Arranging an Exile: Béla Bartók, Creative Exhaustion, and the Design of His American Experience, 1940-45.

Event date

Hassell Hall, 112
Contact person: Vanessa Rogers

Hungarian composer Béla Bartók has long been viewed as one of the leading figures in early 20th-century musical modernism. He emigrated from Budapest to New York in 1940, motivated by principled opposition to fascist ideology, and also as a way to sustain his famously prodigious creative energy while waiting out the war. His time in the US, however, was never easy or settled. Chronic illness set in. University jobs, after two years at Columbia, dried up, leaving him increasingly dependent on a patchwork of income sources. He died here in 1945.

In this illustrated lecture, guest scholar Carl Leafstedt explores new ways of looking at the shape of Bartók’s American experience. Instead of the “great works” emphasis on string quartets, concertos, and large orchestral scores, a more accurate portrait of Bartók’s last years reveals his heavy reliance on shorter works, especially the newly written Mikrokosmos for piano (1926-39), as a way of earning income and establishing a viable career in a market skeptical of European modernists. Arranging pieces from the Mikrokosmos – its music an easier sell to American audiences – emerged after 1940 as a strategy for bringing his name before the public, a strategy promoted by his new publisher for that most American of reasons: commerce.

ABOUT THE SPEAKER: Carl Leafstedt is a musicologist on the faculty of Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. He received his Ph.D. in music from Harvard University, and his undergraduate degree from Williams College, where he majored in chemistry and music. On the faculty at Trinity since 2001, he has also taught at Southwestern University, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Duke University. His book on Bartók’s opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle was published by Oxford University Press. He is currently working on a book on Bartók’s Years in America, and another book on the history of the Bartók Archive during the Cold War.

He has served on the board of directors for many non-profit organizations in San Antonio, and helps students develop their interests in arts management. At Trinity he is Co-Chair of the university’s innovative Arts, Letters, and Enterprise program, which allows students to gain business literacy while pursuing a major of their choice.