Introduction Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3
Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Conclusion Bibliography


In 1899, despite being offered a place at the prestigious Vienna Conservatory, Béla Bartók chose to stay in Hungary and study at the Budapest Academy.  This decision was informed by the composer’s life long concern with national identity which had a decisive effect on his musical development.  Bartók’s nationalism encouraged him to search for new modes of expression which were derived from his exploration into the musical heritage of his native Hungary.   The originality of Bartók’s music lies in the fact that he absorbed folk influences into his personal compositional process.  This was achieved, not by assimilation of the material entity or surface features of folk music, but what Bartok often referred to as the “spirit” or “essence” of the music.  Bartok’s method involved the detailed examination of the melodic and rhythmic characteristics of peasant tunes, in an effort to discover their intrinsic nature.  In Bartók’s hands, folk music gave rise to new melodic, rhythmic and harmonic possibilities, which formed the basis of his uniquely individual style.

The primary objective of this paper is to show how certain compositional techniques, achieved through the transcription and analysis of folk music, were transplanted into Bartók’s creative musical language.  I will examine some of the main features of folk song style, comparing them to techniques used in the arrangement of folk music and the composition of original music. 

Chapter One will provide social and contextual background to Bartók’s early works.  It will describe how Bartók used Liszt as an early compositional model, synthesising stylistic features of Hungarian Verbunkos music with the Romantic musical idiom. 

 Chapter Two will give an account of Bartók’s discovery of authentic folk music and his subsequent ethnomusicological study in Hungary and neighbouring nations.  I will describe Bartók’s means of classifying material, which formed the basis of his comparative, ethnographic approach.

Chapter Three will concentrate on the entry of folksong, in the form of harmonic arrangements, into the art-music tradition.  It will discuss Bartók’s views on the limited harmonic implications of folk melody, and the possibilities of deriving a new harmonic language from the linear intervallic characteristics of modal and pentatonic melodies.  I will demonstrate Bartók’s avoidance of tonal function with the use of chords and scales derived from folk music. With reference to Bartók’s three-level concept of folk music arrangement, I will examine how he derived more elaborate accompaniments, which shifted emphasis from the tune itself to the total effect of presentation.   This chapter will be confined to analysis of settings of folk material in early vocal and piano collections.

Chapter Four will examine how Bartók extended folk music qualities into the more abstract language of his original musical compositions.  By looking at his early piano repertoire, I will examine his use of polymodal scale combinations to create a twelve-note chromatic environment with a single fixed point of reference.   This will involve examination of the use of intervallic pitch cells as a means of evading traditional tonal connotations and also providing a sense of harmonic coherence. 

The focus of Chapter Five will be on Bartók’s synthesis of disassociated musical elements, variational procedures and structural considerations.  It will adopt a broader approach covering a larger range of Bartók mature works.   My argument will show, in reference to later arrangements and original works, his more unified approach to the use of folk music within a larger structural framework.  This chapter will isolate some of the various components of musical expression, showing the influence of several diverse elements drawn from a broad cross-section of Bartók’s folk music research. 

In concluding, I will emphasise the value of an analytic method informed by a thorough knowledge of Bartók’s folk music interests.