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

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”

Barnado, Thomas John (1845-1905)

Thomas John Barnado

Was the man who rescued 60,000 orphans actually Jack the Ripper?

Accord to EB, Dr. Barnado was “a pioneer in social work who founded more than 90 homes for destitute children. Under his direction, the children were given care and instruction of high quality despite the then unusual policy of unlimited admittance.”

EB doesn’t mention this, but Wikipedia (“Thomas John Barnado”) does:

At the time of the Whitechapel murders, due to the supposed medical expertise of the Ripper, various doctors in the area were suspected. Barnardo was named a possible suspect. Ripperologist Gary Rowlands theorized that due to Barnardo’s lonely childhood he had anger which led him to murder prostitutes. However, there is no solid evidence he committed the murders. Critics have also pointed out that his age and appearance did not match any of the descriptions of the Ripper.

For comparison with the above photo of Barnado, here is a sketch of the Ripper:


I think this sullying of a good man’s name is a good illustration of the dangers of relying heavily on a less scientific discipline like psychology, especially regarding historical events.  (Sidenote: Even Alice in Wonderland‘s author Lewis Carroll was considered a Ripper suspect!)

Photo sources:


Barlach, Ernst (1870-1938)

Ernst Barlach_The Avenger_64
The Avenger by Ernst Barlach

Barlach was an expressionist sculptor, printmaker and writer.

Schwebender Engel (“Hovering Angel”) by Ernst Barlach

I’m not sure why, but these sculptures appeal to me.  EB describes his work as “modern Gothic,” and says that he features “heavy, massive figures in rigid drapery, animated by a single, forceful movement.”  He “emulated the blocky, rough-hewn quality of wood sculpture to achieve a more brutal effect.”

Since Barlach was an Expressionist, I wanted to know what that movement was. According to Wikipedia (“Expressionism”),  artists sought to express the meaning of emotional experience rather than physical reality.  They  present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas.  Here is a clear example of this:

The Scream by Edvard Munch (1893)

It is so rare to get a clear definition of an artistic movement–I usually get lost by a long series of abstractions–so thanks, Wikipedia!

Barlach’s Hovering Angel made me wonder how I’d sculpt an angel.  Should he be heavy, reflecting the power of God, or light and graceful?  Should he be frightening, since every Biblical character but Mary was frightened out of their wits by an angel’s appearance?  I would definitely dispense with the wings, not only because they are a cliche, but also because most moderns don’t realize that they were simply a medieval symbol for the speed of God’s messenger.

How would you sculpt an angel?

Photo credits:



Bangladesh: 10 Fascinating Things I Bet You Didn’t Know


Shiva Temple, Puthia, Rajshahi NK

  • The national sport involves holding your breath.  Kabaddi teams take turns sending a “raider” into the other half. To win a point, the raider must take a breath, run into the opposing half, tag one or more members of the opposite team, then return to his home half before inhaling again.  The raider will chant “kabaddi, kabaddi” with his exhaling breath to show the referee he has not inhaled  (Wikipedia).
  • Bangladesh invented the bungalow (the living areas are on one floor, and it has a porch and dormer windows) (WP):


  • Their black giant squirrel, with tail,  is almost 4 feet long (WP).
  • Their fishing cat (twice the size of a house cat) swims underwater to catch fish  (WP):


  • Dhaka, the nation’s biggest city, is nicknamed the Rickshaw Capital of the World. Rickshaw art is considered a form of neo-romanticism.  Each region of Bangladesh has a distinct style of rickshaw art (WP).


  • If the Bengal tiger doesn’t kill you, the storms will: 1,000,000 people have been killed by storms since the early 18th century (WP).
  • Bangladesh has the world’s longest beach (WP).
  • Bangladesh is the world’s largest contributor to U.N. peacekeeping operations (WP).
  • It one of the most pro-American Muslim majority countries in the world, with 76% of Bangladeshis expressing a favorable view of the U.S. (WP).
  • They have a Nobel Prize-winning author described as the Bengali Shakespeare, Rabindranath Tagore (WP).

Photo credits: Wikimedia