Bartok’s son has died, at 96

Bartok’s son has died, at 96


norman lebrecht

December 11, 2020

Peter Bartok, younger son of the great composer, died on Monday.

Peter wrote a short memoir of his father, guarded his legacy and, where necessary, sued his publishers.

He served in the US Navy during the Second World War.



  • Edgar Self says:

    I Peter Bartok was a sound engineer who recorded his father’s famous Library of Congress recital with Joseph Szigeti in 1941 and published it on his Audiophon LP and CD label run from his home in Florida. He published CDs by the late excellent Israeli pianist David Bar-Ilan, who later became editor of the Jerusalem Times and a confidante of Netanyahu.

    Audiophon’s scintillating Moszkowski piano concerto with Bar- Ilan is a minor masterwork, the best version of several. He also engineered Ilona Kabos’s LP of Liszt’s “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen” Bach variations in its longer form, with Liszt’s delightful Christmas piano pieces for his grandchildren, called “Weihnachtsbaum”.

    Ninety-six is a long life. His father died at 60.

    • David K. Nelson says:

      I was not aware of Peter Bartók’s involvement with Audiophon. Audiophon was mostly the brainchild of Julian Kreeger, a lawyer, and Peter McGrath was the sound engineer for most of the Audiophon recordings I reviewed (Aaron Rosand). Interesting

    • Greg Bottini says:

      You may know something I don’t know, Edgar!
      I had always thought that Bartok’s April 13, 1940 (not 1941) Library of Congress recital with Joseph Szigeti was recorded in-house by the LoC (as seemed to be their general procedure), and that Vanguard Records later obtained those recordings for commercial issue.
      Hungaroton Records, in their issue “Bartok At The Piano I” (HCD 12326-31) gives the recording data as simply “Washington Library of Congress…. Released by VANGUARD”.
      I was not previously aware of any involvement by Peter Bartok in making the original recordings, nor was I aware of any issues of this recording, either on LP or CD, by Peter’s own label.
      And I had not before heard of any involvement Peter had with Audiophon.
      Enlighten me, please! I thirst for knowledge….
      – best wishes, Greg

      • Edgar Self says:

        David and Greg are too sharp or me; I cant get away with anything after muddling the facts, for which I apologise. I corresponded with Audiophon’s founder Julian Kreeger in Florida about David Bar-Ilan’s CDs, was handsomely treated, and then mixed him up with Peter Bartok and Baartok Records. Greg is surely right that Peter couldn’t have recorded the 1940 recital at age 16.

        Another poster suggested Mikrokosmos may have been written for Peter. That’s interesting if true, as Erno Daniel demonstrated to me at Hardin College that it is progressively more difficult pedagogic work with similarities to Brahms.

        thanks for letting me off lightly.

        • David K. Nelson says:

          We aren’t letting you off lightly, Edgar, indeed we are obeying the wise command, to thine own Self be true.

          Benjamin Suchoff wrote his doctoral dissertation on Mikrokosmos and his book “Guide to Bartók’s Mikrokosmos” is an indispensable guide to any teacher or student dealing with the music (and his book on errata in the original publication was accepted by Boosey & Hawkes in re-issuing a corrected version). He served as Curator of the New York Bartók Archives after Victor Bator. Here is what he wrote on the topic.

          “Bartók’s original concept of the Mikrokosmos therefore was of the work as a collection of recital pieces, and he gave the first performance of seventeen of them in London on February 9, 1937. The year before, Bartók began teaching his son Peter the piano, and he wrote little pieces and exercises for the boy. In characteristic fashion the composer became absorbed in the problems involved in the early grades of piano playing. He decided to arrange the Mikrokosmos as a collection of pieces in progressive order of technical and musical difficulty, he consulted with at least one Hungarian authority on piano pedagogy, and he used his son as ‘guinea pig’ until such time as the pieces were composed faster than Peter could learn them (the first two volumes are dedicated to “Péteré”). Then the composer composed the Mikrokosmos independent of any consideration of its suitability for the son, completing the work in November, 1939.”

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Correction: I meant to type “Bartok At The Piano II” (catalog number remains the same; all the CDs come in a 6-CD box anyway).
      I’m just a big, detail-oriented Bartok fan, I am.

  • REGERFAN says:

    Hungarian wikipedia says he died in Florida, not Budapest.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    It should also be mentioned that Peter Bartók was also a record producer and for many years Bartók Records had the only available versions of some Bartók works, and very creditable versions of the works that commercial labels did release; some of those recordings were prized for their fine sound and the list of performers taking part is impressive (including Tibor Serly, Walter Susskind, Robert Mann, William Primrose, Stanley Drucker, Leonid Hambro). Peter Bartók also edited some of the works of his father, and created a version of the Duos for Two Violins in a version for violin and cello. Bartók Records also sells sheet music.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Peter (assisted by violist Paul Neubauer) made an edition of his father’s Viola Concerto, a work which was originally edited for performance by Tibor Serly.
      There exists a marvelous 1998 Naxos CD containing excellent performances of both editions, which, if I am not mistaken, was later withdrawn from the market due to copyright issues.
      Performing on the CD (Naxos 8.554183) is violist Hong-Mei Xiao with the Budapest Philharmonic Orch. conducted by Janos Kovacs.

    • Edgar Self says:

      Many thanks, David Nelson, for the Mikrokosmos summary. Blessed are the merciful. I cans’t not then be false to any man.

  • Anton Bruckner says:

    What a shame that Bartok’s country has become (again) fascist and what a disgrace that the EU does nothing to sanction this villain regime.

  • Gabor Csepregi says:

    He died in the United States, presumably in Homosassa, Florida.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Rest in peace, dear Peter Bartok.
    You did more to keep your great father’s memory alive than did almost anyone else, through your record label, articles, and publications.
    Viva Bartoks, son and father!

  • JB says:

    Wasn’t he the one Microcosmos was written for ?

  • Luca says:

    At 330 pages the memoir isn’t that short and as a hardback makes an impressive volume. Hard to find anywhere except at the Bartok museum in Buda.

    • Larry Hanlon says:

      You might want to contact me. I have many (100,s from the Bartok estate. I would like to find the proper place to preserve them, Larry

  • Duke Bluebeard says:

    Had pleasure of finessing an English translation of Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. Charming and insightful. He really had some great things to say about the libretto. RIP

    • g. pandi says:

      “Kekszakallu herceg vara”
      not a duke, but a prince and not a castle, but a fort.
      If that makes any different.

  • CA says:

    Wasn’t he living in Homosassa, Florida? Wonder what will become of the Bartok archives that were there.

  • Basso Continuoso says:

    He very carefully helped edit the Concerto for Orchestra, the Violin Concerto, to correct mistakes and make sure vital parts were playable. He was indispensable.

  • ´dgar Self says:

    Also in the early 1940s Benny Goodman recorded Bartok’s “Contrasts” for clarinet, violin and piano for Columbia with Joseph Szigeti and Bartok in a two-record 78-rpm set. I had this set in high school as my cousin was a clarinetist and we often played it.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Yes, indeed, friend Edgar, and it’s still, after all these years, the best version of the work.
      In fact, “Contrasts” was originally envisioned by Bartok as a two-movement work (what are now mvmts. I and III), and only at the recording sessions of May 13-14, 1940 was the now second movement unveiled, so the recording is in fact a recording of the world premiere performance!
      (That set, BTW, was Columbia set X 178, label numbers 70362/3 D.)

  • Gyula Pandi says:

    it was early 1967, I was working in a Hungarian restaurant in NY City. (Tik-Tak) The “Business Man Lunch” was 1Dollar and 75 Cents and the waiter usually received 25 Cents tip.
    I served the second dish to a gentleman sitting by himself and he asked me if I was a pianist. I answered that I was not, but studied a couple of years back in Budapest. He said he looked at my hands as I was putting the dish on the table and he thought my hands looked more like a pianist’s hands and not a waiter’s.
    When he left the restaurant I found a 10 dollar bill on the table and I was sure he made a mistake. 2 Dollar bill was much used that time, so I ran after him and told him about accidentally left the wrong bill on the table. He said it was not an accident, but he comes for lunch there once a week and we can talk next time.
    We talked about his father and the difficult time his mother was having at that time with legal issues between the family and the publisher(s) of his father works. He talked about his childhood, but what stayed in my head was him talking about some unpublished works by his father that were held by his mom.
    A couple of weeks later I moved to NC and never had any contact with Mr. Bartok. I spoke with him at three occasions, but his simplicity and his devotion to his father and the way he set and talked with treasures of memories will stayed with me.
    Those of you who are music scholars, please share what you know about those compositions that were not in public
    in 1967. Did they ever get published? When? were they only piano pieces or orchestra, etc.?
    Thank you for your help.
    G. Pandi

    • Peter Toth says:

      dear Gyula

      thank you so much for telling your amazing encounter with Peter Bartok. Hopefully you will find out more about the works… I would be pleased, if you’d like to inform me about.

      • pandi says:

        hello Peter,

        as you see on this board; nobody came back with an answer about my questions.
        I remember at the time when Peter Bartok spoke about those unpublished scores, I was thinking it sounds like someone having a couple of Rembrandt paintings in his home that nobody else had ever seen.
        This was over 20 years after his father passed away and another over 50 more years went by since then. I believe the family must have settled the differences with the publisher(s) and the music must have been released.
        What do you think?
        You were a student at the Franz Liszt Academy and remember the corner room where Bartok Bela was teaching his students. It was turned into a museum and all visitors had to stop at the red, velvet rope across the door and could not enter the room. Every corner of the room was visible and the curious could sense what was happening there during the time Bartok was teaching.
        As a student at the Academy you didn’t dare to sneak in there because if caught they would have sent you back to Bekescsaba! Ha, ha, ha!
        I did get in and with the watchful eye of the Academy Director (I’m embarrassed but don’t remember her name), I licked my index finger on my right hand, wiped it dry on my bluejeans and put it on a “C”! I kept it down hoping to get some out of this world feeling traveling through my hand, my arm and arriving at my heart.
        You know what Peter?
        It did happen.
        I treasure that moment for ever.
        Never stop learning.

    • Laura Hennings says:

      I just love your story. That was Peter.❤️ He was a great boss too.

  • Cee Tee says:

    Did either Peter or Béla III have any children?

    So sorry to hear of Peter’s passing. 🙁