Valuable piano schools for beginners: Béla Bartók's Mikrokosmos & Playing the Piano - My Most Beautiful Hobby

Béla Bartók's Microcosm

In addition to my work as a composer and bar pianist, I have been teaching piano to children, teenagers and adults for 28 years. Among the abundance of textbooks, the question always arises for beginners: Which piano school is the right one for me?
I can't and don't want to give an answer to that here, but today in this blog post I will deal with a very extraordinary piano school, Béla Bartók's Microcosm.

My latest releases, which will be released on 18 June and 2 July respectively, are this time dedicated to all learners. For all those who want to play the piano, I have recorded two particularly instructive piano schools as learning aids, which are now available for re-listening on Spotify & Co: Volume 1 of Bartók's Microcosm and Hans-Günther Heumann's introductory work Klavier spielen – mein schönstes Hobby (Playing the piano - my most beautiful hobby). Because reading music and hitting the right notes is not everything in the beginning - it is also important to develop an idea of the sound of the instrument.

What Bartók's Microcosm and what role, among other things, peasant music plays in this, is what this article is about.

Béla Bartók and the peasant music

Belá Bartók is today considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century. Born in 1881 in a small town in Romania, then Austria-Hungary, he first received piano lessons from his mother and later studied piano and composition in Budapest. He became known, among other things, for incorporating elements of folk music into the art of classical composition, thus creating a new style all his own.

At the age of 24, Bartók began systematically collecting and researching folk songs, or "peasant music" as he called it. To this end, he undertook numerous excursions to remote areas of Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and beyond. For peasant music had not been written down and until then had only been passed down orally. Together with his friend Zoltán Kodály, Bartók set out for remote villages and landscapes equipped with phonographs and wax rollers. During his travels he collected more than 9,000 melodies from different cultures, which he analysed and partly published.

"My real idea, however, is the fraternization of peoples, a fraternization despite all war and strife. I try to serve this idea in my music; that is why I do not withdraw from any influence, even if it comes from Slovak, Romanian, Arab or any other source.."
Béla Bartók, 1931

For Bartók, peasant music with its church and pentatonic keys also meant an emancipation from the major-minor tonality prevalent at the time and the possibility of creating a new modern music from it without resorting to twelve-tone music.

A microcosm for piano beginners

Bartók taught his son the piano at his request - and it was to this son that he dedicated the first issues of the Microcosm. Six volumes comprise the pedagogical work, which is arranged in increasing difficulty: from easy exercises for beginning lessons to virtuoso character pieces for advanced pianists. The short pieces of the Microcosm153 in all, were created over a period of 12 years, between 1925 and 1938.

In contrast to most piano schools the Microcosm to general theoretical or technical introductions. Thus it contains a varied mixture of preliminary exercises, short compositions, pieces for technical practice as well as musical phenomena and character pieces.

Each of the pieces has a specific, well thought-out task. The focused theme can often already be gathered from the title, e.g. dotted notes, syncopations,
Parallel movement, change of register, Dorian or Phrygian key. In the Microcosm Bartók deals with elementary compositional means, and there is even polyphony in the first volume. Especially in the use of church keys and sometimes unusual meters, clear influences of the peasant music of southeastern Europe can be heard. Bartók has thus created an exciting work of instruction that has lost none of its modernity to this day.

Playing the piano - my most beautiful hobby

by Hans-Günter Heumann, published by Schott Verlag

Admittedly, not everyone finds direct access to Bartók's piano school. It is and remains a matter of taste, of course. A valuable and tonally more conventional alternative is also offered by Hans-Günter Heumann's Beginners' School Playing the piano - my most beautiful hobby. This classic of German-language piano literature is aimed at young and adult beginners with varied exercises as well as pieces from classical and pop music (also beyond the classical beginner pieces in five-tone space!).

Learn piano with lessons

You would like to learn the piano? Also during the Corona pandemic I give piano lessons in my 36 sqm studio in Cologne - with distance and hygienic measures or online. I also produce music videos for listening, watching and learning. Have a look at my Teaching page or my Youtube channel over.

New releases in June & July

The recordings of Microcosm (Volume 1) and Playing the piano - my most beautiful hobby (Volume 1) will be released on 18.06. and 02.07.2021. You can listen to both releases on the big streaming platforms like AppleMusic, Deezer and Spotify.

  • both albums can be heard on the big streaming portals
  • Video New Releases June/July 2021
  • The piano sheet music has been published by Boosey & Hawks Verlag (Mikrokosmos) and Schott Verlag (Playing the piano - my most beautiful hobby)

Leave a Comment