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Tuesday, March 30, 2021, 11:40
Although Béla Bartók’s activity of collecting and organizing folk songs is well-known, few people still know how passionately and personally motivated this was an important part of his work. A new realm has opened up for your collecting and system management skills. Ever since he received theoretical and professional support for his instinctively developing interest through his friendship with Zoltán Kodály, he has become more and more conscious and determined to delve into the depths of folk music research.
Many people want their work to be something that is not dictated by a compulsion to make a living, but by a playful passion from within. This is unfortunately given to a few. Bartók didn’t always manage to do what he wanted in the depths of his heart. His younger son, Péter, reviving his childhood memories, writes of this in his excellent book, My Father: thus, it could retain the status of a civil servant providing financial security. Unfortunately, the assignment arrived a little late, so when my father left Hungary in 1940, he had to leave the preparation of the Hungarian folk music material unfinished here. But for at least a few years […] he could go to work at the Academy of Sciences, where he did exactly what he wanted to do, and so he was happy. It could be found in the “horseshoe room” at the Academy (hence the name of the room because of the shape of one of the tables), where he listened to the phonograph cylinders recorded on folk music collecting tours, and here he recorded the material. He did the same at home if he could make time for it.
The precisely elaborated concept of the long-cherished publication plan was presented to the Kisfaludy Society in 1913 together with Kodály. “Our plan: a complete, strictly critical, accurate edition of Hungarian folk songs and folk music, as far as possible, the editing of a monumental Hungarian ‘Corpus Musicae Popularis’.”
The preface to the submission lists the antecedents, which were limited to the publication of texts without melody. In addition to the many inaccurate, superficial works, there are hardly any evaluable collections (Károly Érni, Bartalus, Áron Kiss) that could provide an actual picture of real Hungarian folk music.
“If someone asks, where is the Hungarian music whose fame has traveled the world? We can’t point it out – Kodály complains.
– We must be ashamed to see the rich and well-edited collections of smaller nations (not to go further: the Slovaks). All this circumstance prompted us to go for the collection ourselves. We visited the most remote, oldest places in the first place, and to our great delight, not in vain: the memory of the elders has not preserved an unknown antiquity for us. Over the course of eight years, in addition to many other activities, we have managed to enrich our collection so much that we have been able to begin putting it under the press. In the attached detailed draft, we explain how we intend to complete and arrange the material as much as possible. We offer our work for publication to the T. Company, which is the most competent in its tradition and its entire past. ”
The financial circumstances of the Kisfaludy Society did not allow the support of the new Hungarian universal folk song collection. Yet by then, they had both put a huge amount of work into making the plan a reality. The only authentic starting point was the material collected by Béla Vikár with a phonograph. Zoltán Kodály began his great work in 1903 with this knowledge.
Characteristic of the mood of the era, the aging Vikár did not even want to let the young university student in the door: “When I applied to him as a beginner student, whose work requires getting to know his collection, he was received a little distrustfully. He thought I wanted to make a new theory of Hungarian music that was in vogue at the time. I am reassured that I am not dealing with theory, I am preparing to be a composer, for this, but also for scientific purposes, I want to get to know the living form of folk songs more closely, because what I found in the publications does not satisfy me and I intend to collect myself. ”
Béla Vikár’s collection of thousands of pieces, which, with a few exceptions, covered the entire language area, was also an important school for Bartók. In the 1920s, when he was assigned to the Ethnographic Museum instead of teaching, he wrote down almost the entire material, and then, at the time of the 1934 rush, he re-listened and revised these among the materials of his own and other collectors.
Béla Bartók did not give up his plan to release Hungarian folk songs in the midst of the war and then the difficulties of the partition of the country. He kept working on the subject. In 1924, with the publication of his volume The Hungarian Folk Song, he gave a relatively modest but fundamental summary of his previous knowledge. He supplemented the thorough study with a library of examples, listing the most characteristic pieces of the large amount of folk song collected.