Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 September 2011
On 26 September 1945, Béla Bartók died in New York City, more than 4,000 miles from home. Since he had left Hungary and entered voluntary exile in 1940, war-torn Europe had heard little of his music. As the war ended, though, nations began to rebuild or reform their concert programmes. Composers searched for new stylistic directions that would make sense to them, and implicit in their questions about new music was a desire to assess the value of recent musical styles, including Bartók's. As his last works received their European premieres in 1946 and 1947, it also became possible to evaluate his career as a historical whole, and to see in its changing course a path that could either be followed or rejected. The political turmoil of the early post-war years ensured that these musical questions carried political significance; as we shall see, musical and political judgements about Bartók's music continued to be as inseparable after his death as they were during his lifetime. In particular, growing antagonism between Soviet and American zones of influence in Europe meant that the musical aesthetics of the two regions diverged sharply, and this division left a deep impression on responses to Bartók's music after the war.