Competitions Are for Horses, Not for Artists

Béla Bartók? Joseph Szigeti? Nick Cave? A. M. Rosenthal? Joe Eszterhas? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Competitions are commonplace in the world of athletics, academics, arts, and business. The acclaimed Hungarian composer Béla Bartók apparently expressed opposition to high-stakes contests in the domain of music. Here are four English versions of his remark:

(1) Competitions are for horses, not artists.
(2) Competition is for horses, not artists.
(3) Competitions are for horses, not for musicians.
(4) Competitions should be for horses, not musicians.

I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Béla Bartók died in 1945. The earliest match in English located by QI appeared in “The New York Times” in 1958. Journalist A. M. Rosenthal attended an international music contest featuring eighty young musicians held in Bucharest, Rumania. Rosenthal presented miscellaneous comments he overheard from participants at luncheon tables and in hotel lobbies. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Claudio Arrau does not like the way I play Chopin, and I do not like the way Claudio Arrau plays Chopin. The only difference is that he is on the jury.” . . .

“I know a man in New York who will bet $10,000 that Van Cliburn will never be great.”

“I am for Bartok. What did he say? ‘Competitions are for horses, not artists.’”

The above posthumous citation was not ideal because it was indirect and delayed. This article presents a snapshot of current research which is incomplete.

A direct quotation in Hungarian would best. Unfortunately, QI’s ability to search for quotations in Hungarian is sharply circumscribed. QI does not have access to large databases of Hungarian documents. The Google Books database does contain some Hungarian books, but QI was unable to find a substantive Hungarian match in that database.

The most interesting clue about the original phrasing appeared in the 1969 book “Szigeti on the Violin” which suggested that Béla Bartók used the word “verseny”. See the details further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Competitions Are for Horses, Not for Artists


  1. 1958 September 5, New York Times, Fete in Bucharest Draws Musicians by A. M. Rosenthal (Special to The New York Times), Quote Page 23, Column 4, New York. (ProQuest)