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Romanian Musings on Bela Bartok’s Memorial in London SW7

October 10th, 2011 · No Comments · Art Exhibitions, Diaspora, OPINION, PEOPLE, Reviews, Uncategorized

Some Romanian Musings on Bela Bartok’s Memorial in London

Bella Bartok Memorial in London SW7

The unveiling, in London’s South Kensington of a memorial to the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok (1881 Romania – 1945, United States) is not only an acknowledgment of a composer of International repute, but at the same time an intelligent statement of national values on the world stage. This event ought to offer a moment of reflection and soul-searching to our Romanian friends, and set an example of how national heritage is best promoted abroad something which the Romanian Cultural Institute in Bucharest is yet to match.
You may well ask, what linkage, if any, may exist between Hungary and Romania in Britain? what exactly are these parallels and what food for thought?

Bela Bartok and Georges Enesco

Birth Place of Bela Bartok, Co Timis, Banat, Romania

At this point one ought perhaps to refresh the general reader’s memory that Bela Bartok was born in the Romanian Banat region, at Sannicolau Mare, the son of a Hungarian father and a Serbian Mother. As one would expect of a sensitive child, born in this ethnic mosaic of the Habsburg Empire, young Bartok, like his central European contemporary composers, drew his inspiration from the rich ethnic music of Central Europe: the composer’s “Romanian Dances” have long been included in the International repertoire and with it in the memory of the cognoscenti. They demonstrate the international currency of Romanian folk tunes, the same pool from which Geoarges Enesco or Valentin Lipatti have drawn their inspiration.

Bela Bartok memorial in his native village, in Romania

It is perhaps significant that Bartok, Enesco and Lipatti took all the road of exile because of the political changes caused by the Second World War: Bartok left Hungary due to the fascism of Horthy and chose to live his last years in the United States. Here, in spite of all support he was given, he lived with difficulty his uprooting, producing only two compositions: the “Concerto for Orchestra” and a Violin Sonata, dedicated to Yehudi Menuhin, the violinist who was the pupil of Georges Enesco.
Like Bartok, Enesco also left his native land, to become an exile in Paris, after the war, during a dark period in the history of the Romanian diaspora. These turned out to be times clouded by recrimination, suspicion, kicks under the belt and wrangles, all with a negative effect on artistic output. Here, in post-war Paris, one felt the rebound of the strong arm of the French Communist Party of Stalinist persuation, doubled by the undercover activities of the Securitate, the Romanian Secret Services, in the hands of which suffered so much Monica Lovinescu, Eugene Ionesco, Virgil Gheorghiu, Horia Vintila, to mention just a few. They were all subjected to a persistent and vicious witch-hunt in the hands of the French communists and their fellow travelers (viz. Monica Lovinescu, Vintila Horia, et al.).
In the above context it might be revealing to analyse further the effect which such uprooting had on the lives of both Bartok and Enesco.

Dacian treasure trove from Bartok's native village, now in Vienna Art Museum

Who is Imre Varga, the artist of Bartok’s Memorial?

Bela Kun memorial by Varga - now removed to the dustbin of history

The life of Hungarian sculptor Imre Varga (b. 1923) reflects, as one would expect, the historical and political meanders of his country, during the 20th century. By comparison, this presents many commonalities with his Romanian counterparts, who showed an equal enthusiasm at adapting to changing political circumstances, first during the right-wing nationalist dictatorship, followed by an anti-Stalinist war in the East, on the side of Germany, only to heap praise, subsequently, on a “liberating” Soviet Army and finally to end up a member of the European Union: not exactly an easy sailing, on choppy waters, when many contemporary artists either wrecked their careers, or chose instead to take the heavy road of exile. Such was the case of Bartok, whose memorial has just been erected in South Kensington.
However, beyond the above historic details, considering in greater depth such events, what is tangible today, is the very cultural statement in London, represented by Bartok’s memorial statue. This is proof of some perseverance in the face of a diminishing Memory and one must salute the acknowledgment of an errant son of the Banat province and a friend of Romania, who towers above the narrow confines of past chauvinist and irredentist propaganda. For the Banat of Timisoara, that historical province integrated to the Kingdom of Romania after WWI, offered the World, artists, poets, composers and writers, amongst whom, more recently one should not forget Herta Muller, the 2009 Nobel Prize Laureate for Literature and like bartok, a native of the Romanian Banat.

Bartok's grave in Budapest (courtesy: findagrave.com)


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