Bálint Bakfark (his name is variously spelled as Bacfarc, Bakfarc, Bakfarkh, Bakffark, Backuart, and occasionally his first name is rendered as Valentin); 1507 – August 15 or August 22, 1576) was a Hungarian composer and lutenist of the Renaissance. He was enormously influential as a lutenist in his time, and renowned as a virtuoso on the instrument.
He was born in Braşov (Brassó), Transylvania (nowadays in Romania). An orphan, he was brought up by the Greff family, and was educated in Buda at the court of John Zápolya. Bakfark remained there until 1540, though he possibly traveled to Italy once during this time.
Sometime in the 1540s he traveled to Paris, but, finding the position of lutenist to the king filled, he left for Jagiellon Poland in 1549, where he was employed as a court lutenist by Sigismund Augustus II. From then until 1566, he traveled extensively around Europe, with his renown increasing, but remained faithful to his employer in spite of numerous efforts by other monarchs to win him away; the riches bestowed on him by Sigismund may have affected his decision to remain attached to the court in Vilnius (Wilno).
What happened to him in 1566 is not precisely known, but he clearly did something to provoke the wrath of the king, and scarcely had time to flee before Polish army troops ransacked his house and destroyed his possessions. After this, he lived for a while in Vienna, and then returned to Transylvania, but not for long; in 1571 he moved to Padua, in Italy, where he remained until his death during the plague of 1576.
As was common practice at the time, all the possessions of plague victims were destroyed by fire, so all of his manuscript music was lost.
Music and influence
While Bakfark almost certainly wrote an enormous amount of music, very little was reprinted: a commonly given reason was that it was simply too difficult for others to play. His surviving works include ten fantasies, seven madrigals, eight chansons, and fourteen motets—all in amazingly faithful polyphonic arrangements for lute alone. Additionally, he transcribed vocal motets by contemporary composers such as Josquin des Prez, Clemens non Papa, Nicolas Gombert, and Orlando di Lasso into arrangements for the lute.
- Article "Bálint Bakfark", in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie. 20 vol. London, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1980. ISBN 1561591742
- Gustave Reese, Music in the Renaissance. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 1954. ISBN 0393095304