Swiss-born pianist Andreas Haefliger arrived in Minneapolis this week with a piece that he's been studying intensely for the past few years: Bela Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 3. His research included travel to Budapest to gain a deeper insight into the composer's music. Haefliger plays the concerto with the Minnesota Orchestra Thursday and Friday.
Bartok spent the last five years of his life as an exile in the United States. He reluctantly fled Hungary with his wife in 1940 after the outbreak of World War II, finding haven in a country where there wasn't much interest in his music.
In the U.S., he stopped composing for a few years and his disappointments made him a bitter man. Bartok contracted leukemia, which left him in physical pain for the rest of his life.
A 1943 commission from Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director Serge Koussevitzky to write what became the Concerto for Orchestra reawakened Bartok's interest in composing. Among his final works was his Concerto No. 3 for Piano and Orchestra. He planned the concerto as a surprise present for his wife's birthday on October 31, 1945, but Bartok died on September 26 with just the final few bars left unfinished.
Haefliger considers Bela Bartok the most interesting of the great 20th-century composers. He says Bartok's final piano concerto captures the span of the composer's life experiences. In a conversation at the piano on the stage of Orchestra Hall, Haefliger told Minnesota Public Radio's Karl Gehrke that this is especially apparent in the hymn-like adagio movement.