Mikrokosmos (Bartók)

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The first 10 measures of No. 131, "Fourths"

Béla Bartók's Mikrokosmos (Hungarian: Mikrokozmosz) Sz. 107, BB 105 consists of 153 progressive piano pieces in six volumes, written between 1926 and 1939[1] and published in 1940.[2] The individual pieces progress from very easy and simple beginner études to very difficult advanced technical displays, and are used in modern piano lessons and education. In total, according to Bartók, the work "appears as a synthesis of all the musical and technical problems which were treated and in some cases only partially solved in the previous piano works." Volumes one and two are dedicated to his son Péter, while volumes five and six are intended as professionally performable concert pieces.[3]

Bartók also indicated that these pieces could also be played in different arrangements. In 1940, shortly before they emigrated to the United States, he arranged seven of the pieces for two pianos, to provide additional repertoire for himself and his wife Ditta Pásztory-Bartók to play. Tibor Serly transcribed six of the pieces for piano and string orchestra, arrangements which were first performed on the composer's 61st birthday in 1942.[4] In 1969 Huguette Dreyfus recorded selected pieces from Books 3 to 6 on the harpsichord.

The pieces are notable for their display of folk music influence, their unusual use of tonality, and their use of additive rhythms. Bartók travelled extensively during the period 1906–1936 to rural Hungary, Romania, Algeria and Turkey, transcribing folk songs and dances; that influence is especially apparent in the Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm at the end of Mikrokosmos, as well as in his (separate) set of Romanian Folk Dances (1915).[5]


The title Mikrokosmos comes from the Greek mikros kosmos, meaning "little world", to reflect Bartók's aim that the pieces "deal not only with the rhythmic, but also with melodic, harmonic and pianistic problems."[6]

The works were first published with the subtitle "Progressive Pieces for Piano" to emphasise the collection's didactic structure. Ernst Roth, as representative of the publisher Boosey & Hawkes, initially suggested "Progressive Piano Pieces in Modern Idiom", but this was rejected by Bartok on the grounds that "in 20, or let us say in 40 years this work will cease to be 'modern.' And what does it mean 'modern'? This word has no definite sens [sic], can be misinterpreted, misunderstood!"[7]


The pieces progress gradually in difficulty through the entire collection, from number 1 at the beginning of volume I to number 153 at the end of volume VI.

  • Volumes I and II: Pieces 1–36 and 37–66, beginner level
  • Volumes III and IV: Pieces 67–96 and 97–121, moderate to advanced level
  • Volumes V and VI: Pieces 122–139 and 140–153, professional level

The list of pieces is as follows:

Volume I
  1. Six Unison Melodies (I)
  2. (a) Six Unison Melodies (II)
(b) Six Unison Melodies (II)
  1. Six Unison Melodies (III)
  2. Six Unison Melodies (IV)
  3. Six Unison Melodies (V)
  4. Six Unison Melodies (VI)
  5. Dotted Notes
  6. Repetition (1)
  7. Syncopation (I)
  8. With Alternate Hands
  9. Parallel Motion
  10. Reflection
  11. Change of Position
  12. Question and Answer
  13. Village Song
  14. Parallel Motion with Change of Position
  15. Contrary Motion
  16. Four Unison Melodies (I)
  17. Four Unison Melodies (II)
  18. Four Unison Melodies (III)
  19. Four Unison Melodies (IV)
  20. Imitation and Counterpoint
  21. Imitation and Inversion (I)
  22. Pastorale
  23. Imitation and Inversion (II)
  24. Repetition (II)
  25. Syncopation (II)
  26. Canon at the Octave
  27. Imitation Reflected
  28. Canon at the Lower Fifth
  29. Dance in Canon Form
  30. In Dorian Mode
  31. Slow Dance
  32. In Phrygian Mode
  33. Chorale
  34. Free Canon
Volume II
  1. In Lydian Mode
  2. Staccato and Legato (I)
  3. Staccato and Legato (Canon)
  4. In Yugoslav Style
  5. Melody with Accompaniment
  6. Accompaniment in Broken Triads
  7. (a) In Hungarian Style (for two pianos)
(b) In Hungarian Style
  1. Contrary Motion (2) (for two pianos)
  2. Meditation
  3. Increasing-Diminishing
  4. County Fair
  5. In Mixolydian Mode
  6. Crescendo-Diminuendo
  7. Minuetto
  8. Waves
  9. Unison Divided
  10. In Transylvanian Style
  11. Chromatics
  12. Triplets in Lydian Mode (for two pianos)
  13. Melody in Tenths
  14. Accents
  15. In Oriental Style
  16. Major and Minor
  17. Canon with Sustained Notes
  18. Pentatonic Melody
  19. Minor Sixths in Parallel Motion
  20. Buzzing
  21. (a) Line against Point
(b) Line against Point
  1. Dialogue (with voice)
  2. Melody Divided
Volume III
  1. Thirds against a Single Voice
  2. Hungarian Dance (for two pianos)
  3. Study in Chords
  4. Melody against Double Notes
  5. Thirds
  6. Dragons' Dance
  7. Sixths and Triads
  8. (a) Hungarian Matchmaking Song
(b) Hungarian Matchmaking Song (with voice)
  1. Triplets
  2. In Three Parts
  3. Little Study
  4. Five-Tone Scale
  5. Hommage à Johann Sebastian Bach
  6. Hommage à Robert Schumann
  7. Wandering
  8. Scherzo
  9. Melody with Interruptions
  10. Merriment
  11. Broken Chords
  12. Two Major Pentachords
  13. Variations
  14. Duet for Pipes
  15. In Four Parts (I)
  16. In Russian Style
  17. Chromatic Invention (I)
  18. Chromatic Invention (II)
  19. In Four Parts (II)
  20. Once Upon a Time...
  21. (a) Fox Song
(b) Fox Song (with voice)
  1. Jolts
Volume IV
  1. Notturno
  2. Thumbs Under
  3. Hands Crossing
  4. In Folk Song Style
  5. Diminished Fifth
  6. Harmonics
  7. Minor and Major
  8. (a) Wandering through the Keys
(b) Wandering through the Keys
  1. Game (with Two Five-Tone Scales)
  2. Children's Song
  3. Melody in the Mist
  4. Wrestling
  5. From the Island of Bali
  6. And the Sounds Clash and Clang...
  7. Intermezzo
  8. Variations on a Folk Tune
  9. Bulgarian Rhythm (I)
  10. Theme and Inversion
  11. Bulgarian Rhythm (II)
  12. Song
  13. Bourrée
  14. Triplets in 9
  15. Dance in 3
  16. Triads
  17. Two-Part Study
Volume V
  1. Chords Together and in Opposition
  2. (a) Staccato and Legato (II)
(b) Staccato and Legato (II)
  1. Staccato
  2. Boating
  3. Change of Time
  4. New Hungarian Folk Song (with voice)
  5. Stamping Dance
  6. Alternating Thirds
  7. Village Joke
  8. Fourths
  9. Major Seconds Broken and Together
  10. Syncopation (III)
  11. (a) Studies in Double Notes
(b) Studies in Double Notes
(c) Studies in Double Notes
  1. Perpetuum mobile
  2. Whole-Tone Scales
  3. Unison
  4. Bagpipe Music
  5. Merry Andrew
Volume VI
  1. Free Variations
  2. Subject and Reflection
  3. From the Diary of a Fly
  4. Divided Arpeggios
  5. Minor Seconds, Major Sevenths
  6. (a) Chromatic Invention (III)
(b) Chromatic Invention (III)
  1. Ostinato
  2. March
  3. Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm (I)
  4. Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm (II)
  5. Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm (III)
  6. Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm (IV)
  7. Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm (V)
  8. Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm (VI)


The opening (mm. 1–76) of "Boating" (V, 125) is typical of the modernist compositional techniques used in the later volumes, featuring the bimodal use of the pentatonic collection on E in the right hand and either G mixolydian or dorian collections in the left:[8]

\override Score.TimeSignature #'stencil = ##f
    \relative c' {
    \set Score.tempoHideNote = ##t \tempo 4 = 120
    \clef treble
    \time 5/4
    es^\markup {RH} ges aes bes des \bar "||"
    \clef bass
    \time 6/4 \hide Staff.TimeSignature
    g,,,^\markup {LH} a c d e f \bar "||"

Volume VI contains the "Six Dances In Bulgarian Rhythm", dedicated to the English pianist Harriet Cohen. Bulgarian folk music is characterized by additive rhythm, that is, rhythm where the beats in each bar are of unequal length. For example, the first dance (148) is grouped into 4+2+3
(nine quavers in each bar), and the final dance (153) is grouped into 3+3+2
(eight in each bar).

Some pieces utilize extended technique, such as stomping or tapping in piece 9, holding down keys silently in piece 102, or singing in pieces 14, 65, and 127.

Pianists who have recorded all six volumes include György Sándor, Edith Farnadi, Homero Francesch, Zoltán Kocsis, Dezső Ránki, Jenő Jandó, Claude Helffer, and Georges Solchany [ru]. Bartók himself was the first to publicly perform pieces from Mikrokosmos, on February 9, 1937 in London.[9]


  1. ^ Suchoff, Benjamin (1959). "History of Bela Bartok's Mikrokosmos". Journal of Research in Music Education. 7 (2): 185. ISSN 0022-4294.
  2. ^ Kube; Reutter, eds. (2016). "Preface". Sechs Tänze in Bulgarischem Rhythmus (1 ed.). Vienna, Austria: Schott/Universal. p. II.
  3. ^ Carpenter, Alexander. Mikrokosmos at AllMusic
  4. ^ Suchoff 1959, p. 194.
  5. ^ Kube & Reutter 2016.
  6. ^ Suchoff 1959, pp. 186–187.
  7. ^ Suchoff 1959, pp. 190–191.
  8. ^ Stein, Deborah (2005). "Introduction to Musical Ambiguity" in Engaging Music: Essays in Music Analysis, pp. 82–83. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-517010-5.
  9. ^ Suchoff, Benjamin. Béla Bartók: A Celebration, p. 83 (Scarecrow Press, 2004).

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