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ClassicsOnline Home » BARTÓK, B.: 10 Easy Piano Pieces / Mikrokosmos, Vol. 1 (L. Kertész)
Béla Bartók wrote the six volumes of Mikrokosmos with an educational purpose, winning students over to his innovations in technique and style and guiding them by steps to the highest artistic level. Folk-music keys and scales, polyphony, colour and articulation are integrated into music infused with Bartók’s uniquely characterful rhythms and deeply expressive lyricism. The Ten Easy Pieces are also educational, transforming folk songs into strongly evocative portraits of country life. Rooted in Bartók’s musical and social landscape and long renowned as an educator and flag-bearer of Hungarian culture, Lajos Kertész’s pianistic style and sonority has been likened to that of Bartók himself, making the significance of these recordings inestimable.
Béla Bartók (1881–1945)
Piano Music • 5
The Hungarian composer Béla Bartók was born in 1881 in a region that now forms part of Romania. His father, director of an agricultural college, was a keen amateur musician, while it was from his mother that he received his early piano lessons. The death of his father in 1889 led to a less settled existence, as his mother returned to work as a teacher, eventually making her home in Pozsony, the modern Bratislava, where Bartók passed his early adolescence, counting among his school-fellows the composer Ernő Dohnányi. Offered the chance of musical training in Vienna, like Dohnányi he chose instead Budapest, where he won a considerable reputation as a pianist, being appointed to the teaching staff of the Academy of Music in 1907. At the same time he developed a deep interest, shared with his compatriot Zoltán Kodály, in the folk music of his own and adjacent countries, later extended as far as Anatolia, where he collaborated with the Turkish composer Adnan Saygun.
As a composer Bartók found acceptance much more difficult, particularly in his own country, which was, in any case, beset by political troubles, when the brief post-war left-wing government of Béla Kun was replaced by the reactionary régime of Admiral Horthy. Meanwhile his reputation abroad grew, particularly among those with an interest in contemporary music, and his success both as a pianist and as a composer, coupled with dissatisfaction at the growing association between the Horthy government and National Socialist Germany, led him in 1940 to emigrate to the United States of America.
In his last years, after briefly holding teaching positions at Columbia and Harvard, Bartók suffered from increasing ill-health and from poverty which the conditions of exile in war time could do nothing to alleviate. He died in straitened circumstances in 1945, leaving a new Viola Concerto incomplete and a Third Piano Concerto more nearly finished.
Mikrokosmos Vol 1
Bartók wrote the six volumes of Mikrokosmos (1926–37) with an educational purpose in mind and at the highest artistic level, always paying attention to technical, stylistic and musical aspects. and seeking to win over children to his innovations. This extended series of pieces, therefore, gives an insight into Bartók’s creative work. In the first three books the student is offered help to improve his playing technique, which is reflected in the titles of the pieces in order of difficulty: unison, parallel movement, contrary motion, mirror image, syncopation, canon. The student is introduced to folk scales and other keys, polyphony, colour, accented block chords, and lyrical or programme pieces. Important requirements include melodic contour, tempo, dynamics, articulation, and accuracy with accents, all of which teach the student to give an accurate account of the score. The pieces in Mikrokosmos have a pedagogical and musical value.
Ten Easy Pieces
Bartók composed Ten Easy Pieces in 1908, also with an educational purpose in mind. This series, however, contains a few pieces that go beyond the abilities of beginner pianists and require a higher level of technique and a better knowledge of styles. The series contains four folk songs, one in unison and three easy and moving arrangements. Evening in Transylvania, one of the most popular pieces of the series, evocative of the atmosphere of an evening in a Székely village, is in rondo form with an alternating rubato pentatonic and a giusto flute melody. Bear Dance, bold and original, features humour and drama, a tour de force capturing the clumsy footsteps and grotesque dance of the giant animal.
English version by Bálint Tóth and Nicholas Bodóczky
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