Bartók, Béla (1881-1945)


Bela Bartok using a gramaphone to record folk songs sung by Czech peasants.

Where do artists go for new ideas?

I was reminded of the Hungarian composer Bartok while listening to jazz pianist Chick Corea–the influence is obvious in Corea’s piano improvisations.

If you’ve never listened to Bartok, he combined folk music with modern music. As I was reading the Wikipedia article about Bartok, I was struck by a couple of his quotes:

The question is, what are the ways in which peasant music is taken over and becomes transmuted into modern music? We may, for instance, take over a peasant melody unchanged or only slightly varied, write an accompaniment to it and possibly some opening and concluding phrases. This kind of work would show a certain analogy with Bach’s treatment of chorales. … Another method … is the following: the composer does not make use of a real peasant melody but invents his own imitation of such melodies. There is no true difference between this method and the one described above. … There is yet a third way … Neither peasant melodies nor imitations of peasant melodies can be found in his music, but it is pervaded by the atmosphere of peasant music. In this case we may say, he has completely absorbed the idiom of peasant music which has become his musical mother tongue.

I was reminded of how many artists have found inspiration in folk art, such as Picasso (African folk art), Paul Simon (African music), and the Brothers Grimm and their successors (German folk tales). For the artist seeking inspiration, Bartok suggests 3 ways to go beyond simply experiencing folk art and hoping for new ideas to come unbidden.  First, one could take a folk concept and simply add to it.  Second, one could imitate a folk concept.  Finally, one could experience so much folk art that it gets absorbed into one’s subconscious and is later expressed in ways that may even seem mysterious to the artist.

Here’s some fun for the comment section.  Take an example (say, an African mask or whatever the subject matter of your artistic expertise is) and describe how you would add to it, imitate it or absorb it.  I’d love to see the creative process in action.

Another approach to idea invention comes from another Bartok quote:

Debussy’s great service to music was to reawaken among all musicians an awareness of harmony and its possibilities. In that, he was just as important as Beethoven, who revealed to us the possibilities of progressive form, or as Bach, who showed us the transcendent significance of counterpoint. Now, what I am always asking myself is this: is it possible to make a synthesis of these three great masters, a living synthesis that will be valid for our time?

In other words, you could ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who are the 3 greatest artists in my field?
  2. What is the essential contribution of each one?
  3. Can these essential contributions be combined in a composition of my own?



Source: Wikipedia (“Bela Bartok”) for photo and quotes.  The end of the article has some interesting samples of his music.



Funny Things Americans Say: Bartlett, John Russell (1805-1886)

Americanisms word cloud

I’m intrigued by my mother’s occasional use of the Scottish “wee,” as in “I’m a wee bit cold.”  Why?  Because our family came from Scotland hundreds of years ago, and I’m fascinated by the idea that there might, after all these years, be a linguistic–almost archaeological–clue as to our origins.

Bartlett is known for his Dictionary of Americanisms (1848), which might provide a map as to where you are from:

If you say this, you may be from here:
plug ugly Baltimore
to meet up with Georgia
crotchety New England
folks New England
happy as a clam New England
stocky New England
to play hookey New York
to muss (up your hair or clothes) New York
pinky; to pinky swear New York
pit (the stone of a fruit) New York
Yes sirree bob New York
to crown (Press a man’s hat down over his face) New York
spook New York
stoop (front step of a house) New York
peaked (thin from sickness) North
euphemistic oaths: dadburn, dadgummit, etc. Northeast
the whole kit and caboodle Northern States and New England
fizzle out Ohio
“Shall I go to market and get a couple of cherries?” where “couple means “a few.” Pennsylvania
to sock (Press a man’s hat down over his face) Rhode Island
cavorting South
a freeze, as a term for frost weather South
How come? South
right, as in “It rained right hard” South
scrawny South
shin dig South
to sidle out South
sun up South
I will come and tell you goodbye South
neck of the woods Southwest
blather West
to chisel or gouge West
to go whole hog West
to make tracks West
not overly so West
to be in a pinch West
strangely formed factitious words such as abskize, absquatulate, catawampously, exflunctify, obscute, slantendicular West
intensive and extravagant epithets both as adjectives and adverbs such as awful, powerful, monstrous, dreadful, mighty, almighty, and all-fired West and South
A tendency to exaggeration: “This is the finest cow in the State of South Carolina,” “The handsomest woman south of the Potomac” and “making bushels of money” West and South
cahoot West and South
fixings West and South
to splurge West and South
stamping ground West and South
sure enough West and South

If you’re fascinated by American town names, as I am (“Hell, Michigan”; “Truth or Consequences, New Mexico”), then you will like Bartlett’s explanation of how American place names changed:

The Indian names seem to have prevailed till the Revolution (e.g., Mississippi). Then came a burst of patriotism among the settlers, many of whom doubtless had served in the war, and every new place was christened with the names of the warriors and statesmen of the day. Thus arose Washington County, Washington Village, Washington Hollow, Jefferson County, etc. The State of New York has thus perpetuated in her towns and villages the names of Adams, Jay, Lafayette, Hamilton, Madison, Pinckney, Putnam, Pulaski, Schuyler, De Kalb, Steuben, Sullivan, Gates, and Wayne. The names of statesmen and generals, however, did not suffice for the patriotism of our early pioneers, for we find interspersed among them the names of Freedom, Freetown, Freeport, Independence, Liberty, Victory, Hopewell, Harmony, Concord, and Union.

Next comes the classical period when towns were christened by the names of such men as Homer, Virgil, Solon, Ovid, Cato, Euclid, Brutus, Pompey, Tully, Cicero, Aurelius, Scipio, Ulysses, Seneca, Hannibal, Hector, Romulus, Lysander, Manlius, Camillus, and Marcellus or of such places as Athens, Sparta, Marathon, Troy, Corinth, Pharsalia, Palmyra, Utica, Smyrna, Rome, and Carthage.

Testimony to the piety to say nothing of the good taste of our forefathers is also afforded by the occurrence of such names as Eden, Babylon, Sodom, Jerusalem, Jericho, Hebron, Goshen, Bethany, Bethpage, Bethlehem, and Sharon. Distinguished men in English history as Milton, Addison, Clarendon, Dryden, Scott, Byron, Chesterfield, Hume, Marlborough, and Junius have towns christened with their names. But not even a pond, a hollow or a swamp has been honored with the name of Shakspeare.

The battle fields of the Mexican war are commemorated in eighteen Buena Vistas, sixteen Montereys, nine Palo Altos, and two Resacas. And the names of its heroes have given birth to names like Taylor, Taylorville, Worth, Worthville, Pierce, Pierceville, Piercetown, Pierceland, Pierce Point, Polk, Polkville, Polktown, Polk City, Polk Patch, Polk Precinct, Polk Run and Quitman.

In California many places have been absurdly named from some trifling incident connected with the first settlement, such as Hangtown, Fiddletown, Shirt Tail Canyon, Whiskey Gulch, Port Wine, Diggings, Humbug Flat, Murderer’s Bar, Flapjack Canyon, Yankee Jim’s, Jackass, Guleh, Red Dog, Traveller’s Rest, and Fair Play.

Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms made me realize that Mark Twain’s use of seven (!) different dialects in Huckleberry Finn weren’t literary license but probably an accurate rendering of how people in the West actually talked.

Are there any odd expressions that persist in your family?


  1. Wordcloud from
  2. Extensive quotes from Bartlett’s Dictionary of Americanisms at
  3. Information about Huckleberry Finn from


Detail of Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement” (Sistine Chapel). Saint Bartholomew holding the knife of his martyrdom and his flayed skin. The face of the skin is Michelangelo’s.

Bartholomew is one of the more mysterious of the 12 Apostles.

Apart from the mentions of him in four of the Apostle lists (Mark 3:18, Matt. 10:3, Luke 6:14, and Acts 1:13), nothing is known about him from the New Testament (EB).

The mystery is that Bartholomew is mentioned in the Apostle lists, but Nathanael is not, even though Nathanael’s call to be an apostle is described by John (“Jesus said, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!'”). One solution to this mystery is a 9th-century tradition that Bartholomew and Nathanael are the same person, whose full name was Nathanael bar Tolmai (“Bartholomew”)(EB).

Legend has it that Bartholomew spread the Gospel to India and Armenia, among other places (EB).

Wikipedia (“Bartholomew the Apostle”) notes the following about his death:

Christian tradition has three stories about Bartholomew’s death: ‘One speaks of his being kidnapped, beaten unconscious, and cast into the sea to drown. Another account states that he was crucified upside down, and another says that he was skinned alive and beheaded in Albac or Albanopolis’, near Başkale, Turkey.

The account of Bartholomew being skinned alive is the most represented in works of art, and consequently Bartholomew is often shown with a large knife, holding his own skin (as in Michelangelo’s Last Judgment), or both.

Thus Bartholomew joins many of the other disciples in tremendous suffering or death (Peter, crucified upside down; Paul, beheaded; Stephen, stoned; John, doused in boiling oil and exiled).

Josh McDowell uses their martyrdom to make an interesting argument in his book A Ready Defense.

If the story of Christ’s resurrection were untrue, why were the disciples so willing to suffer torture and even death?

Being contemporaries of Christ, each disciple was easily in a position to find evidence for the “legend” of Christ’s resurrection being a lie.

The Bible claims that there were over 500 eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ:

I Corinthians 15:6 “After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep [i.e., died].”(NIV)

If being a Christian put my life at risk (as it did in ancient Rome), I would have certainly questioned very carefully some of those eyewitnesses, and these martyrs could have done the same.

These early Christians went to their deaths for the belief that God forgives sinners who turn away from their sins and that He will someday raise them from the dead, as He did Christ, and take them to heaven.

Were they right?





10 Fun Facts about the Statue of Liberty: Bartholdi, Frederic (1834-1904)

1880 : Bartholdi’s The Lion of Belfort, in Belfort, France, a massive sculpture of a lion carved into the side of a mountain, depicting the huge struggle of the French to hold off the Prussian assault at the end of the Franco-Prussian War. Bartholdi was an officer himself during this period, attached to Garibaldi. 
  1. The Statue of Liberty was actually named by its sculptor Frederic Bartholdi Liberty Enlightening the World (EB, “Statue of Liberty“).
  2. The Statue actually has a design patent: U.S. Patent D11,023 (WP, “Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi”).
  3. It was the largest work of its kind that had ever been completed up to that time, but was the tallest structure in New York City for only four years, until the New York World Building surpassed it at 349 feet in 1890 (WP).
  4. It was rumored in France that the face of the Statue of Liberty was modeled after Bartholdi’s mother (WP):


5. The statue, mounted on its pedestal, was dedicated by President Grover Cleveland on October 28, 1886 (EB).

6. Parts of the Statue have actually been redesigned.  Over the years the torch underwent several modifications, including its conversion to electric power in 1916 and its redesign (with repoussé copper sheathed in gold leaf) in the mid-1980s (EB). (“Repoussé” is “shaped or ornamented with patterns in relief made by hammering or pressing on the reverse side —used especially of metal,” according to Merriam Webster.)

7. The Statue was first administered as a lighthouse, then as part of an Army base.  It wasn’t until 1933 that it was administered by the National Park Service (EB).

8. From 1886 until 1916, you could use a service ladder inside the arm to go up to the torch (EB).

9. The Statue was an early example of crowd funding:  The design patent covered the sale of small copies of the statue. Proceeds from the sale of the statues helped raise modest but insufficient money to build the full statue (WP).

10. You can buy one of the models used to fund the Statue for $2750 on eBay. (It was only $5.00 originally.)(



Sources: WP = Wikipedia; EB = Encyclopedia Britannica

Photo sources: Wikimedia and eBay.







Not just alcohol, but tabasco sauce and balsamic vinegar are aged in wooden barrels!

It takes more than a year to make the barrels, then the aging process for some products may take another 3 years.

These products remind me of cheese (see my post on “Aveyron, France”) because of the surprising number of variables that can be manipulated:

  • the type of wood
  • where the wood came from
  • how the staves were cut and dried
  • the degree of barrel charring
  • whether the barrels have previously been used to age another product
  • how the long the aging process takes

Britannica makes it clear that barrel-making is a highly-skilled craft:

According to the 1st-century-ad Roman historian Pliny the Elder, the ancient craft of barrel making, also called cooperage, was invented by the inhabitants of the Alpine valleys.  Tight barrels, made to hold liquids, must be constructed carefully of high-grade woods, such as white oak, with bungholes for filling and emptying. Wood for barrel staves and headings is usually air-dried for at least a year, then kiln-dried for 10 to 20 days before being cut and planed to the needed size and finish. A crucial operation is jointing of the edges of the staves and giving them the proper bilge (middle bulge) so that the joints will be tight and the circumference uniform. The bulge gives the barrel added resistance to internal pressure.The most complex part of the operation is called raising the barrel. Staves are set vertically into a head truss ring, and a temporary hoop is placed over the other end. In this arrangement, the staves are passed through a steam tunnel to soften them for drawing into final shape and then dried again. Whiskey barrels are charred on the inside at this point, so that they will develop flavour in the whiskey as it ages.

According to Wikipedia (“Barrel”), although barrels look simple, a lot of thought went into their design:

Barrels often have a convex shape, bulging at the middle. This bulge facilitates rolling a well-built wooden barrel on its side and change directions with little friction, compared to a cylinder. It also helps to distribute stress evenly in the material by making the container more curved. Barrels have reinforced edges to enable safe displacement by rolling them at an angle (in addition of rolling on their sides as described).

Here are some of the variables that can create different types of alcohol:

wine French common oak subtler taste
white oak
American white oak stronger aromas
sake Japanese cedar imparts an unusual, minty-piney flavor
pisco earthenware or oak
straight whiskey oak
Scotch oak and sometimes used bourbon barrels
sherry North American oak more porous than French or Spanish oak
brandy oak transfer certain aromas to the spirit
cognac oak casks made from the Tronçais and Limousin forests.
beer sometimes aged in barrels that were previously used for maturing wines or spirits.


So tabasco and vinegar–really?

Since its invention in 1868, the pepper mash used to make tabasco sauce is aged for three years in previously used oak whiskey barrels (Wikipedia, “Barrel”).

Ever wonder see balsamic vinegar on the store shelf and wonder what it is? Traditional balsamic vinegar is aged in a series of wooden barrels. By law, it must be made from the cooked juice, pulps and skins of specific types of grapes harvested in Modena or Reggio Emilia provinces of Italy. The minimum aging time is no less than 12 years.  Other types of balsamic vinegar, which cannot be called “Traditional,” can have caramel or thickeners and can be aged for shorter times (Wikipedia, “Traditional Balsamic Vinegar”).

Photo credit:




10 Things I Didn’t know about P.T. Barnum (1810-1891)

Contemporary cartoon of Barnum as a “humbug”

Sure, we all know him as a great promoter, showman and founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus (at age 60) but here are some things I didn’t know.

  1. He created America’s first aquarium.
  2. He was a Republican member of the Connecticut legislature and the mayor of Bridgeport.
  3. He started Bridgeport Hospital.
  4. He almost bought the birth home of William Shakespeare.
  5. He created the concept of matinées to encourage families to come to the theater and to lessen the fear of crime.
  6. A self-proclaimed humbug himself, he offered $500 to any medium who could prove power to communicate with the dead in his book Humbugs of the World.
  7. He sponsored a law against contraception that was not overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court until 1965.
  8. He made significant contributions to Tufts University, including Jumbo the circus elephant.
  9. He never actually said “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
  10. He made arrangements to read his own obituary shortly before he died.

Source: Wikipedia, “P.T. Barnum”

Barrault, Jean-Louis (1910-1994)

Typical mime positions inspired by Etienne Decroux’s technique. Decroux was the teacher of Barrault.

If you’re like me, you probably admired mimes as a child, then saw too many parodies, which turned them into a joke.

For French actor, director and mime artist Jean-Louis Barrault, however, pantomiming was no joke.

He adapted William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying as a mime play.

He also created Baptiste, a pantomime ballet.

What’s next, a pantomimed Shakespearean play?

Photo source:

Information from Wikipedia, “Jean-Louis Barrault”