Bartók: Easy Pieces and Dances

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

It’s fair to say that in the last three years or so I have received more sheet music by Bartók for review than any other composer, the renaissance of interest in publishing his works no doubt a result of the fact that they are no longer in copyright. Bartók is without doubt one of my very favourite composers, so in my book, this commitment to producing excellent new editions of his music is a great thing.

Latest to arrive, Bärenreiter’s Bartók: Easy Piano Pieces and Dances, which brings together miscellaneous pieces of easy to moderate difficulty (including many familiar favourites), is ideal for teaching purposes.

The Easy Piano Pieces and Dances series is one of the many highlights in the Bärenreiter catalogue, with nearly a couple of dozen great composers already given dedicated volumes suitable for the intermediate pianist. I have already given glowing reviews to the collections dedicated to Debussy (read the review) and Martinů (read the review here).

So let’s find out how the new Bartók volume compares …

Easy Piano Pieces & Dances

Easy Piano Pieces and Dances comes wrapped in a simple but striking cover to match the series:

Bärenreiter introduce and explain editor Michael Töpel’s unique and distinctive selection of Bartók’s pieces in their publicity thus:

“Bartók’s voluminous output for the piano contains a great many exquisite masterpieces at every level of difficulty. This collection gathers together easy to moderately difficult pieces, including a wide variety of dance forms and folk-music miniatures. Players can coax magical sounds from the instrument using a varied refinement of touch such as silently depressed keys or can even play in two keys at once (bitonality). In addition, all of this provides a stimulus for improvisation.”

The contents are listed inside the front cover, including Bartók’s original Hungarian titles (where they exist), plus German, English and French translations. Important to note this, because within the music itself only the original and German are included; in English-speaking environments the teacher will surely want to draw attention to the English title and meaning.

The list of pieces is as follows:

  • Three Romanian Folk Tunes: No.1. Cantec de joc / Play Song
  • No.2. Pasăre galbină’n cioc / Oh Bird with a Yellow beak!
  • No.3. Joc (din drâmboaiă) / Dance (with a jew’s harp)
  • Two Hungarian Folk Songs (No.1)
  • (No.2)
  • Little Dialogue
  • Játszó gyermekek / Children playing
  • Gyermekdal / Children’s Song
  • Quasi adagio
  • Románc / Romance
  • Ötfokú dallam / Pentatonic Song
  • Regösének / Song about the Magic of Christmas
  • Este a székelyeknél / An Evening in the Countryside
  • Tót legények tánca / Dance of the Slovaks
  • Hungarian Folk Tune
  • Medvetánc / Dance of the Bear
  • Felhangok / Harmonics
  • Dallam ködgomolyagban / Melody in the Mist
  • Oláhos / In Wallachian Style OP.9/6
  • Bagatelle Op.6/1
  • Bagatelle Op.6/6
  • Csörgő-tánc / Tombourine
  • Dal / Air

This is also the only place where the sources of the pieces is listed: 7-12 are from For Children, 13-14 are from Ten Easy Piano Pieces, 17-18 are from Mikrokosmos, 22-23 are from Nine Small Piano Pieces. I am pleased to also see a couple of Bartók’s somewhat modernist Bagatelles included.

It will be noted that some of the pieces listed lack a specified source, and it’s interesting to note that several (specifically numbers 1-6) are previously unpublished, edited here for the first time from rediscovered fragments. This immediately makes the book a “must-have” for all Bartók completists.

These brand new pieces range from the slight…

…to more developed pieces, completed by Töpel, who must be praised for the edition as a whole.

In a short Preface, Töpel outlines his choice of pieces, intervention in the case of completing sketches, and general editorial decisions used throughout. In all cases, the clarity and rationale are beyond criticism.

It is particularly useful to note that he didn’t add phrasing or articulations to the sketches he completed, but that he has added fingering where it helps, distinguishing Bartók’s own fingerings in italics. A few pieces also have explanatory footnotes to help with interpretation.

Comparisons, Comparisons

The choice of pedagogic compilations of Bartók’s music is steadily becoming a more difficult one. I have long used just the first volume of For Children (read my comparative review of editions here), but in the last couple of years we have seen several tempting alternatives.

Boosey & Hawkes with Hal Leonard have produced exemplary new editions of First Term at the Piano (review here) and Ten Easy Pieces, both including online video lessons, while Boosey’s Bartók Piano Collection in two volumes (reviewed here) offers a brilliantly conceived compilation including many of the most appealing pieces from Bartók’s vast pedagogic oeuvre.

This last mentioned perhaps proves the most obvious competition to Bärenreiter’s new publication. The two Boosey & Hawkes books are in my view more visually attractive, child-friendly, and include CD recordings of the pieces by concert pianist Iain Farrington. And of course they provide a wider selection, with some 58 pieces, including most of those also in the Bärenreiter’s Easy Piano Pieces and Dances. (although, disappointingly, Boosey’s books omit the ever-popular An Evening in the Countryside).

Some might feel 58 pieces is overkill, and prefer Bärenreiter’s more concise selection of 23, especially given the breadth and appeal of this particular selection. Bärenreiter thus also offer the less expensive option; the scholarly appeal of the book will be attractive to older teenage and adult learners, and the previously unavailable pieces add genuine interest.

As a growing (but already quite comprehensive) series, Bärenreiter’s Easy Piano Pieces and Dances surely belongs on the shelf of every piano teacher and intermediate to early advanced pianist. And this newly added Bartók book is a welcome and brilliant addition.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based in Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.