How the Ugly Face and Uffizi Gardens Become Classic Music
Bela Bartok is a Hungarian-born artist. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest artistic figures of the twentieth century; his works have been described by some critics as innovative, daring, and monumental. Born into a modest family in Budapest, Bartok started painting as early as he was young, following his parents’ decision to remove him from school. He was arrested numerous times while attempting to cross the country, and during his incarceration he created at least one piece of political symbolism: a giant stuffed bear of freedom.
While studying piano in college, Bartok began experimenting with folk music styles, particularly Hungarian folk songs. When asked about his process, he said that he mainly draws inspiration from old European paintings, particularly those that feature peasant farmers playing traditional instruments such as the lute or the violin. In these paintings, Bartok made use of the bar format, repeating the same melody in various ways. The resulting pieces have since become some of his best work.
One of Bartok’s earliest piano pieces, “Tambelli,” is an example of his eclectic style. It is played on the third string of the left hand. This piece is completely improvised, with none of the instruments being entirely familiar. The singer’s pronunciation of the words is highly disheveled, which adds to the sense of confusion and disorientation of the listeners. This song is worth hearing just for that.
“Bela Bartok/The Clanging of Strings” is another early work where Bartok switches to a new style. In this piece, he creates three variations on the basic bar format, each using slightly different octaves. These changes occur mostly in the second half of the song, when the octave shifts dramatically. The result is a wonderfully droning piece of folk music that is characteristic of Bela Bartok’s style. He also seems to be especially inspired by the work of J. S. Bach.
After making these transformations, Bartok turned his attention to more dramatic styles, which often became his trademark. “The Ballad of Bilbo” is perhaps the finest example of his dramatic aspirations. Although not entirely in the blues, this piece is filled with plenty of chunky, large scale chords. Though they are mostly used for accompaniment, the fact that these chords vibrate makes the music seem almost like a blues number.
“Fur Elise” is a beautiful piece, sung by an extremely dreamy voice. The lyrics deal with the conflict between a peasant girl who wants to marry a rich man and her dreams of love being crushed. Though the theme of these songs is very old, it is the way in which the lyrics are sung that is innovative. Instead of relying entirely on falsetto, which only works well in mainstream music, Bartok incorporates several registers of voice into the song, using various notes that compliment each other. The result is a beautiful, haunting piece of music that has a distinct beginning, middle, and end.
Many modern artists have incorporated the work of Anna Berkes into their own compositions. However, no list of contemporary artists who have incorporated the material written by Anna Berkes would be complete without including her in the list. Born in Norway, Anna Berkes was one of a select group of highly regarded classical musicians from the Nordic countries. Her work was largely focused on the piano, but she did release some piano music in collaboration with Norwegian pianist Odd Skospell.
It should be relatively easy to understand how The Ugly Face and Uffizi Gardens would become beloved classics of modern music. It is surprising, then, to learn that this pair of songs represents only a fraction of their popularity. It is difficult to determine exactly why they are so popular or why, despite their quintessential nature, their quality of production has never waned. Anna Berkes’ style is very much a part of our society’s cultural DNA. Today, people listen to this great piece of contemporary music not only for its beauty but also for the message it contains.