father, director of an agricultural college, was a keen amateur musician, while it was from his mother that he received his early piano lessons. The death of his father in 1889 led to a less settled existence, as his mother returned to work as a teacher, eventually making her home in Pozsony, the modern Bratislava, where Bartók passed his early adolescence, counting among his school-fellows the composer Ernő Dohnányi. Offered the chance of musical training in Vienna, like Dohnányi he chose instead Budapest, where he won a considerable reputation as a pianist, being appointed to the teaching staff of the Academy of Music in 1907. At the same time he developed a deep interest, shared with his compatriot Zoltán Kodály, in the folk-music of his own and adjacent countries, later extended as far as Anatolia, where he collaborated with the Turkish composer Adnan Saygun.

As a composer Bartók found acceptance much more difficult, particularly in his own country, which was, in any case, beset by political troubles, when the brief post-war left-wing government of Béla Kun was replaced by the reactionary régime of Admiral Horthy. Meanwhile his reputation abroad grew, particularly among those with an interest in contemporary music, and his success both as a pianist and as a composer, coupled with dissatisfaction at the growing association between the Horthy government and National Socialist Germany, led him in 1940 to emigrate to the United States of America.

In his last years, after briefly holding teaching positions at Columbia and Harvard, Bartók suffered from increasing ill-health and from poverty which the conditions of exile in war-time could do nothing to alleviate. He died in straitened circumstances in 1945, leaving a new Viola Concerto incomplete and a Third Piano Concerto more nearly finished.

Bartók’s For Children originally consisted of 85 short pieces in four volumes, the first two volumes based on Hungarian folk-songs and the third and fourth on Slovakian melodies. These were written in 1908–09 and represent something of the result of Bartók’s investigations into folk-song. In 1943 he revised the work, writing thirteen new pieces. The revised work was published in 1945 with 79 pieces in two volumes. The forty pieces based on Hungarian folk-songs present the original material with great clarity, generally with the simplest of accompaniments, which, as with the later 44 Duos for violin, written in 1931 for Erich and Elma Doflein, do much to present the melody in an original and revealing light. It has been pointed out that many of the melodies presented may already well have been familiar to Hungarian children, a fact that added to their relevance for young performers.

In 1913 Bartók brought together 48 pieces for beginners, to form part of Sándor Reschofsky’s Zongoraiskola (Piano School). Eighteen of these were revised for publication in 1929 as Kezdök zongoramuzikája (The First Term at the Piano). These progressive pieces, starting with both hands together, playing within the range of the five fingers, find a place also for folk-song, where this is appropriate. Later editions have included five more pieces and some versions have given titles to each piece.

For Children and The First Term at the Piano, with the 44 Duos and Mikrokosmos, bear witness to Bartók’s commitment to national music education in Hungary, a goal shared effectively with Zoltán Kodály, who provided a comprehensive master-plan for music education in Hungary, as Hindemith was to do, with less obvious results, in Turkey. Bartók’s simple piano pieces serve a double purpose in their novel approach to learning the piano and their preservation of many of the melodies that he had collected at a time when folk-music faced the threat of extinction, as traditions changed.

Keith Anderson

For Children Vols 1&2:
Recording Venue: The Rottenbiller Street Studio of Hungaroton Recording Date: 27 to 30  June 2009
Balance Engineer: István Berényi
Recording producer and digital editing: Péter Aczél
Sponsored by: MVM Group

Wenckheim Krisztina Városfejlesztési, Kulturális és Környezetvédelmi Közalapítvány / Krisztina Wenckheim Foundation
István Kassai pianist

The First Term at the Piano:
Recording Venue: The Rottenbiller Street Studio of Hungaroton
Recording Date: 6 to 9 June 2011
Balance engineer: János Győri
Recording producer and digital editing: Péter Aczél
Sponsored by the majors of Gyula, Keszthely and Hévíz

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