Bartok's Time Machine

Classical music touches us in a very special way, completely differently than other genres of music do, even when it comes to our favorite songs. It simply overtakes us, one cannot listen to it superficially, you devote your self to it and when you really let yourself go – you sail away, without ever leaving your chair. Not every piece of music affects us in the same way, of course – it depends on your taste and sensibility. For some – Rachmaninoff is the beginning and the end of everything, for others Mozart is just the right measure for the complete life balance. Perhaps Chopin, as a pure emotion, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Satie… the list is endless. So, what should be the starting point when we are little, that is, what to play to our kids so they too can step into the magical world of classical music in the right way?

I guess you will rarely find a classical repertoire connoisseur who would say Bela Bartok is a suitable composer for such purpose. His main achievements regard collecting the folk music and, of course, composing . His orchestral works, though, in order to be properly understood, consider great attention and experience in listening to classical music of 20th century. The librettos of his ‘fairytale’ pieces can easily compete with the horror movie scenarios, so it isn’t quite the reading material you would choose as a good night story for your child (The Bluebeard’s castle, for example). However, Bartok found his place here because many of us when we were little were, not being aware of it, preparing for his music, thanks to Walt Disney.


 The concert began, the orchestra starts playing the theme from the ballet The wooden prince. It is the first time I listen to this piece, but from the very start I recognize the melody. It brings something dear and distant back to my mind. Music can take us through the unpredictable paths of mind and soul, but this was unexpected – the feeling of something forgotten sneaked up on me as if it came from another time; from a time when we did not even think about time… From a time when we were children. From the ‘land before time’.

And there it is – the answer to how Bartok caused the sudden return to childhood – surely not because of the fairytale about the prince and the princess. The trick is that his ballet starts with almost identical motif in wind instruments as the one I remembered from the touching Disney’s cartoon which marked the childhood of many generations, especially the ones born during the 80’s: ‘The Land Before Time’. To be precise, the beginning of the theme The Great Migration is in great measure similar with Bartok’s Introduction. James Horner – the author of many legendary movie themes, among others the best known are maybe the ones from Titanic and Avatar – composed the soundtrack. The fact that he probably got his inspiration from Bartok’s music is not a big surprise – what would fit the tonal description of the ‘giants’ that once lived on Earth better than this, although vanguard, deeply archaic music with its roots deriving from the Hungarian folklore?!


In the obscurity of the concert hall I looked for a moment at the audience around me – everybody was peacefully listening without a slight hitch implying that, among the seriousness of Bartok’s harmonies, someone also recognized the cute face of the Little Foot. The Wooden Prince continued with its storytelling with the dissonances spilling in completely different directions than the dear melodies that followed the dinosaur company with whom we, while preventing childish tears, shared compassion.



I listened to the concert until the end with utter devotion, applauded to the musicians (well deserved!) and went home smiling because of Bartok’s time machine that brought me back about 20 years into the past in just one second.

The Wooden prince fulfilled my adult expectations, but what is even more important, he unexpectedly invoked the childish ones.

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