My second piano teacher, Earl Mlotek, introduced me to the Mikrokosmos
. He suggested it for sight-reading practice; Bela Bartok
is not predictable, as many other
composers are. I kept with them, and him, because I grew to enjoy the melodies in minor keys, the energetic, if occasionally uncountable rhythms, and the attention to detail.
I have in front of me Volumn 6. Fifty-six pages, it only cost $2.50 Canadian when my mother bought it for me. Even then, the cover still fell off. Its stitched back together with a single, red, thread.
I am looking at Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm, although I could be looking at any of his pieces. Time signatures are quite extrardinary: 4 + 2 + 3 over 8; 2 + 2 + 3 over 8; 5 over 8; 2 + 2 + 2 + 3 over 8; 3 + 2 + 3 over 8. And the tempo ranges from eighth note = 350, to whole note tied to eighth note = 40.
And , of course, there is Bartok’s penchant for indicating exactly how long the piece should take to be performed. Notation at the end of each one in square brackets, like 1 min. 40 sec.
I tell my students that Bartok has determined we cannot be trusted to execute the work faithfully without his detailed instructions: virtually evey note has some
instruction mark--and when they don’t, the absence itself becomes an indication.
But Bartok is not primarily known for his austerity, or grasp of notation. Even the speed of the performance of many of the pieces is not what remains. It is the beautiful, haunting melodies, the sonic landscapes he has transported from his home. If I can truly introduce my students to these places, I will have succeeded as their teacher.