Béla Bartók

Mikrokosmos, progressive pieces (153) for piano in 6 volumes, Sz. 107, BB 105

    Description by Alexander Carpenter

    Mikrokosmos was originally designed as a collection of pieces for the beginning pianist, but over time it took on grander proportions, comprising 153 individual pieces that spanned the range of technical difficulty. Dividing into six volumes, it begins with pieces for beginners and progresses to those that challenge even the most accomplished pianist. That Mikrokosmos has become a viable progressive method is demonstrated by its ubiquity in the repertories of modern piano students, but its reputation rests on more than its technical and pedagogical applications; Bartók's work represents a varied and finely crafted catalog of twentieth century musical idioms. In Bartók's own words, it "appears as a synthesis of all the musical and technical problems which were treated and in some case only partially solved in the previous piano works." Perhaps chief among these musical problems was Bartók's attempted synthesis of Eastern and Western European musical traditions, particularly Eastern folk music with the Germanic tradition (as represented by Bach and Beethoven) and with the progressive harmonies of Claude Debussy.

    The first 66 pieces in Mikrokosmos (Vols. 1 and 2) are dedicated to Bartók's son, Peter, for whose use they were originally intended. Many of these pieces are technical exercises, useful for developing finger and hand independence, as well as hand span; however, they are also of interest for their musical language. Hungarian folk tunes, pentatonic, whole-tone and modal harmonies, as well as more adventurous octatonic chromatic scales all form the basis for these short pieces.

    Volumes 3 and 4 make up numbers 67 through 121. These pieces display increased harmonic complexity and technical demands. Bartók employs more polymodes (the use of different modes, or keys, simultaneously), along with octatonic and diatonic scale fragments to construct these pieces. The compositions in the third and fourth volumes are also important because they betray the influence of Franz Liszt, particularly in terms of tone color; Bartók wrote of his desire, in these pieces, to "poetically color the piano tone."

    The final volumes (5 and 6) of the Mikrokosmos were intended as concert pieces for professional pianists. They differ from the preceding pieces in many respects: their contrapuntal texture is more dense (four parts), the melodic and harmonic material is more characteristic of Bartók's non-pedagogical works, and rhythmic structures are much more complicated and include vigorous syncopations and Bulgarian dance rhythms.

    While Bartók's intention to synthesize Bach, Beethoven, and Debussy was perhaps not fully realized, Mikrokosmos nonetheless compares well with some of Bach and Debussy's ostensibly pedagogical keyboard works. Like Bach's Inventions or Debussy's Études, for example, Mikrokosmos is not merely a work of practical value, but also a work of art with much purely musical substance.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Six Unison Melodies No. 1
    2. Six Unison Melodies No. 2
    3. Six Unison Melodies No. 3
    4. Six Unison Melodies No. 4
    5. Six Unison Melodies No. 5
    6. Six Unison Melodies No. 6
    7. Dotted Notes
    8. Repetition
    9. Syncopation
    10. With Alternate Hands
    11. Parallel Motion
    12. Reflection
    13. Change of Position
    14. Question and Answer
    15. Village Song
    16. Parallel Motion and Change of Position
    17. Contrary Motion
    18. Four Unison Melodies No. 1
    19. Four Unison Melodies No. 2
    20. Four Unison Melodies No. 3
    21. Four Unison Melodies No. 4
    22. Imitation and Counterpoint
    23. Imitation and Inversion
    24. Pastorale
    25. Imitation and Inversion
    26. Repetition
    27. Syncopation
    28. Canon at the Octave
    29. Imitation Reflected
    30. Canon at the Lower Fifth
    31. Little Dance in Canon Form
    32. In Dorian Mode
    33. Slow Dance
    34. In Phrygian Mode
    35. Chorale
    36. Free Canon
    37. In Lydian Mode
    38. Staccato and Legato
    39. Staccato and Legato
    40. In Yugoslav Mode
    41. Melody with Accompaniment
    42. Accompaniment in Broken Triads
    43. In Hungarian Style
    44. Contrary Motion
    45. Meditation
    46. Increasing-Diminishing
    47. Big Fair
    48. In Mixolydian Mode
    49. Crescendo-Diminishing
    50. Minuetto
    51. Waves
    52. Unison Divided
    53. In Translyvanian Mode
    54. Chromatic
    55. Triplets in Lydian Mode
    56. Melody in Tenths
    57. Accents
    58. In Oriental Style
    59. Major and minor
    60. Canon with Sustained Notes
    61. Pentatonic Melody
    62. Minor Sixths in Parallel Motion
    63. Buzzing
    64. Line and Point
    65. Dialogue
    66. Melody Divided
    67. Thirds Against a Single Voice
    68. Hungarian Dance
    69. Chord Study
    70. Melody Against Double Notes
    71. Thirds
    72. Dragon's Dance
    73. Sixths and Triads
    74. Hungarian Song
    75. Triplets
    76. In Three Parts
    77. Little Study
    78. Five-tone Scale
    79. Hommage a J.S.B.
    80. Hommage a R. Sch.
    81. Wandering
    82. Scherzo
    83. Melody with Interruptions
    84. Merriment
    85. Broken Chords
    86. Two Major Pentachords
    87. Variations
    88. Duet for Pipes
    89. In Four Parts
    90. In Russian Style
    91. Chromatic Invention 1
    92. Chromatic Invention 2
    93. In Four Parts
    94. Tale
    95. Song of the Fox
    96. Stumblings
    97. Notturno
    98. Thumb Under
    99. Crossed Hands
    100. In the Style of a Folksong
    101. Diminished Fifth
    102. Harmonics
    103. Minor and Major
    104. Through the Keys
    105. Playsong
    106. Children's Song
    107. Melody in the Mist
    108. Wrestling
    109. From the Island of Bali
    110. Clashing Sounds
    111. Intermezzo
    112. Variations on a Folk Tune
    113. Bulgarian Rhythm 1
    114. Theme and Inversion
    115. Bulgarian Rhythm 2
    116. Melody
    117. Bourree
    118. Triplets in 9/8 time
    119. Dance in 3/4 time
    120. Fifth Chords
    121. Two-Part Study
    122. Chords Together and Opposed
    123. Staccato and Legato
    124. Staccato
    125. Boating
    126. Change of Time
    127. New Hungarian Folk Song
    128. Peasant Dance
    129. Alternating Thirds
    130. Village Joke
    131. Fourths
    132. Major Seconds Broken and Together
    133. Syncopation
    134. Three Studies in Double Notes
    135. Perpetuum mobile
    136. Whole-tone Scale
    137. Unison
    138. Bagpipe
    139. Merry Andrew
    140. Free Variations
    141. Subject and Reflection
    142. From the Diary of a Fly
    143. Divided Arpeggios
    144. Minor Seconds, Major Sevenths
    145. Chromatic Invention
    146. Ostinato
    147. March
    148. Dance in Bulgarian Rhythm No. 1
    149. Dance in Bulgarian Rhythm No. 2
    150. Dance in Bulgarian Rhythm No. 3
    151. Dance in Bulgarian Rhythm No. 4
    152. Dance in Bulgarian Rhythm No. 5
    153. Dance in Bulgarian Rhythm No. 6

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Decca 4789311
    2010 Decca
    2010 Decca 4782364
    2009 EMI Classics
    2009 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099969557
    2008 Hungaroton 32529
    2007 Brilliant Classics 8529
    2006 Naxos 8557821-22
    2005 Philips 000531102
    2004 Eroica Distribution 3132
    2001 Hungaroton 31993/94
    1995 Sony Music Distribution 47676
    1994 Hungaroton 31154
    1994 Koch Schwann 312182
    1993 Sony Music Distribution 52528
    1992 Harmonia Mundi 190968
    1992 Teldec 76139
    EMI Music Distribution 55031