By Vikárius, László | Studia Musicologica, September 2006 | Go to article overview
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Vikárius, László, Studia Musicologica

"The name of Bartók - quite independently of anniversaries - is a symbol of great thoughts."1 Fifty years ago, at a commemorative Bartók session, Zoltán Kodály started his opening address with these words. The first "great thought" he mentioned was "search for absolute truth equally in art and in science", and another one was the "lack of prejudice concerning the individual peculiarities of different races and peoples". As tempora mutantur, I do need Kodály's words to express something that I still consider true but which would sound overblown, even false in my ownwording.

Still the aims of the conference under the title "Bartók's Orbit", held at the Institute for Musicology in Budapest between March 22 and 24, 2006 to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Béla Bartók's birth, were not modest. Its main purpose was to re-examine Bartók's place and significance in the history of twentieth-century music. We had invited free papers on the influences (musical, cultural, etc.) under which Bartók worked and on the influence he exerted on contemporaries as well as later generations. We felt that Bartók's tremendous scholarly output also needed re-evaluation and so we had encouraged scholars to offer papers on Bartók as folklorist, especially from the changing perspective of ethnomusicology and musical anthropology. (This aspect of his work was further elaborated at the somewhat later symposium organized by Peter Laki and held at Bard College, New York, on June 3-4, 2006.) Bartók was a thoroughly musical man - Cecil Gray called him the "living incarnation and embodiment of the spirit of music" - but his work was linked to overall cultural trends and therefore inter- or multi-disciplinary approaches to the literary and artistic context of his music were also welcome.2 Proposed titles in the classic research fields of biography, philology and analysis, whenever the scholarly findings seemed promisingly new and important, were also accepted.

Paper proposals were selected by a committee. Sixty contributors coming from twenty-one countries (including Hongkong, Russia, a number of European countries and the United States) were finally accepted. The three-daylong conference was organized in morning and afternoon sessions. Due to the unexpectedly large number of participants, several parallel sessions were held in one afternoon called, following Malcolm Gillies's helpful suggestion, "Emerging Work on Bartók". Official languages of the international conference were English, French and German. The main topics of the sessions were the following:

Interpreting the stage works,

New approaches to Bartók's style,

Reconsidering Bartók's folklorism,

The absorption of influences in Bartók's works,

Bartók reception.

Thus scholars from many parts of the world had come together to discuss aspects of Bartók's life and work especially the influences he absorbed and the influences he exerted on others. When speaking about "influences" I do not necessarily mean direct musical influences, but also the influence that circumstances exerted on his art and also on his way of thinking in general.

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