Bela Bartok was born in Nagyszentmiklos, Hungary in 1881. Musically talented as a child, Bartok was first taught piano by his mother. In 1889 he entered the Academy of Music in Budapest where he excelled as a pianist. His early works were influenced by German Romantics, especially Richard Strauss but he went on to develop his own largely inspired by Eastern European folk music. At the Academy he met Zoltan Kodaly who shared his interest in traditional ethnic music. They embarked on an expedition to collect and research old Magyar folk melodies which they later incorporated into their compositions. It was the beginning of a life-long quest for Bartok.
During World War I such expeditions were no longer possible and Bartok concentrated on composition, producing, amongst other works, his ballet The Wooden Prince. The inter-war years were his most productive including a second Ballet The Miraculous Mandarin and the structurally complex violin sonatas and six string quartets.
When the Nazis came into power Bartok refused to give concerts in Germany. Life in Hungary became increasingly difficult and in 1940 he left his homeland for the United States, settling with his second wife, the pianist Ditta Pasztory, in New York City. Bartok was not known for his composition in the U.S. but regarded more as a pianist and teacher. His success in America was somewhat limited and he spent his final years giving concerts with his wife and continuing his studies and research into the folk songs of Yugoslavia. Bartok died of Leukemia in 1945.