Allegro Barbaro. Béla Bartók and Hungarian Modernity 1905 -1920

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Bartók and the eight

Ödön MárffyPortrait of Jenı Kerpely© Photo Árpád Fákó/DR

At the end of 1909, the exhibition "New Pictures" in Budapest brought together painters each with his particular style: Róbert Berény, Dezső Czigány, Béla Czóbel, Károly Kernstok, Ödön Márffy, Dezső Orbán, Bertalan Pór and Lajos Tihanyi.

They took the name "The Eight" [Nyolcak] during a second exhibition in 1911, which was accompanied by events organised by the literary journal Nyugat [Occident]. Painters, writers and musicians would meet up there; Bartók performed his own compositions in the exhibition halls.
This close contact between creative artists was reflected in their works. The Eight painted portraits of their contemporaries, musicians and writers: Jenő Kerpely was depicted by Ödön Márffy, Béla Bartók, Leó Weiner, and Ignotus by Róbert Berény; Lajos Fülep by Lajos Tihanyi.

Their interests broadened into other fields: having met Sándor Ferenczi, Berény discovered psychoanalysis, echoes of which can be discerned in his paintings (Nude sitting in an Armchair, Idyll).
These artists shared a roughness and modernity of expression. Their detractors acknowledged this when criticising Béla Bartók and the writer Endre Ady in similar terms, and describing the art of The Eight as "pictorial Adyism".

 

Bartók and the activists

Róbert BerényTo Arms! To Arms! © Róbert Berény

The "Activist" movement started to express its views in 1915, in the journals A Tett [Action] then MA [Today] edited by Lajos Kassák. Aesthetic questions became a major issue for this literary movement with radical, political ideas.

Kassák discovered Bartók’s music in 1913: struck by its modernity, he considered Allegro barbaro to be of symbolic importance. After meeting the composer, he published some of his scores and devoted a special issue of MA to him in February 1918. He also included Bartók’s new musical works in the programme of cultural events that he organised.

Sándor BortnyikThe Wooden Prince© Photo György Darabos/DR
Painters inspired by the avant-garde movements also gravitated towards the journal: János Mattis Teutsch (Expressionism), Béla Uitz, Nemes Lampérth (Cubism), László Moholy-Nagy (Constructivism). Sándor Bortnyik, who was closest to Bartók’s musical world, produced a collection of works inspired by The Wooden Prince.
After the fall of the Republic of Councils (August 1919), Kassák and the "MA circle" were forced to leave the country, but the movement survived abroad, and a new edition of the journal was published in Vienna.

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