Monthly Archives: July 2015

Bela Bartok – part 1

Bela Bartok was a Hungarian composer born in 1881. His parents were Bela Sr. and Paula (nee Voit). You can read our previous blog on his mother here.    Bela started playing the piano quite young. His father passed away unexpectedly when Bela was 7 and over the next few years, Bela, his mother, and his sister moved a couple of times, ending up in Pozsony. This is where he gave his first recital for the public which included a piece he had written himself.
From 1899 to 1903, Bartok studied at the Royal Academy of Music in Budapest. It is here that he met Zoltán Kodály. They would become lifelong friends. A 1904 summer trip to a resort sparked his interest in folk music and in 1907, Kodály introduced him to the music of Debussy. Both would influence Bartok’s works in the years to come.
1907 was also the year that Bartok started to teach piano at the Royal Academy. In 1909, Bartok married Márta Ziegler. He was 28 and she was 16. In August of 1910, their son Bela III was born. After 15 years of marriage, they divorced and Bartok married Ditta Pásztory in 1923. She was 19 and he was 42. 1924 saw the birth of their son, Péter.
During this time of his life, he continued to compose. He wrote his opera, a ballet, quartets, and several other pieces. He continued to travel and gather folk music though his travels had to stop when WWI broke out. We will leave him here for this week and look at the later part of his life in our next blog!


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Asteroids, Minor Planets, and Composers

Every so often when researching a composer, I come across a notation about a celestial body being named after them.  This came to mind again with the recent fly by of Pluto.

So how do you get an asteroid or minor planet named after you?  Well it can take a while.

 You cannot buy these celestial bodies.  Names are submitted to the International Astronomical Union and they are judged by a 15 person panel of astronomers. And it can be a long process leading up to the naming.
Once an asteroid or other bodies is discovered and reported, it is observed for quite some time.  They must be sure that it is actually a new object being discovered.  This process can take several years.  At the beginning of the process, a number sequence is assigned.
When it reaches the naming stage, the panel chooses from submitted names.  There are a number of guidelines that must be followed.  For example:
  • Proposed names should be:
    • 16 characters or less in length (including any spaces or punctuation)
    • preferably one word
    • pronounceable (in some language)
    • non-offensive
    • not too similar to an existing name of a minor planet or natural planetary satellite
  • Names for persons or events known primarily for their military or political activities are acceptable only after 100 years elapsed since the person died or the event occurred.
  • Names of pet animals are discouraged.
  • Names of a purely or principally commercial nature are not allowed.
There are further rules to follow about naming things near particular planets.  It can quite an involved process.

For interest, here is the list of asteroids or small planets named after classical composers:

  • 734 Benda (Karel Bendl)
  • 1034 Mozartia (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
  • 1059 Mussorgskia (Modest Mussorgsky)
  • 1405 Sibelius (Jean Sibelius)
  • 1814 Bach (member of Bach family, probably Johann Sebastian Bach)
  • 1815 Beethoven (Ludwig van Beethoven)
  • 1818 Brahms (Johannes Brahms)
  • 2047 Smetana (Bedřich Smetana)
  • 2055 Dvořák (Antonín Dvořák)
  • 2073 Janáček (Leoš Janáček)
  • 2205 Glinka (Mikhail Glinka)
  • 2266 Tchaikovsky (Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky)
  • 2420 Čiurlionis (Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis)
  • 2523 Ryba (Jakub Jan Ryba)
  • 2669 Shostakovich (Dmitri Shostakovich)
  • 3081 Martinůboh (Bohuslav Martinů)
  • 3159 Prokof’ev (Sergei Prokofiev)
  • 3590 Holst (Gustav Holst)
  • 3592 Nedbal (Oskar Nedbal)
  • 3784 Chopin (Frédéric Chopin)
  • 3826 Handel (George Frideric Handel)
  • 3917 Franz Schubert (Franz Schubert)
  • 3941 Haydn (Joseph Haydn)
  • 3954 Mendelssohn (Felix Mendelssohn)
  • 3955 Bruckner (Anton Bruckner)
  • 3975 Verdi (Giuseppe Verdi)


To see other names of asteroids and more information in general, visit the International Astronomical Union at

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Leoš Janáček Part 2

We left Janáček last week with his marriage in 1881. In addition to getting married, this was also the year that Janáček founded an organ school in Brno. He served as the director there until 1920. In 1919, the school became the Brno Conservatory.

The rest of the 1880s, Janáček continued to teach, compose, and start a family. His daughter Olga was born in 1882.  He and Zdenka had a second child as well, a son named Vladimir.  Unfortunately Vladimir did not survive infancy and died in 1890.  The rest of the 1890s saw Janáček continue to study and collect folk songs.  This greatly influenced his compositional style.

Janáček took Olga to St. Petersburg to study Russian in 1902.  However, she became ill quite suddenly a few months later and he and Zdenka returned to St. Petersburg and brought Olga back to Brno.  Olga did not recover and passed away in early 1903 at the age of 20.  He put his heartfelt feelings into his opera, Jenůfa. It was dedicated to his daughter and premiered in 1904 in Brno. Well received there, it was another 12 years before it would appear on stage in Prague.  When it did, it was a success and Janáček finally started to get more recognition at the age of 62!

After his success at Prague, he started an affair with a singer.  This ended in an informal divorce from Zdenka and Janáček developing an interest in Kamilla Stösslová. A much younger woman who did not return his affection, she became his muse for the final years of his life.

He continued to compose, his works receiving recognition on stages around the world.  He retired as director from the Brno Conservatory in 1920 but taught there until 1925.  In August of 1928, he developed pneumonia and passed away at age 74.

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Leoš Janáček

Janáček was a Czech composer who lived from 1854 to 1928.  Let’s take a brief look at the first part of his life this week.  Born into a lower middle class family, his parents were Jiří (1815–1866) and Amalie (née Grulichová) Janáčková (1819–1884). His father was a schoolmaster and wanted Leoš to follow in his footsteps. However, he recognized his son’s musical talent and instead in 1865 Leoš became a ward of the Abbey of St. Thomas in Brno where he sang and played the piano. Jiří passed away the following year.

In 1874 he enrolled in the Prague Organ School. His intention had been to continue studying piano and organ. But his focus shifted to composition. He had his difficulties in his studies, as many intelligent artists do. He was expelled from school at one point but eventually allowed to return and finished in 1875 at the top of his class.

After school he did go on to teach. While not a schoolmaster like his father, Janáček did teach music at Brno’s Teachers Institute. It is here that he met his future wife, Zdenka Schulzová. She was his student and the daughter of the school’s director. He continued to study himself and spent time at the Leipzig Conservatory and the Vienna Conservatory.  He left Brno in 1880 and returned in 1881 to marry Zdenka.

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György Kurtág

Hungarian composer György Kurtág was born in 1926.  He grew up speaking Hungarian, Romanian, and German.  Having already started studying piano and composition, he moved to Budapest in 1946 and became a student at the Academy of Music.

1957 and 1958 finds Kurtág in Paris to study.  Suffering from depression, he started therapy.  He returned to Budapest in 1959, with a different view on composition and a renewed artistic spirit. This turning point in his career is marked with the notation of Opus 1 for his first string quartet composed upon his return.

In 1967 he would return to the Academy of Music as an assistant, becoming the professor of chamber music in 1968. He would hold this position until 1986 when he retired, though he would return to teach on occasion into the 90’s.

When travel restrictions were lifted, he spent more time working in Europe, spending time in Berlin, Vienna, the Netherlands, and returning to Paris.

Kurtág continues to work on compositions and is already a well decorated recipient of many awards over the years.  Adding to his list of awards, in June of 2015, he was presented with the BBVA Foundation “Frontiers of Knowledge Award” in the Contemporary Music category.

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