Opening Address

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

Opening Address


Somfai, László, Studia Musicologica


On the occasion of Béla Bartók's 125th birthday ameeting of Bartók scholars from all over the world in the Budapest Bartók Archives is an exclusive event. For the next three days we walk out of the celebrations and ritual acts to focus on the orbit and the oeuvre of a classical master, nomore no less. Those of you who came from other countries may be surprised that a composer's anniversary is a national event to such extent. That in addition to festivities in Hungary,memorial concerts and additional programs are sponsored in foreign countries too. This follows a long tradition, based on the experience that Bartók's name in a way serves as a world passport: it demonstrates the great achievements of a small nation, a phenomenon that politicians abuse. We musicologists - especially in the middle of the celebration of a Mozart anniversary - know best that Bartók's music may not belong to the most popular works even for those who at least care about "classical" music in our world that is so much contaminated with all kinds of noisy mass production. But Hungary is proud to know that many professional musicians throughout the world are deeply involved in the perfect rendition of his scores; that there are many fans of Bartók's music. In his home country his charismatic personality is recognized also beyond these boundaries. Even the man of the street could have heard about the honest and authentic man who was so much fascinated by the music of "his beloved peasants" with whom he spent the happiest time of his life, in fact of several nations' village people, beyond the Carpathian basin too. They (we) cherish the image of a stubborn man with great aspirations who strived for creating new music that deeply rooted in his peoples' past and at the same time wanted to be and became an integral part of the discourse of progressive arts inWestern civilization.

We musicologists know that great composers are not always great men. But Bartók was an exceptional man whose spirit radiates for those who come in contact with his art and life, with his legacy, the manuscripts of his compositions and his ethnomusicological work. While in the outer world around us on the Bartók scene dissonant overtones are also present today - e.g. about the production of his stage works, about faithfulness to the score and the borders of the interpreter's freedom; or whether a new CD edition of the complete oeuvre should be a stately sponsored project or a free-market enterprise -, in our narrower circle of the scholarly branch we are stimulated by the anniversary and feel honored to come together to share views on Bartók. The Bartók Archives, since its foundation forty-five years ago within the realm of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, is a happy island and is fully aware of the privilege of its mission. Similar to renowned institutions like the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn, the Bartók Archives in Budapest had a chance to safeguard invaluable primary sources from the family archive deposited by Béla Bartók Jr., and to purchase from further collections. The Archives could present these treasures in thematic temporary exhibitions; recently offers virtual exhibitions and easily available on-line databases. We served and informed scholars as well as performing artists; Zoltán Kocsis's participation at our opening ceremony is a signal that the Bartók Archives is indeed partner of the pioneers of Bartók interpretation.1 And the Archives could rise young generations of specialized musicologists for future projects like the forthcoming critical edition of Bartók's music; for this latter project Peter Bartók, the composer's younger son, just a few years ago presented the indispensable perfect color copies of the manuscripts of the American Estate to the Budapest Archives.

No doubt that international conferences dedicated to Béla Bartók's oeuvre and world do influence Bartók studies considerably. The Hungarian Academy of Sciences or directly the Bartók Archives have organized several conferences in the past forty-five years and the proceedings appeared within a year. …

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