Most piano students know first hand about Burgmuller and his Progressive character pieces in the Romantic genre. They are a bundle of delights with picturesque titles that match the music.
But few might realize that Bela Bartok’s collection of miniatures is an easy rival, having glowing melodies and dance-like folkloric rhythms. Still, both composers from different musical eras provide the young piano student with enticing music that’s embedded with technical challenges.
Bartok, a 20th Century Hungarian composer, drew inspiration from his country’s folk songs and dances that were handed down from generation to generation.
When he was appointed professor of Piano at the Budapest Conservatory, he joined Zoltan Kodaly in collecting more than 6000 Hungarian, Slovakian, Transylvanian and Rumanian folk tunes, many of which crept into his piano compositions.
“Love Song” is a good example that comes with an annotation:
“This beautiful harmonization of an old folk song should be played very slowly with much expression. To phrase the music correctly, make the music fit the words as perfectly as you can.”
“Connect slurred notes carefully. Press tenuto notes.” (Those with a horizontal line attached)
While these are rudimentary instructions, the player’s challenge is to nuance and phrase the music with an awareness of harmonic and rhythmic shifts under repetitions of the melody.
“The Vagabond” (teaches phrasing in various sub groupings, along with an awareness of harmonic rhythm and unexpected changes that influence interpretation)
“Folk Dance” (a percussive, rhythmically driven piece, with specific detached articulations and changing harmonies that influence phrasing)
A Two-part Bartok Invention (to learn counterpoint in the Hungarian genre)
From the composer’s First Term of Piano
Slavonic Dance: A study in staccato, tenuto, and two-note slurs, with a few measures of syncopation.
Folk Song, “They Say They Don’t Care”
“Bartok’s harmonization of this folk melody adds tension and excitement to this short but very effective composition. This piece reviews portato and tenuto touch.” (From Palmer Edition, Bartok, An Introduction to his Piano Works.)