Previous page Next page Table of Contents Main page, copyright info Hungarian version

(c) Copyright Bartók Archives of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Institute for Musicology, 2004-2005 

 

His “Personal Credo”

 

When this writer was working on the German translation of the Cantata profana (1930–31),
Bartók intimated that he thought and professed that this work was his most personal “credo.”

Bence Szabolcsi, “Bartók Béla: Cantata profana,” in Miért szép századunk zenéje?
(Why is the music of the Twentieth century so beautiful), ed. György Kroó (Budapest, 1974), 186

 
 

...From the point of view of their musical aspect, the most important of the above-mentioned categories of songs are the Christmas songs, or, as they are called in Rumania, Colinde. Moreover the song texts in this category include some which are invaluable to the historian of Rumanian folklore, even the historian of local culture. We must not think of the Colinde, however, in terms of the religious Christmas carols of the West. First of all, the most important part of these texts—perhaps one-third of them—have no connection with Christmas. Instead of the Bethlehem legend we hear about a wonderful battle between the victorious hero and the—until then—unvanquished lion (or stag), we are told the tale of the nine sons who—after hunting for so many years in the old forest—have been changed into stags... Thus here are texts truly preserved from ancient, pagan times! ...

 

 

 

  Two pages of one of Bartók's folksong collecting notebooks showing the melodies of the two respective colinde, whose texts served as the basis for the libretto of Cantata profana  (detail); Bartók estate, © 2005, Gábor Vásárhelyi
  

Two pages of one of Bartók's folksong collecting notebooks showing the melodies of the two respective colinde, whose texts served as the basis for the libretto of Cantata profana; Bartók estate, © 2005, Gábor Vásárhelyi        Two pages of one of Bartók's folksong collecting notebooks showing the melodies of the two respective colinde, whose texts served as the basis for the libretto of Cantata profana; Bartók estate, © 2005, Gábor Vásárhelyi
 
                    Two pages of one of Bartók's folksong collecting notebooks showing the melodies of the two respective colinde, whose texts served as the basis for the libretto of Cantata profana  (detail); Bartók estate, © 2005, Gábor Vásárhelyi

Three pages of Bartók's folk text collecting notebooks showing the two related Romanian ballad texts used in the libretto of Cantata profana composed in 1930; Bartók estate, © 2005, Gábor Vásárhelyi     Three pages of Bartók's folk text collecting notebooks showing the two related Romanian ballad texts used in the libretto of Cantata profana composed in 1930; Bartók estate, © 2005, Gábor Vásárhelyi     Three pages of Bartók's folk text collecting notebooks showing the two related Romanian ballad texts used in the libretto of Cantata profana composed in 1930; Bartók estate, © 2005, Gábor Vásárhelyi    

            Carolling usually takes place according to the following custom: after several weeks of “study” (choral singing in unison) of the Colinde, on Christmas Eve a group of eight to ten boys, under the leadership of a chief, sets out for the performance itself. They stop in front of each house and ask whether the hosts will receive them. Once inside the house, the group sings four or five colindă songs in antiphonal fashion; that is the team of singers divides into two groups, each one singing in turn a verse of the song. At the end of the performance, the hosts present a gift to the carollers who go on to the neighbour’s house. ...
            Noteworthy ... is the continual change of the time. We must bear in mind that these and similar “complex” melodies are performed by illiterate people with the greatest aplomb and in the most natural fashion. This is the most convincing proof of the extent to which certain theoreticians err when they hold that repeated change of time denotes an unnatural process. ...

Bartók, “Rumanian Folk Music” (1933), in Béla Bartók Essays, ed. Benjamin Suchoff (London, 1976), 120–21

 

  

   

  

 

Bartók's scholarly monograph on Romanian Christmas songs (colinde) published in 1935

  

  

The Hungarian libretto of the Cantata profana in Bartók's hand (Peter Bartók's collection); Peter Bartók’s collection, © 2005, Peter Bartók

   

...would you be so kind as to thoroughly check the text of the enclosed colindă, which I am setting to music, and correct the spelling and other mistakes? You have time to do this until the middle of August. Please check the correctness of the syllabification, too.

Bartók to Constantin Brăiloiu, in András Benkő, “Bartók Béla levelei
Constantin Brăiloiuhoz” (Bartók letters to Constantin Brăiloiu),
Bartók Dolgozatok, ed. Ferenc László (Bucharest, 1974), 227

 

      

  

 

The Radio Times (May 18, 1934) calling attention to the world première of Bartók’s Cantata profana in London

 

 

 

 

...In the Cantata Profana only the text is Rumanian; the thematic material is my own invention, nor is it an imitation of Rumanian folk-music, indeed much of it has no folk character. This work can only be mentioned as a “setting to music of a Rumanian colindă text.”

Bartók to Octavian Beu, January 10, 1931, in Béla Bartók Letters,
ed. János Demény (Budapest, 1971), 203

 

 

 

 

 

  

  

 

 

 

 

  No. 12bb in Bartók's monograph Melodien der rumänischen Colinde (Weihnachtslieder) [posthumously published in English as Carols and Christmas Songs (Colinde)] as shown on a támlap (record card) used for the classification of melodies; Bartók estate, © 2005, Gábor Vásárhelyi

 

Bartók's own late English rendering of the libretto of Cantata profana; Peter Bartók’s collection, © 2005, Peter Bartók

  

  

  

 

...I consider myself a Hungarian composer. The fact that the melodies in some of my own original compositions were inspired by or based on Rumanian folk-songs is no justification for classing me as a compositorul român; such a label would have no more truth than the word “Hungarian” applied to Brahms, or Schubert, and is as inappropriate as if one were to speak of Debussy as a Spanish composer, because their works were inspired by themes of Hungarian or Spanish origin. ...
            My creative work, just because it arises from 3 sources (Hungarian, Rumanian, Slovakian), might be regarded as the embodiment of the very concept of integration so much emphasized in Hungary today. ... My own idea, however—of which I have been fully conscious since I found myself as a composer—is the brotherhood of peoples, brotherhood in spite of all wars and conflicts. I try—to the best of my ability—to serve this idea in my music; therefore I don’t reject any influence, be it Slovakian, Rumanian, Arabic or from any other source. The source must only be clean, fresh and healthy!

Bartók to Octavian Beu, January 10, 1931, in Béla Bartók Letters,
ed. János Demény (Budapest, 1971), 201

 
  The first and the last page of the Cantata profana in the Universal Edition facsimile first edition of 1934; © 1934, Universal Edition   The first and the last page of the Cantata profana in the Universal Edition facsimile first edition of 1934; © 1934, Universal Edition
 
   

  

Previous page Next page Table of Contents Main page, copyright info Hungarian version