The following are explanations of the system of classification and evaluation in the section “Chronological Survey of Bartók’s Solo Piano Works”:
In view of discrepancies in many of the titles of Bartók’s piano works, I have chosen to use the most accurate English-language title of each work at the heading, saving any foreign-language titles for the specific editions in which they are used (see under “Publication”).
Opus number. This numbering system, found sporadically in Bartók’s published piano works, only goes up to the Improvisations, Op. 20, Sz. 74, and in some instances is misleading as to chronology and positive identification (e.g., Four Dirges, Sz. 45, has been variously identified as Op. 8, Op. 8b, and Op. 9a). It is partially for this reason that the following numbering system, supplementary to the opus numbers, is used in this text:
Sz. (Szöllösy) number. Since some of Bartók’s titles are similar and easily confused (compare Three Hungarian Folksongs of 1907 with Three Hungarian Folk-Tunes of 1914-1917 and Two Romanian Dances, Op. 8a, of 1910 with Romanian Folk Dances of 1915), the “Sz. number” is the primary identification system to be used. András Szöllösy (b. 1921) introduced this system in 1957 under the title “Bibliographie des oeuvres musicales et écrits musicologiques de Béla Bartók” (Bibliography of musical works and musicological writings of Bé1a Bartók) as an appendix to Bartók: sa vie et son oeuvre by Bence Szabolcsi. The system is also used in Bíla Bartok by József Ujfalussy, the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Documenta Bartókiana, recordings of the complete piano works of Bartók by Vox, and a number of other sources. An earlier numbering system issued by Denijs Dille in 1939 is used in the “Chronological List of Works” in Halsey Stevens’s The Life and Music of Bíla Bartók, but new findings in Bartók’s early works included in the Szöllösy catalogue have resulted in a numerical discrepancy between it and the Dille catalogue.
Date of composition. It is of special interest that Bartók’s piano works be dated and listed in chronological order, since an almost complete biographical perspective of Bartók’s musical career can be acquired by this type of survey.
Timing of the entire work. Since performances can vary considerably in tempo, only an approximate timing, mainly for recital planning, is intended here. Exact timings are listed when they are indicated by Bartók in the score.
Range of difficulty. Although each piece and movement is graded in the section entitled “Movements,” a composite level is given in the heading to provide a general area of difficulty of the work as a whole, from the lowest number in the collection to the highest. The grading levels are modeled after the system used by Klaus Wolters in Handbuch der Klavierlitcratur zu zwei Händen:
|6-10:||intermediate, average difficulty|
The grading system is approached from two perspectives: the technical (T) and the musical (M). It is important to view both aspects of Bartók’s piano music because the technical and musical requirements of a particular piece frequently do not coincide. For instance, some of the simpler folk song settings in works such as For Children, Sz. 42, or Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs, Sz. 71, although technically easy, require substantial musical maturity and sensitivity to convey the parlando-rubato type of execution. On the other hand, certain per-petual-motion pieces, such as “Bear Dance” from Ten Easy Pieces, Sz. 39, or Allegro Barbaro, Sz. 49, are technically difficult but do not ask for a great deal of musical or interpretive sophistication.
Editions. The editions listed are primarily those still in print or accessible in libraries with a substantial music collection. The firms that first published Bartók’s music, Rózsavölgyi and Rózsnyai, have been for the most part taken over by B&H, EMB, and UE and are not listed. The following are the most important publishers of the modern editions of Bartók’s piano music, with the abbreviations that identify them:
Boosey and Hawkes (B&H)
Editio Musica Budapest (EMB)
Kalmus-Belwin Mills (K-BM)
Universal Edition (UE)
Other publishers of Bartók’s piano works are Alfred, International, M.C.A., Marks, G. Schirmer, and Schott.
Appearance in teaching editions and collections. Since Bartók is represented in more teaching editions and anthologies for the piano than is any other twentieth-century composer, it is inevitable that these publications vary considerably in quality. Therefore, in addition to the listing of all available published collections in this section, a critical survey of them is given in Appendix D.
Transcriptions for and from other media. Because of the universal appeal of Bartók’s piano music, much of it, especially the folk-oriented variety, has been transcribed for other vocal or instrumental media, by Bartók himself as well as by others. The pianist can gain much interpretive insight from these transcriptions.
Additional pertinent commentary and related publications. This section includes published and unpublished supplementary information on the work being surveyed. This material contains, when applicable, Bartók’s own commentaries on the publication of the work; peculiarities in certain editions of the work, such as misprints or irresponsible editing; revised editions of the work by Bartók himself; the existence of facsimile reproductions of manuscripts or early editions of the work; the appearance of the work as a whole or in part in other publications; and important written material on the work.
The purpose of this section is to provide a sense of biographical, historical, and stylistic perspective; to include pertinent commentary from Bartók and other authoritative sources; to evaluate the composition’s overall technical-musical challenges; and to suggest programming possibilities.
Number, title, tempo marking, timing. Additional designations such as alternate numbering systems or tempo markings from other publications are included in this section. Timings are explained above in the section “Timing of the Entire Work.”
Level of difficulty. See above, “Range of difficulty.” Individual pieces receive their own ratings because of the wide range of difficulty in some of Bartók’s piano cycles. A plus sign after a technical rating (T15+, for example) is a precautionary indication that the piece requires an unusual degree of physical exertion and endurance that may in time cause extreme muscular stress and even injury.
Folk origin. Of the 393 individual movements in Bartók’s solo piano music, 189, or roughly 48 percent, make use of authentic peasant folk songs and dances of Eastern Europe; this percentage does not take into account the abundance of additional piano works that include quasi-folk material of no specific origin. It is therefore valuable to the Bartók pianist to have an understanding of national characteristics of the folk music being used; a familiarity with the syllable, phrase, and verse structure of the music; and a knowledge of at least the emotional message of the text, if not a literal translation, to aid in interpretation.
The following is a general survey of folk music characteristics listed by nationality, from the most to the least frequendy used in Bartók’s piano music:
HUNGARIAN. Not to be confused with Gypsy music, which, although considered by Bartók genuinely Hungarian, was created by “Hungarian music amateurs who belong to the ruling class.”1 Stylistically, Hungarian folk music of the purely peasant variety is divided into three categories:
OLD STYLE. Slow tempo, parlando-rubato (declamatory, free) interpretation, lavish vocal embellishment, four lines of from six to twelve equal syllables, lack of an anacrusis or upbeat (this is a distinguishing feature of Hungarian folk music in general), pentatonic scale patterns and dark modes, and a generally intense, mournful text and musical delivery. Mostly sung or played by elderly peasants continuing a musical tradition that has been in existence for thousands of years. NEW STYLE. Fast tempo, tempo-giusto (strict tempo) interpretation, four lines (AAAA, AABA, ABBA) with an expanded number of syllables (up to 22), the last melodic line identical to the first, modes extended to include major and harmonic minor because of Western influences, more spirited text content and musical delivery. Mostly sung or played by younger peasants continuing a tradition that began only around the mid-nineteenth century.
MIXED STYLE. A variety of melodic types with no unity of style, subject to Slovakian and Western European influences, four lines with variable syllabization, frequent major and minor modes, typical rhythm of two eighth notes and a quarter note, ceremonial atmosphere (wedding, harvest, Easter, Christmas), and a generally more spirited and lighter character than Old Style tunes.
A thorough explanation and inventory of Hungarian peasant folk music is found in Bartók’s The Hungarian Folk Song (BBHU) and Somfai’s Documenta Bartókiana, Vol. VI (SODO); use of original Hungarian folk material is found in Bartók’s published piano works Sz. 35a, 38, 39, 42 (Vol. I), 53, 66, 71, 74, 105, and 107.
ROMANIAN. According to Bartók, most of the Romanian folk material he collected and used as models for his piano compositions had originated from territories previously belonging to Hungary2 (this explains the eventual deletion of “from Hungary” from the tide Romanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56). Although grouped into five classifications according to medium or function, only two apply direcdy to Bartók’s Romanian-based piano music:
COLINDE, or Christmas carols. See the commentary on Romanian Christmas Songs, Sz. 57, for an explanation of characteristics.
DANCE SONGS. Usually without text; played on instruments such as the peasant violin or flute. Most of Bartók’s Romanian-based piano music is characterized by simple and regular structures, usually of four melody sections, and much repetition and development. Other features include frequent use of the anacrusis (which is missing in Hungarian models); rhythmic combinations of an eighth note and two sixteenths; a compelling rhythmic drive; emphasis on the lighter modes, such as major, Mixolydian, and Lydian; and occasional use of scale patterns that suggest Arabic influence (see Sz. 56, Nos. 3 and 4).
A thorough explanation and inventory of Romanian peasant folk music is found in Bartók’s Rumanian Folk Music, Vols. I and IV (BBRO), and Somfai’s Documenta Bartókiana, Vol. VI (SODO). Use of original Romanian folk material is found in Bartók’s published piano works Sz. 44, 55, 56, 57, and 105.
SLOVAKIAN. According to Bartók, most of the Slovakian folk material he collected and used as models for his compositions came from a people who live in the eastern half of Czechoslovakia, formerly a region known as North Hungary.3 The melodies are classified as follows:
THE OLDEST MELODIES, CONSISTING OF SHEPHERD AND CEREMONIAL SONGS. The former have an improvised character, free form, lines of up to six syllables, parlando-rubato style, Mixolydian mode, and a one-octave range; the latter, also with six-syllable lines in a parlando-rubato style, are in variable modes and have characteristic intervals of the major third followed by the augmented fourth.
MELODIES OF UNEQUAL METER AND FORM. Usually in Lydian mode and tempo-giusto style, with three-part phrases. They show a close affinity to Czech and the Mixed Style of Hungarian folk melodies.
MODERN MELODIES. Strongly influenced by the New Style Hungarian folk melodies, especially with regard to their rhythmic characteristics.
A thorough explanation and inventory of Slovakian peasant folk music is found in Bartók’s Slovenske L’udoví Piesne (Slovakian folk songs), Vols. I and II (BBSL), and Somfai’s Documenta Bartókiana, Vol. VI (SODO). Use of original Slovakian folk material is found in Bartók’s published piano works Sz. 38, 42 (Vol. II), and 84.
OTHER NATIONALITIES. One also finds occasional use of both authentic and freely composed Bulgarian (Sz. 107), Yugoslavian (Sz. 107), Ukrainian (Sz. 105), and Arabic (Sz. 62 and 77) folk material in Bartók’s piano works. Characteristics of these folk styles are explained in the commentary on the specific examples that make use of them.
For most of the examples based on original folk tunes, short English paraphrases of the text provide the essence of the mood and subject. Reference is made to the sources in which the texts are presented in full, both in English translation and in their original languages. When no text is included, it is either unavailable or unfit to print because of offensive language or subject matter.
Analysis. Each piece is identified as to key center and, in the case of folk-song arrangements, the mode or scale type. The key-center listings exemplify the consistent logic and clarity of Bartók’s tonal organization. The following table identifies the mode or scale types found in folk music:
|Dorian||D-D, white keys of the piano|
|E-E, 2 sharps (in the normal sequence of the D-|
|major key signature)|
|F-F, 3 flats (E-flat major)|
|G-G, 1 flat (F major)|
|A-A, 1 sharp (G major)|
|B-B, 3 sharps (A major)|
|C-C, 2 flats (B-flat major)|
|Phrygian||E-E, white keys|
|F-F, 5 flats (D-flat major)|
|G-G, 3 flats (E-flat major)|
|A-A, 1 flat (F major)|
|B-B, 1 sharp (G major)|
|C-C, 4 flats (A-flat major)|
|D-D, 2 flats (B-flat major)|
|Lydian||F-F, white keys|
|G-G, 2 sharps (D major)|
|A-A, 4 sharps (E major)|
|B-B, 6 sharps (F-sharp major)|
|C-C, 1 sharp (G major)|
|D-D, 3 sharps (A major)|
|E-E, 5 sharps (B major)|
|Mixolydian||G-G, white keys|
|A-A, 2 sharps (D major)|
|B-B, 4 sharps (E major)|
|C-C, 1 flat (F major)|
|D-D, 1 sharp (G major)|
|E-E, 3 sharps (A major)|
|F-F, 2 flats (B-flat major)|
|Aeolian (natural minor)||A-A, white keys|
|B-B, 2 sharps (D major)|
|C-C, 3 flats (E-flat major)|
|D-D, 1 flat (F major)|
|E-E, 1 sharp (G major)|
|F-F, 4 flats (A-flat major)|
|G-G, 2 flats (B-flat major)|
|Ionian (major)||C-C, white keys (all successive starting tones have major key signatures).|
|Pentatonic||Any scale that contains five tones and lacks semitones (e.g., the black keys of the piano, although numerous other interval combinations are possible).|
|Non-diatonic||Any seven-tone scale that does not conform to the major-minor or modal interval relationships (any combination of five whole tones and two semitones).|
Each piece is surveyed with regard to some or all of the following aspects: texture, structure,4 unusual stylistic features, specific technical or musical difficulties, performance suggestions, programming possibilities, and applicability to the specific pianist’s level or aptitudes. Statements by Bartók himself and appropriate commentary from noted Bartók authorities on the particular example are included in this section.
This section lists and analyzes most of the existing recordings that Bartók made of his piano music. Although many other recordings of high merit have been produced over the years, most notably the complete editions of Bartók’s piano works by Vox and Hungaroton,5 the composer’s own performances seem to give the most accurate and revealing insights into his piano music.
The listings include the volume, side, and band of each piece in the Hungaroton collection Centenary Edition of Bartók’s Records (1981), the record label and date of the original LP release produced by Hungaroton, and recordings by Bartók in other collections. Analyses include discussion of distinctive features of each performance that might be of value to the reader.
(Throughout this volume, works quoted in the text are referred to by their abbreviations. Full citations are given in the Bibliography.)
1. BBES, p. 71.
2. Ibid., p. 115.
3. Ibid, pp. 128-129.
4. Regarding pieces based on original folk music and cast in variation form, the original folk tune is considered the “theme,” and the example begins with the first variation. This method has precedents in variation forms where the theme is a preexisting popular melody.
5. For a comparative survey of other recordings of Bartók’s piano music, see Jeremy Noble, “Bartók Recordings,” High Fidelity, March 1981, 45-53.