The Discovery of Bela Bartok in Post-World War II France: Issues and Controversies

By Michèle Alten

In France, the musical works of Bela Bartok remained practically unknown until the end of the Second World War. In 1945, the death of the Hungarian composer in the United States aroused the curiosity of French music lovers who were eager for novelty. Paris henceforth witnessed a passion for his music. But, from 1948, attitudes toward his life and his works became a political and ideological issue. The French Communist party set out to prove that Bartok was in the socialist camp on account of his affection for his homeland, his love of its people and his musical style based on folklore. Faced with that ideologically-tainted image, the pro-American side denounced the banning of Bartok’s major works in Hungary and emphasized the universal character of his music. After 1953, the development of musicological studies and the end of Stalinism favored the development of a more precise and correct view of the artist.


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