Bartók's biographers have often constructed their portraits around his production of original compositions. While this is understandable it leaves gaps in some of the earlier years of each decade of Bartók's adolescence and maturity: 1900-02, 1912-14, 1923-26, 1931-34, 1940-43. Although Bartók did experience occasional periods of despair and self-doubt, and several times depicted himself as an “ex-composer”, he was rarely inactive during this years. Indeed, consideration of that activity is essential to understanding what followed. This paper examines Bartók's reportedly “fallow years”. It surveys his total production of compositions, including arrangements and educational works, against the backdrop of his work as an ethnomusicologist, teacher, and performer, as well as his public and private activities. The author concludes that these years near the start of each decade were important periods of inspirational renewal and led, particularly in 1926, 1934 and 1943, to powerfully fertile periods initiated by leading masterworks. Using Bartók's correspondence the author delves into Bartók's plans during these “fallow years”, and compares Bartók's actual production of compositions in following years with those he initially intended.
Questions of source, style and interpretation have been central to the work of the Budapest Bartók Archives over its first half-century. The author looks at various issues of work genesis, structure, and interpretation, in works by Mahler and Riley, before considering the “definitive” state of Bartók’s Viola Concerto and the Sonata for Solo Violin, and the current availability of different editions of Bartók’s late works. He then outlines ways in which correspondence, both to and from Bartók, illuminates the rich and varied path from sketch to score to work première, and on to the earliest stages of performing interpretation. The paper concludes with seven examples where performance practice is enlightened by observations in Bartók’s correspondence: innovative work combination, comparative work quality or difficulty, compositional archetypes and models, processes of work revision, song-text translations, section or movement timings, and issues of correction versus revision.