The American Bartók Estate and Archives
During the Cold War, 1946–67

Carl Leafstedt

Helena History Press

ISBN: 978-1-943596-23-2
Price: USD $65.00
Page Count: 412

In 1963, in the deepening shadows of the Cold War, the Béla Bartók Archives quietly opened its doors in New York City. Five years later, just as quietly, it closed.

One of the largest archives devoted to a single artistic figure anywhere in the world, among its holdings was the massive collection of autograph manuscripts the famous Hungarian musician had spirited out of Europe when he fled to the United States during World War II. In the Archives’ inception, however, lay the seeds for its eventual downfall. Well into the 21st century this magnificent memorial remained intact but locked away, its promise unfulfilled, undone by a politically charged legal drama of extraordinary length and intensity. 

“I’ve been waiting thirty years for someone to call me about this. So, yes, I’m glad to talk with you”

FRANCIS BATOR, son of Viktor Bator, responding to author Carl Leafstedt in 2010

This book opens up new perspectives on the history of Béla Bartók’s music in the 20th century. It joins a growing literature on music and the cultural Cold War. It draws inspiration from a trove of historic correspondence discovered in Massachusetts in 2010, written by Béla Bartók’s executor and trustee, Victor Bator.

“Carl Leafstedt’s new book is a real musico-legal thriller that guides the reader through the protracted lawsuits involving Béla Bartók’s legacy involving the legacy of Béla Bartók’s, the great Hungarian composer who died in New York in 1945. It is a tale of bitter family feuds, Cold War politics, and a passionate defense of Victor Bator, the executor of Bartók‘s estate, often criticized for his role in the controversies. Leafstedt has studied hundreds of court documents and conducted extensive interviews with Bator’s son Francis, as well as others who knew this brilliant and complex man”

PETER LAKI PhD, Visiting Associate Professor of Music, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

Bator, an accomplished Hungarian-American businessman, had been personally appointed to this role by the composer. He fulfilled his charge honorably, using his court-backed authority to fend off challenges hurled against him by Hungarian government attorneys eager to wrest Bartók’s legacy from New York City and return it to Budapest. Epic transcontinental legal battles dragged on for decades, locking the Bartók Estate in bitter conflict. Unpublished letters from Bator’s desk form the starting point for the book, which weaves them into a larger story of one man’s battle to keep the American Bartók Estate and Archives from falling into Communist hands during the Cold War.

“Carl Leafstedt’s study of the fate of the great Hungarian musician Béla Bartók’s estate weaves an amazing story that begins with the fascinating final years of the composer’s life in New York City during WWII and continues into the intrigues of Cold War politics. Along the way Leafstedt uncovers fascinating details of Bartók’s life, the lives of his family members, and his advisor and the executor of his estate, Victor Bator, a great man whose life intersected with some of the most important Hungarians and Americans of the inter- and post-war period. In his lively account, Leafstedt uses archival research to tell a true story, the strangeness and draw of which compete with that of a well wrought murder mystery.”

DAVID E. SCHNEIDER, Georges Lurcy Professor of Music & European Studies, Amherst College, Amherst, MA

Carl Leafstedt

Carl Leafstedt

Carl Leafstedt is a musicologist on the faculty of Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. He received his Ph.D. in music from Harvard University. The subject of his doctoral work, and his first book, was Béla Bartók’s opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. He writes regularly about Bartók and his music, most recently in Contemporary Music Review (2019) and Mitteilungen der Sacher Stiftung (2019). He is currently working on several projects involving music in Texas during the Works Progress Administration era of the late 1930s. For the American Musicological Society he has served on the AMS Council and as President of the Southwest Chapter. At Trinity he served as Chair of the Department of Music from 2006-12. He currently Co-Chairs the university’s innovative Arts, Letters, and Enterprise program, which provides students with business literacy courses and internship placements to help launch their careers.