Béla Bartók is one of the chief figures in Hungarian art music. Not only was he a prolific composer, but also a very distinguished ethnomusicologist, pianist and teacher. A founding figure of 20th century Hungarian musical culture, he is most remembered for his later works which are highly influenced by the folk music of Hungarian, Romanian and Slovak peasants.
Bartók was born to a headmaster and a teacher, in Nagyszentmiklós, Hungary, which is now part of Romania. Both his parents were capable amateur musicians, encouraging their son with dance, drumming and when he was old enough, the piano. By the age of four, he showed definite skill and a year later, started more formal piano training. The death of Bartók’s father when the young Béla was just 7 caused the family to moved house frequently for his mother to find suitable work. After moving five times, they finally settled in Pozsony, Hungary (now Bratislava, Slovakia) in 1894, where Bartók attended a German-language grammar school.
Bartók’s first musical compositions consisted of dance pieces: waltzes, landlers, mazurkas and polkas. His first set of 31 piano compositions (1890-94) were programmatic, such A Duna Folyása (The Course of the Danube) and A Budapesti Tornaverseny (Gymnastic Contest in Budapest) and some early attempts of sonatina form and theme-and-variation form.