Friday, January 9, 2009

Canons in the style of Bartok #1

As I promised, I'll be leaving the Fux for a little while (though it is difficult to ignore him when discussing any kind of counterpoint.). I think it might be interesting to leave Bach alone for a while, too, though I might make the same comment about him -- they both pervade our contrapuntal discourse...

I spent some time looking at canons in book 1 of Bartok's Mikrokosmos. For those who aren't familiar with it, Mikrokosmos is a six volume piano method / anthology of progressive pieces / compendium of Bartok's pianistic and compositional style etc. It is difficult to fully assess its importance. As you might guess by my description, there are compositions that range from the simplest five-finger position beginner pieces to concert repertoire that Bartok, himself performed.

It is a remarkable resource for Bartok's compositional style. Even the easiest pieces in book one are well-crafted gems with many of the stylistic features that you'd find in his large scale orchestral works.

Of course, here we'll focus on canons. There is a great deal of canonic influence and imitation of various kinds throughout these volumes. The first one actually called a canon is #28 (Vol.1) Kánon oktávában (Canon at the Octave). I won't violate copyright to reproduce it, but it's easily found in libraries and music stores. If you are serious about music, you should probably own it anyway!

A quick description of the Bartok piece: It is in the Phrygian mode in a five-finger position (this is a piano pedagogy term meaning that the fingers are set on five consecutive keys without shifting). The pitch material is E, F, G, A, B --right hand in the octave above middle C and left hand in the octave below. Most of the intervals are consonant (6ths, 10ths and 8ves). Dissonances are approached and left by step.

For today's canon, I've also written a five-finger position, modal canon. Mine is in the Lydian mode (F, G, A, B, C). The hands are space an octave apart. The dissonances are all approached and left by step. I tried to give tonal variety by having the focus move to G for the middle section and back to the tonic F again at the end.

Over the next few days, I'll look at other techniques of canon found in Bartok.

(click on image to enlarge)

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