Widely regarded as one of the great composers, Bartók spent the last three summers of his life in Saranac Lake, in the Adirondack Mountains. Historic Saranac Lake maintains the cabin where Bartók stayed the year of his death, in 1945, and shows it to the public by appointment.
The collection was a gift from the estate of Béla’s second son, Peter Bartók, who died in December of 2020. Peter visited the cabin in Saranac Lake many years ago, when it had fallen to ruin and was slated for demolition. Thanks to his support, and the efforts of numerous volunteers, the cabin was restored.
Archivist/Curator, Chessie Monks-Kelly is working to rehouse and catalog the donation, which includes shoes, dress clothing, a snippet of music written in Bartók’s hand, a pair of his spectacles, and more.
Bartók was an avid collector of the melodies of ancient Europe and one of the founders of ethnomusicology. He traveled the countryside of rural Eastern Europe, recording songs in peasant villages. He notated Hungarian, Slovak, Romanian, Ukrainian, and Bulgarian folk music. He also collected melodies in Moldavia, Transylvania, Algeria, and Turkey.
During the Second World War, Hungary joined the Axis Powers. Béla’s anti-fascist views were well known, and his wife Ditta was Jewish. They fled the Nazis to New York City. Bartók came to Saranac Lake hoping the change of climate would boost his health. Saranac Lake was well-known as a destination for victims of tuberculosis. Bartók died of leukemia in September of 1945, shortly after returning to New York City from Saranac Lake.
The gift coincides with a new initiative to expand the Historic Saranac Lake’s Saranac Laboratory Museum. The organization recently purchased a neighboring historic building, the former home and medical office of Dr. E. L. Trudeau, for expansion of the museum to establish a two-building campus that tells the broader story of the Saranac Lake region. A reception is planned later in the spring to celebrate the new acquisition.
Historic Saranac Lake is conducting a capital campaign to support the museum expansion. Over $3.8 million has been raised to-date toward the total project goal of $5.2 million. A special naming opportunity has been announced to support the care and exhibition of the Bartók collection, public programs about Bartók, and the ongoing maintenance of the Bartók Cabin. Donations can be made online.
Photos, from above: the Saranac Laboratory Museum; Béla Bartók’s concert shoes, bow ties, glasses, collars, medal, cufflinks, HSL Collection; Béla, Ditta, and Peter Bartók in Saranac Lake, from My Father by Peter Bartók.