Béla Bartók by David Cooper - review by Rupert Christiansen

Rupert Christiansen

Folk Hero

Béla Bartók


Yale University Press 456pp £25 order from our bookshop

Interviewing the great Hungarian conductor Georg Solti many years ago, I remember asking him to nominate the person who had meant most to him in the course of his long and distinguished career. The question was banal enough, but he responded to it with impassioned alacrity, jabbing his finger in the air. ‘Bartók! Because he was a good man!’ There was tremendous emphasis on the adjective and I am glad to see it endorsed by David Cooper’s authoritative and meticulous new study of the composer’s life and works, based on decades of research and reflection and surely destined to rank as a standard for many years to come.

‘Honesty and integrity (sometimes taken to an extreme), fastidiousness, egalitarianism, industriousness and lack of motivation by material success’ are among the qualities that Cooper lists as Bartók’s characteristics. Because these were accompanied by a certain distrait shyness and a refusal to pander or witter, some have been fashionably led to

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