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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

THE MUSIC BOX

By Edward J. Back

Bela, Bartok, noted Hungarian pianist, composer, and authority on folk music, joined the depleted ranks of Harvard's Music Department Tuesday afternoon by giving the first in a series of lectures under the Horatio Appleton Lamb Fund at the Music Building before a small but appreciative audience.

Perhaps a brief word should be said of Bartok's career to date. In 1890 at the age of nine, Bartok first composed some pieces for piano, and a year later made his public debut as pianist and composer. In 1893 he entered Pressburg, where he studied largely under Dohnanyi, and six years later he left for the Royal Hungarian Academy of Budapest. Throughout these years Bartok went through successive periods under the influence first of Brahms, then Lizt and Wagner, later Richard Strauss and Magyar folk music. With the failure of the new Hungarian Music Society in which he played a major role, Bartok, not yet appreciated by the musical world, retired in 1912 in order to make a thorough study of folk music, going as far afield as Biskra in 1913 in quest of Arabian music. In 1917, his "intellectual ballet" the "Woodcut Prince" was given a performance in Budapest, and when this was followed a year later by the opera "Bluebeard's Castle" both critics and public alike looked upon him with favor. He has continued to compose, in fact producing a violin concerto so recently that it was given its first performance in this country only a few weeks ago.

Contrary to popular opinion, however, Mr. Bartok is interested in all, not merely his own nation's folk music, although, of course, that of Hungary, as seen in "The Children's Pieces," has exercised the greatest influence on him. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Bartok has no fixed rules for writing, employing whatever means best suit his purpose at the given moment. He has used everything from Greek, Oriental and pentatonic scales and the modes of the middle ages to the conventional minor and major scales. He avoids neither consonance nor dissonance; he may or may not have symmetry in his rhythms; he will use the simple as well as the complex. If generalizations must be made, it can be said that Bartok's music is usually unemotional, and impersonal, rarely sensational, leaning towards the serious side.

Bartok's lecture Tuesday was not an exciting affair, but it was an extremely competent introductory talk to a course on folk and modern music. Clarity, good organization of material, a quiet but effective sense of humor, frequent and excellent illustrations on the piano, and a sincere desire on his part to please all speak for a highly successful association between Bela Bartok and those who would like to gain the benefits of his presence at this University.

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