Bartók for Piano: A Survey of His Solo Literature

Bartók for Piano: A Survey of His Solo Literature

by David Yeomans


$16.20 $18.00 Save 10% Current price is $16.2, Original price is $18. You Save 10%.
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Wednesday, August 28


... detailed and thorough... a wealth of information... David Yeomans deserves our thanks for a job exceedingly well done." —American Music Teacher

... a must for pianists... " —American Reference Book Annual

David Yeomans’s study is certainly to be recommended for all good music libraries, pianists and students of Bartók." —The Music Review

Although there are currently more than 15 books in print about composer Béla Bartók, this short volume is unique in its focus on his complete oeuvre for solo piano.... Recommended for pianists, piano teachers, and students from lower-division undergraduate level and above." —Choice

... the entire book is indispensable for any of us before we play another Bartók piece." —Clavier

This work collects in one place an enormous number of ‘facts’ about the piano music of Bartók... for planning concerts and student repertoire, and as a survey of an important body of 20th-century music, this listing is valuable." —Library Journal

This chronological listing of more than 400 pieces and movements presents in convenient form essential information about each of Bartók’s solo piano works, including its various editions, timing, level of difficulty, pertinent remarks by the composer, and bibliographical references to it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253213839
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 06/22/2000
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.49(d)

About the Author

David Yeomans is Associate Professor of Music at Texas Woman's University.

Read an Excerpt

Bartók for Piano

By David Yeomans

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 1988 David Yeomans
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-02821-1


Chronological Survey of Bartók's Solo Piano Works

Funeral March from Kossuth

Sz. 21 1903 Til MIO 4'


Included in:

Balógh, ed. Bartók. Selected Works for the Piano (Schrimer). BBPI, Series I.

Transcribed by Bartók from sections 9 and 10 of the original orchestral setting of the same name (Kossuth, Symphonic Poem for Orchestra, Sz. 21, 1903).


The piano arrangement by Bartók of this orchestral excerpt was made at a time in his career when he was transcribing and performing piano versions of orchestral works by other composers, most notably those of Richard Strauss (Ein Heldenleben, Also Sprach Zarathustra). The background of the present example is best expressed in Bartók's own program notes for the first performance of the orchestral work in 1904:

The leader [of the Hungarian revolution against the sovereignty of the Austrians and the Habsburg dynasty] was Louis Kossuth. As Austria saw, in 1849, that the war was going against her, she concluded an alliance with Russia. A crushing blow was inflicted upon the Hungarian Army, and the hope of an independent Hungarian kingdom was shattered — apparently for ever.

The "Funeral March," sections 9 and 10 of the orchestral version, reflects the tragedy of defeat: "All is finished. Hungary lies in deepest woe, in deepest mourning —" and "A hopeless silence reigns."


Lento — Adagio molto.

Key center A. Introduction followed by subject marked "Adagio molto," which undergoes intensive melodic and harmonic variation. Ostinato in double-dotted rhythms forms the rhythmic basis for the work, often combined with a rhythmic pattern in triplets. A series of indeterminate (non-metric) arpeggio figurations in the left hand before the coda. Pianist must be able to coordinate these characteristic rhythmic patterns while maintaining a steady metric pulse throughout. A strong stylistic kinship between this piece and Liszt's "Funérailles" from Harmonies poétiques et religieuses.

Four Piano Pieces

Sz. 22 1903 T10-14 M10-12 26' 50"


Available separately:

EMB, as Nigy Zongoradarab (No. 1 also published separately). K-BM (Nos. 1, 2-3, and 4 also published separately).

Included in:

K-BM, publ., Bartók. An Album for Piano Solo (No. 2). BBPI, Series I.

No. 4 transcribed by Bartók for piano and orchestra (Op. 2, Sz. 28, 19041905, EMB). Although the basic structure remains similar to the solo piano version, the arrangement includes an introductory "Adagio ma non troppo," which does not appear in the solo version.


This cycle, written at the end of Bartók's studies at the Academy of Music in Budapest, shows a marked affinity to the Romantic traditions of Liszt, Brahms, and Richard Strauss. Although the pieces are not representative of the mainstream of Bartók's mature compositional style, they are worthy of study and performance for insights into some of the nineteenth-century influences in his early compositional career. They are stunningly virtuosic, make use of an abundance of technical figurations, and display a bold and extroverted musical outlook. One or two pieces from the cycle could be studied and performed as alternatives to the more standard and better-known works of the nineteenth century.


No. 1. Study for the Left Hand (Tanulmány balkizre). Allegro. (8' 50") T13 M10

Key center B-flat. Sonata-rondo design, originally conceived as a movement in a large-scale piano sonata. Dedicated to Bartók's piano teacher at the Academy, István Thoman, but written under the stimulus of one Géza Zichy, a concert pianist who lost his right arm in a hunting accident but subsequently continued his concert career as a left-hand pianist. Sweeping arpeggio figurations and octave passages which run the gamut of the keyboard. Although relatively unknown, this piece could be a welcome addition to the select core of piano works for the left hand, notably those of Ravel, Prokofieff, and Scriabin.

No. 2. Fantasy I (I. Ábránd). Andante, quasi Adagio. (4' 50") T11 M10

Key center G. Dedicated to Emma Gruber, who married Zoltán Kodály in 1910 and who "at that time was one of the most inspiring personalities linking the traditional and modern periods in the musical life of Hungary." Free structure, elegiac mood, influence of Richard Strauss and Brahms. Much sweeping arpeggiation in the left hand, parallel chords and octaves, counter-rhythms. The second beat of m. 4 should obviously read B-natural.

No. 3. Fantasy H (II. Abránd). Andante. (4' 10") T10 M10

Key center A. Loosely constructed ABA form; extensive melodic variation of the opening motive throughout the piece, much like that found in the intermezzi of Brahms. Parallel intervals, mostly in thirds and octaves, abound. The indication "Ped. (prolongation) ... sempre ..." at m. 27 should be observed literally until the change of harmony at m. 31. The most compact and ingeniously constructed of the set, and probably the most worthy of serious study.

No. 4. Scherzo. Allegro vivace. (9') T14 M12

Key center E. Dedicated to Emö Dohnányi, a major influence on Bartók's early career and a well-known composer in his own right. Sonata-rondo form, one of Bartók's longest single-movement solo piano pieces, a precursor of the more mature and elaborate Rhapsody, Op. 1, Sz. 26, composed one year later. Note the metric discrepancies between the staves and non-coincident bar lines in the "Vivace molto" (beginning in m. 244) and the "Molto vivace" (beginning in m. 431); maintain the preceding meter as the primary metric unit in these passages (2/4 in the former, 3/8 in the latter). Scale passages, parallel thirds, parallel and interlocking octaves; a bravura, full-textured virtuoso piece reminiscent of the scherzo movements of early Brahms. Anyone who attempts this piece should be familiar with the version for piano and orchestra.


Op. 1, Sz. 26 1904 T15 M13 20' 45"


Available separately:


Included in:

BBPI, Series I.

Transcribed by Bartók for piano and orchestra (Op. 1, Sz. 27, 1904, EMB). Although the basic structure remains similar to the solo piano version, the arrangement includes an introductory "Adagio molto-Doppio movimento" of 41 measures.


The most significant of Bartók's post-Romantic piano works, the Rhapsody is the only piece from that period that the composer continued to include in his solo piano recitals. He entered the piano and orchestra setting in the competition for the Rubinstein Prize in 1905 — further testimony to its importance among his early works. It is referred to as "a bravura piece par excellence, ... the last echoes of the Franz Liszt-Anton Rubinstein technique." With the exception of the Elegies, Op. 8b, Sz. 41, the Rhapsody represents Bartók's last composition under the direct influence of the Romantic tradition. By this time Bartók had already turned his attention to peasant folk music, French Impressionism, and more concise and progressive compositional techniques, all of which served as strong musical stimuli during the rest of his creative life.



Key center D. Freely composed in two large sections, the first corresponding to the lassii (slow introductory fantasy), the second to the friss (fast energetic dance); both are the main components of the verbunkos, a recruiting dance of the Hungarian soldiers. The lassû ("Mesto") has a distinctly Lisztian flavor; it is held together by extensive melodic development of the opening theme in a highly improvisatory and ornamented manner. The following friss section (beginning in m. 118) starts "Tranquillo" and progresses through several tempo changes to the "Presto" (beginning in m. 431). It maintains a lively duplemeter dance character until the triumphant return (in m. 564) of the lassú theme, this time in D major, and finally subsides to the quiet and contemplative character of the opening. For the pianist of the highest virtuoso attainments; need for advanced technical equipment, the ability to hold together a large and heterogeneous structure, and a keen stylistic grasp of a variety of Gypsy musical temperaments. Enormous demands on octave, chord, arpeggio, and double-note technique; many awkward passages conceived orchestrally. In either setting, the work as a whole surpasses many of Liszt's Hungarian rhapsodies in difficulty and scope.

Three Hungarian Folksongs from the Csik District

Sz. 35a 1907 T4-6 M5-9 3' 10"


Available separately:

EMB, as Hdrom Csikmegyei Ndpdal K-BM

Included in:

EMB, publ., BartSk Bila. Album, Vol. II. K-BM, publ., Bartók. An Album for Piano Solo. BBPI, Series I.

Transcribed by Janos Szebenyi for flute and piano (1955); by Gyorgy Balassa for clarinet and piano (1955); by T. Szeszler for oboe and piano; and edited by Denijs Dille for recorder and piano.


These three miniatures represent the first adaptations by Bartók of Hungarian peasant folk music to the medium of solo piano. He describes their derivation as "unaltered (transcribed from phonograph record) peasant flute music, provided with accompaniment. ..." The melodies are highly ornamented and the accompaniments simple and chordal. The set can be effectively programmed as a companion to one of Bartók's folk-dance cycles or as a recital opener.


The folk texts are excerpted and paraphrased from the English translations in BBHU and BBPI (Series I); complete texts in the original language appear in BBHU, BBPI (Series I), and SODO.

No. 1. Rubato. (1' 25") T4 M9

Key center B; Dorian mode. A highly ornamented and rhythmically free melody over arpeggiated accompaniment. Notated trills and sliding figurations. A higljly developed sense of rhythmic flexibility required.

No. 2. L'istesso tempo. (1') T4 M9

When my little dove weeps, I also weep; Mother, let me marry this little maiden.

Key center F-sharp; Aeolian mode. Melody over accompaniment. A rubato section followed by one marked "scherzando, non rubato," although a certain degree of rubato is unavoidable in the latter. Poses the same interpretive difficulties as No. 1.

No. 3. Pocovivo. (45") T6 M5

In October, when the recruits join their regiments, I part from the birds and the trees, and also from the maidens of Csik.

If I climb the rocky mountains, I may find one, maybe two sweethearts; call me fickle if you wish, but she who loved me first will still find me faithful [melody and text of Eight Hungarian Folksongs, Sz. 64, No. 5, whose melody is similar to the present example].

Key center F-sharp; Aeolian mode. Staccato ("acuto") melody over arpeggiated accompaniment figures. A keen rhythmic sense needed, especially in view of the awkward and widely spaced left-hand arpeggiations.

Fourteen Bagatelles

Op. 6, Sz. 38 1908 T4-11 M4-11 24' 25"


Available separately:


EMB, as Tizennigy bagatell K-BM

Included in:

Balógh, ed. Bartik. Selected Works for the Piano (Schirmer).

Chapman, ed. Bila Bartik. A Highlight Collection of His Best-Loved Original Works (Maestro).

EMB, publ., Bartik Album, Vol. I (Nos. 2, 3, 5, 10, and 14); Vol. II (Nos. 1, 6, 8, and 11); Vol. m (Nos. 4, 7, 9, 12, and 13).

Kail, ed. Bila Bartik. His Greatest Piano Solos (Copa).

K-BM, publ., Bartik. An Album for Piano Solo.

BBPI, Series I.

Bartók's set of Instructions, prefacing most editions of the Bagatelles, offers guidelines for accidentals, pedaling, rests, and tempo indications applicable not only to the present example but to his piano music in general.


According to Bartók, this set represents "a new piano style ... [and] a reaction to the exuberance of the Romantic piano music of the nineteenth century; a style stripped of all unessential decorative elements, deliberately using only the most restricted technical means." In a 1945 lecture, he emphasized that each piece was of one, and only one, tonality and that labels such as "bitonality," "polytonality," or "atonality" did not apply to his music. The set is similar in nature to Ten Easy Pieces, Sz. 39, written in the same year, but is technically and interpretively more demanding. It contains the same variety of style and technique as its successor — some pieces based on folk material, some having an etude-like quality, and most being highly experimental and enigmatic. This set should be reserved for the pianist of high intellectual and imaginative capacity.


The folk texts are excerpted and paraphrased from the English translations in BBHU and BBPI (Series I); complete texts in the original languages appear in BBHU, BBPI (Series I), BBSL (Voi. II) and SODO.

No. 1. Molto sostenuto. (1' 20") T4 M7

Key center C. Two-and three-voice textures. Key signatures of four sharps in the top score and four flats in the bottom score, suggesting bitonality until one discovers the benign C-major cadence at the end. Bartók indicated that "this half-serious, half-jesting procedure was used to demonstrate the absurdity of key signatures in certain kinds of contemporary music." Requires an evasive "tongue-in-cheek" approach.

No. 2. Allegro giocoso. (1" 50") T9 M6

Key center D-flat. Repeated-note motive serving as ostinato in the outer sections and thematic material in the middle section. Good study in staccato and lightness. Some awkward passages involving interlocking hands. Five different accent types. Probably the most popular piece of the set.

No. 3. Andante. (45") T7 M6

Key center G. Chromatic ostinato figure in right hand over left-hand melody. The same awkwardness of interlocking hands as in No. 2. The right-hand part takes on the dimensions of a figural etude, while the left hand must sustain a legato line over long phrase lengths.

No. 4. Grave. (1' 10") T6 M4

I was a cowherd and 1 slept by my cows; I awoke in the night and not one beast was in its stall. [The translation in B&H has a different version of the same text and uses the word "kettle" (probably "cattle") in place of "beast."]

Key center D; Aeolian mode. Chordal textures of as many as eight voices, testing one's facility for tonal balance. The texture, or number of voices in a chord, generally fits the dynamic scheme (e.g., eight-voice chord for ff, to four-voice chord for p). Need for a quick chord rebound technique and sensitivity to extremes of dynamic change.

No. 5. Vivo. (1' 10") T11 M6

Hey! Before our door, the abandoned young lad, beautiful as a painting, plants a white rose.

Key center G; Dorian mode. Repeated chords of three and four voices over and under folk melody. Two variations and extended coda. Quick shifts in hand position to accommodate the chord changes and endurance in chord playing are absolute essentials. Some three against four counterrhythms.

No. 6. Lento. (I 35") T4 M7

Key center B. Melody over and under two-voice accompaniment; varied repeats. A study in legato and sustaining accompaniment without aid of pedal. Note offset phrasing in left hand, mm. 12-15. One of the more esoteric of the set.

No. 7. Allegretto molto capriccioso. (2') T9 M11

Key center D-sharp minor. Freely composed melody under accompaniment of rolled chords alternating with single notes. Frequent tempo changes, some gradual, some sudden, challenging one's sense of timing. The accompaniment is marked staccato throughout and must be maintained with a variety of touches in the left hand. Much awkward interlocking hand activity, which must be under control to convey the sense of abandon and frivolity.

No, 8. Andante sostenuto. (1' 45") T5 M8

Key center G. Plaintive chromatic melodies over grace-note anticipations. Tempo changes and some tricky legato manipulations requiring careful fingering. The mood is one of resigned despair.

No, 9. Allegretto grazioso. (1/ 40") T7 M8

Key center E-flat. Continuous melody divided in octaves between the hands. Some angular and tricky rhythmic combinations. Pay particular attention to the differing note values in the "Molto sostenuto" sections, which forecast the last measure ("Largo"), written in brevis notation. Pianist must be able to effect sudden contrasts in mood.

No. 10. Allegro. (2' 25") T11 M10

Key center C. A mélange of pianistic figurations, including quick chord changes, legato double-note voicing, dot and wedge staccatos, angular double-note left-hand accompaniment figures, wide leaps, and descending rolled chords. A frenzied atmosphere prevails, as in much of Prokofieff's music.


Excerpted from Bartók for Piano by David Yeomans. Copyright © 1988 David Yeomans. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Bartók as Pianist and Piano Teacher
Using the Survey

*Chronological Survey of Bartók's Solo Piano Works
Funderal March from Kossuth, Sz. 21
Four Piano Pieces, Sz. 22
Rhapsody, Op. 1, Sz. 22
Rhapsody, Op. 1, Sz. 26
Three Hungarian Foilsongs from Csik, Sz. 35a
fourteen Bagatelles, Op. 6, Sz. 29
Ten Easy Piano Pieces, Sz. 29
Two Elegies, op. 8b, Sz. 41
For Children (Volumes I and II), Sz. 42
Two Romanian Dances, Op. 8a, Sz. 43
Seven Sketches, Op. 9b, Sz. 44
Four Dirges, Op. 9a, Sz. 45
Two Pictures, Op. 12, Sz. 46
Three Burlesques, Op. 8c, Sz. 47
Allegro Barbaro, Sz. 49
Piano Method, Sz. 52
The First Term at the Piano, Sz. 53
Sonatina, Sz. 55
Romanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56
Romanian Christmas Songs (Series I and II), Sz. 57
Suite, Op. 14, Sz. 62
Three Hungarian Folk-tunes, Sz. 66
Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs, Sz. 71
Three Studies, Op. 18, Sz. 72
Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, Op. 20, Sz. 74
Dance Suite, Sz. 77
Sonata, Sz. 80
Out of Doors, Sz. 81
Nine Little Piano Pieces, Sz. 82
Three rondos on Folk Tunes, Sz. 84
Petite Suite, Sz. 105
Mikrokosmos (Volumes I-VI), Sz. 107

Appendix A: Solo Piano Works in Order of Difficulty
Appendix B: Publishers' Addresses
Appendix C: Editions and Transcriptions by Bartók of Keyboard Works by Other Composers
Appendix D: Critical Survey of Teaching Editions and Collections of Bartók's Piano Music

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews