Written by Angela Fogg.
The Mikrokosmos were composed between 1926 and 1939 and are normally published in six volumes. This new edition has them all in one volume; although they are kept in six sections and the order has not been changed. It also includes a short bibliographical introduction about Bartók; as well as information on the six volumes and their music.
Bartók composed the pieces for his son, Peter Bartók, to learn the piano. However, his publisher also encouraged this collection in the hope that it would replicate and continue the collections of teaching material by J. S. Bach and Carl Czerny. With pieces inspired by Hungarian folk music and song; a new generation of pianists was given the 153 Progressive Pieces for the Piano.
Volume 1 begins with simple eight-bar pieces in unison; hands in a five finger position but not with thumbs on Middle C. The pieces are well thought out and teach rhythm, pitch and technique through musically expressive and versatile pieces. Each one will introduce something new; perhaps a new five finger position giving a minor pentachord, dotted notes, repetition, inversion, open and closed phrases, canons – the list really is endless.
The music encourages the student to examine not just what the music says, but how it says it and what the musical effect is. There are no dynamics written in the first 21 pieces but, if your student is able, you can explore different expressive ideas. Alternatively you can leave this aspect of playing for the later pieces. Each piece also offers the opportunity to use new elements creatively in your students’ own compositions or improvisation.
Continuing through the Volumes, students will learn about different modes and scales; different touches and sounds; simple and compound time signatures; as well as irregular ones such as 5/4; and intervals and chords, leading to the final group of pieces, Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm. These are an exciting group of pieces; the first of which was dedicated to the English pianist, Harriet Cohen. As a group they serve as an excellent finale to the six volumes.
There are so many imaginative and good pieces in Mikrokosmos that it is impossible to single out just a few. The Hungarian influence can lead to some unusual sounds; strange ways of writing key signatures and odd phrase lengths. However, these can be embraced and made talking points of, which you can teach from. Highly recommended. Each of the six volumes normally retails at around £11, so the cost of £24.99 for all six seems a bargain!