Sheet Music Review
Bartók’s seminal collection For Children is, in my view, one of the few absolute essential classics of the piano pedagogy repertoire: a work which has in equal measure both charmed and challenged generations of young pianists, and seems as popular with my students today as ever.
Two new versions of this milestone have appeared in recent months: a single-volume complete edition from Boosey & Hawkes, and a brand new urtext edition from Henle Verlag in partnership with Editio Musica Budapest.
In this review I’m going to present each, with some concluding thoughts on their relative merits, and recommendations of which edition will suit whom.
For Children (Boosey & Hawkes)
Boosey & Hawkes’ New Definitive Edition of For Children was published in two volumes back in 1998 (Volume 1) and 2000 (Volume 2), edited by the composer’s son Peter Bartók.
They have now made the sensible decision of combining both books of For Children into a single, cost-effective volume, comprising the full 79 pieces.
Written between 1908-11, these pieces were originally published in four volumes, the first two containing a total of 42 pieces based on Hungarian folk tunes, the third and fourth comprising 43 pieces based on Slovakian folk tunes. Bartók revisited the work in 1943, by which time he was resident in the USA, making minor revisions to several pieces and removing six altogether. The new version was published by Boosey & Hawkes in 1946/7 after the composer’s death.
Peter Bartók’s edition of the 1990s was essentially a re-engraving of the 1943 version, and has been as “definitive” as it gets. The Yellow Book 1 and Green Book 2 have served students well over many years now, and are a rich source of outstanding musical and pedagogic material for players from around Grade 1-4. Naturally, many of these pieces have also been selected in other compilations and for exam syllabi over the years, and will be familiar to readers here.
Many of these pieces also appeared in The Definitive Bartók Edition: Piano Collection Books 1 and 2 which I reviewed here upon their publication in 2016.
While many of the pieces were freshly engraved for The Definitive Bartók Edition: Piano Collection Books 1 and 2, this new publication retains the engraving of the Peter Bartók 1998/2000 editions, along with the cover illustration, this time rendered in burgundy:
Volumes 1 and 2 remain available separately, but I’ve tended to find that few students purchase both. This new edition offers a more cost-effective solution, allowing teacher and student the opportunity to select the best pieces from across the complete work.
Being picky, a side-by-side comparison of this new compendium with the two separate volumes suggests that the new version has somewhat lower printing and paper quality (although not to an extent that is genuinely problematic).
And although the music typesetting and pagination are the same, the overall book is four pages shorter than the combined length of the two separate volumes; this is because the introduction and textual commentary appear in much smaller print here.
In conclusion though, and despite these very minor niggles, this is a brilliant publication. Over the last quarter century, the vast majority of my students have been introduced by this greatest of 20th century composers through his pieces For Children, and now having the complete set in one volume is a genuine boon.
However, before rushing to buy this version you will want to also consider the brand new Urtext edition from G. Henle Verlag …
Für Kinder Band 1 & 2 (Henle Urtext)
G. Henle Verlag’s new publication of For Children is brought to us in conjunction with Editio Musica Budapest, and comes from the new Béla Bartók Complete Critical Edition (volume 37). This edition is in the more usual two volumes, edited by László Vikárius and Vera Lampert.
Excellent though Peter Bartók’s edition undoubtedly was and is, this brand new edition takes scholarship to a whole new level.
Like Peter Bartók, Vikárius and Lampert use the 1946/7 Revised Edition as their primary source, but also consulted the numerous private manuscript versions and other publications. Interestingly, they also referred to wax cylinder recordings of private performance by the composer himself, as well as his broadcast radio concert performances.
The excellent preface is a compelling read, and I particularly enjoyed their inclusion of quotations from Bartók’s lectures, in which he explains in his own words the motivations for writing these wonderful pieces.
Don’t expect any wild differences in the main text of For Children – but for some highly interesting insights head to the substantial Appendices in both books.
You’ve probably already guessed that those six pieces which Bartók removed from the 1946/7 publication are present and correct here. Band 1 includes two pieces missing from Boosey & Hawkes versions over the years, while the other four appear in the Appendix for Band II.
Without any disrespect to the composer’s intentions in removing these pieces, I am certainly grateful to the publishers for restoring them to circulation. I particularly like “25” originally intended for the first book and a piece called Orphan originally composed for Band II, while Teasing Song (also from Band II) introduces some interesting fingering challenges, useful in terms of pedagogy.
We are also treated to seven earlier versions of pieces – three in Band I and four in Band II – which are fascinating (although in all cases the revised versions Bartók ultimately published are I think superior). For example, the unusual middle section of the famous Round Dance (No.17) was originally quite different.
Lastly, the Appendix of Band I includes two transcriptions of Bartók’s recorded performances, which are revelatory in terms of his varied repeats, added octaves, and more. It is useful to see these notated.
After the Appendices, Henle give us the editor’s Commentary section, which is as detailed as one would expect. This includes two fascinating tables, the first of which shows the significant changes to tempo indications that the Bartók made between publications, and the second of which compares these with the tempi he uses in his own recorded performances.
These are of genuine interest both for the insight they offer into Bartók’s process, and for the interpretive possibilities they reveal.
A small niggle. Although the Henle urtext edition offers far more content overall, the main score is presented in less spacious notation than the Boosey & Hawkes version we are used to. The 43 pages of Volume 1 (Boosey & Hawkes) are compressed to 38 pages in Henle, while the 40 pages of music devoted by B&H to Volume 2 take up just 35 pages in Henle.
In most cases the notation is easy to read however, aided by Henle’s superb engraving and print quality, and further helped by the visual advantages of cream paper.
Finally (a very mild annoyance): the Henle pagination necessitates page turns in several shorter pieces where the Boosey & Hawkes requires none.
The question of which of these editions is the better will vary from one person to the next, depending on their age and intended use.
While the Henle version has clear advantages as a scholarly study edition, Peter Bartók’s notes in the Boosey & Hawkes version are also essential. The serious scholar will therefore want access to both editions – and it is perhaps clear that even I have greatly enjoyed comparing the two!
The additional information in the Henle edition includes much that will interest teachers, particularly the alternative versions of works, transcriptions of recordings and highly revealing information about alternative tempo markings. Those who want to teach these pieces with insight and authority will want the Henle edition.
The Henle presentation is somewhat austere for a child; the Boosey & Hawkes edition has a more attractive and appealing cover, which will appeal to younger players. For adult students, however, the Henle version perhaps lends the work more maturity!
Although ostensibly children’s pieces, Bartók regularly included many of the pieces from For Children in his own professional recital programmes. Those looking to perform these pieces will want to consult the Henle edition for the particular insights offered therein, but the more spacious presentation of the scores in the Boosey & Hawkes edition is also a genuine attraction.
Whichever edition you choose, be sure to dig deep – For Children is a very special work, and deserves a central place in any pianist’s journey!