The present database is intended as a locator of Béla Bartók’s (1881–1945) correspondence including all documents known to research and available for study purposes at the Budapest Bartók Archives. It does not make the documents themselves available; rather it is a variously searchable index of the letters’ most important data. The database comprises all known letters by the composer and to the composer. It is important to emphasise this because most of the editions, scholarly or otherwise, tend to present only the letters written by the composer. Whereas the systematic collection of Bartók’s correspondence, first of all letters by him, was started soon after his death, only a relatively minor part of them has become available through publications. Although the database suggests the possibility of making the documents themselves available as widely as possible and, in fact, they are available in the Budapest collection in digitized version, a full publication in any form of these letters, for several reasons, is not yet possible.
János Demény published an invaluable collection of Bartók letters (Bartók Béla levelei [Béla Bartók letters]). To supplement this, Béla Bartók, Jr., published a selection of Bartók’s letters to family members (Bartók Béla családi levelei [Béla Bartók family letters]). An indispensable help in preparing both editions was Adrienne Gombocz of the Bartók Archives. The two basic volumes of Bartók letters, supplemented with Béla Bartók, Jr.’s documentary volume, Apám életének krónikája [Chronicle of my father’s life] appeared united on a CD-ROM publication, Bartók Béla élete – levelei tükrében [Béla Bartók’s life through his letters], a publication that greatly stimulated work on the compilation of data on all published and unpublished correspondence. Apart from János Demény’s several decades long work on the collection of letters, letters edited one by one or in groups appeared in widely scattered publications, too. The Bibliography provides detailed information on a number of these. Recently, further volumes of correspondence have also been edited. An essential supplement to the family letters is included in Peter Bartók’s My Father, Béla Bartók’s letters to his younger son, which document his final years. The composer’s correspondence with the important Swiss conductor and patron of arts, Paul Sacher, has recently been published by Ferenc Bónis.
A significant part of Bartók’s correspondence was carried out in foreign languages, apart from the Hungarian. Most of his official correspondence is in German, periodically in the 1910s, 20s and 30s in French. After some first attempts at writing in English, this language became increasingly important in the later 1930s to turn into the most important one during the composer’s American exile. His letters to friends and family members occasionally contain passages in foreign languages – mainly with occasional joking effect. Exceptionally, Bartók also tried his hand in writing in Romanian, a language he self-taught along with the Slovak for his folkloristic undertaking. Letters collected in volumes are naturally in a single language; many of the letters are thus available in translation, made devotedly and competently, these nevertheless easily and unavoidably change or modify the character of the texts. János Demény’s work in this field has also been invaluable since he published letter volumes in foreign languages, too, in which, among translations, original German or English texts were also made available. Scattered occasional publications of individual letters are significant because they generally print the text in the original language even if they are accompanied with translation.
The present compilation was originally instigated by scholarly frustration. Anybody studying Bartók’s life might realize how difficult it is to gain access to extensive enough and reliable data on his correspondence known to research. This is unfortunately also true to scholars working in a specialized institution like the Budapest Bartók Archives, where, just a few years ago, it still needed patience as well as specialized knowledge to find out at all the existence of individual letters.
The Budapest Bartók Archives keeps a rich collection of the composer’s correspondence. It was founded on the basis of what is generally called the Hungarian Bartók Estate, offered to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences as permanent deposit by Béla Bartók, Jr., and which is now in possession of his legal successor, Mr. Gábor Vásárhelyi. Following the foundation of the Archives in 1961, its holdings were significantly enlarged with both original documents and copies of documents by donations from individuals and institutions. The Hungarian Bartók Estate itself mainly included letters received by the composer before his final move to the United States in 1940; only relatively few letters or letter drafts were preserved among his own papers. (The catalogue of the Bartók Estate includes 2368 letters by his correspondents and all in all 115 numbered pieces of non-musical or scholarly manuscripts, mainly letters, by him.) Whereas he did not preserve copies of his own letters, he did systematically collect letters by his publishers (the Hungarian Károly Rozsnyai and Rózsavölgyi és Társa, the Viennese Universal Edition and the London-based Boosey & Hawkes). Most of these extensive and highly important correspondences belong to the still unpublished corpuses of letters. Documents donated to the Archives often include letters written by him. The single greatest enrichment of the source material in the Bartók Archives has been Peter Bartók’s generous donation of copies (first black-and-white photocopies and later high-quality full colour copies) of all documents in his possession, the American Bartók Estate, including a systematized collection of letters, too. This made practically almost all known pieces of correspondence accessible for study purposes in the Budapest collection.
The database provided on the website of the Budapest Bartók Archives strives to register the almost 9000 items now known to research. Some 4000 items, letters, postcards and drafts of letters were written by Bartók himself. The index draws on several different sources. It is principally based on the two central collections of Bartókiana described above, the Archives itself and the American Estate, once in the former New York Béla Bartók Archives and now in the Basel Sacher Foundation as Peter Bartók’s deposit. Both collections themselves house sources of different types, original letters, photocopies of the most varied kinds, typed and even manuscript copies. Since both collections keep copies as well as originals, there are even overlaps between their respective materials. For the compilation of the present index, all known published letters were also taken into consideration. János Demény’s and Béla Bartók, Jr.’s basic volumes as well as the Bartók Archives’ own publications in Documenta Bartókiana, which contained first editions of letters. We also tried to include all known individual publications appearing in scattered volumes of essays, periodicals, or even in daily newspapers, especially if the letters concerned are not included in any of the “collected” letter volumes. While the database does not try to be exhaustive as far as different publications of the same letter is concerned, a more comprehensive list is included in the Bibliography.
The index, in its present form, contains only the most salient data of letters: the writer, the recipient, the date of letter (or that of the postmark), as well as the form of the letter available in the Budapest Archives (original, copy, published form). In case of the writer (Author) and Recipient, a differentiation between individuals (Person) and Institutions was made. In certain cases both fields contain data when, for example, the individual writing on behalf of an institution is also otherwise known in the correspondence or when the writer is actually representing an institution even though this might not be clear from the letter or the stationary itself. The original language of the document was also deemed essential and the language of an available translation (e.g. in German translation) is also reported under the Published heading. Data of at least one publication of the letter were always provided. Here, all special volumes devoted to Bartók letters as well as a few specialized books, which also includes editions of letters, are given with a shortened reference (e.g., Bartók levelei, a reference to Demény’s comprehensive edition), whereas relevant occasional publications of letters in journals or other periodicals and books of mixed contents are given with full reference for each item. The Bibliography also provides a list of bibliographic abbreviations. Publication data further include references to facsimile reproductions. When the document is actually a postcard, a picture postcard or a cable, it is mentioned in the Remarks. The database, which is the first attempt at registering all known letters in a searchable form, does not contain information on the contents of individual documents.
Since the complete source material of the database is available in the Bartók Archives for study purposes, it seemed advisable to give the actually available form (Format) of the document, as well as shelf number including the identification of the Collection to which it belongs. The abbreviations used in this field are explained in the Abbreviations in detail.
The basic language of the database is English to provide access to its material for an international community of users. A single characteristic of it follows strictly Hungarian usage: dates are always given in the form yyyy.mm.dd, that is year first, followed by the name of month and the day (thus 5 January 1909 is given as 1909.01.05), which makes chronological sorting significantly easier than either the British or the American style. Otherwise a number of formalized ways to specify uncertainties of dates were introduced to the database for the sake of consistency and logic. They are hopefully easily understandable but a few examples might help to familiarise the user with their system. The date “1928.10.00-1928.11.00” means any day between the beginning of October and the beginning of November. In the case of “1928.12.00 [1928.12.22?]” the date in brackets is, of course, just an attempt to specify the day in December 1928. Remarks such as “[around]” and “[date probable]” always placed after the closest possible exact date speak for themselves.
Normalized forms of names had to be developed for the database and this is the form the name appears in the relevant field. However, different forms of the names as they actually appear in the documents can be searched. If different persons can appear under the same name, their data is also relatively easy to sort out. Thus, most importantly, Mrs. Béla Bartók (“Bartók Béláné” in Hungarian) could mean different persons in different periods and even in a single period of time. The standard form of the name is always the maiden name, thus for Bartók’s mother VOIT, Paula [BARTÓK, Béla, Sr., Mrs.], for Bartók’s first wife ZIEGLER, Márta [BARTÓK, Béla, Mrs.] and for his second wife PÁSZTORY, Ditta [BARTÓK, Béla, Mrs.]. Bartók’s close friend, he first met as Mrs. Emma Gruber or Mrs. Henrik Gruber, but had been born as Schlesinger (occasionally apocryphally called with the Hungarianized name of her family, Sándor, never used by herself), who, in 1910 became Emma Kodály, will necessarily appear in the letters under very different names. Furthermore, the composer’s impresario in the United States, originally Andor Schulhoff, now appears as André, and now as Andrew. In all these cases, any form of the name will automatically make available data of documents under more or less different name. With impresarios, the name of their concert agency also generally appears in the data, such as the KONZERTGESELLSCHAFT AG Zürich with Walther Schulthess, whose name is also familiar as second husband of the violinist Stefi Geyer. Finally, institutions are given using their name in the original language, such as ACADEMIA ROMÂNĂ or RÓZSAVÖLGYI ÉS TÁRSA.
Despite the normalized (English) versions of the names, the database makes searching possible using different forms of the name. Even the Hungarian “Bartók Béláné” [Mrs. Béla Bartók] will be identified to provide all relevant data. Since Bartók unusually varied foreign correspondence, due both to his activity as composer and concert pianist and as ethnomusicologist of an unusually wide horizon, the names of his correspondents include a great many letters with diacritical marks or accents. Each name can be typed in using the simple English alphabet without using diacritical markings and the database will recognize them.
We hope that the database, which is compiled with scholarly purpose, will be helpful for everybody with serious interest in Bartók’s life, work and social connections. Although it cannot replace access to the documents, it will certainly greatly help research in the Bartók Archives itself where visiting scholars might find the real source of the abstract information appearing on the screen. We hope that it will be as necessary and helpful as any library catalogue despite the different and sometimes unusual problems of the material itself which the creators of the database had to face.
Basic work on cataloguing letters in the Bartók Archives was carried out by Adrienne Gombocz. Her initial efforts in turning card indexes to digital data were carried on by Csilla Mária Pintér who then single-handedly compiled the data in and continuously developed in an excel table for many years. Zsuzsanna Schmidt was then committed with the unyielding task of making the ever growing collection of data appropriately precise and consistent for the database. The programming has finally been carried out by Mr. Zsolt Kemecsei, system administrator of the Institute of Musicology.
The creation of the Bartók Correspondence database was generously supported by the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund as part of the Bartók Complete Edition research project (OTKA NK101742).