Bartok’s Progress and the B’s

I have cracked the spine of one of my greatest challenges to date and seriously excited about getting my teeth into it over the next few months.

As part of a project focused on piano duo and two piano repertoire I will join colleagues from Leeds College of Music in a performance of Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. I am to play the Second Piano part. The experience of getting my head and hands around it is requiring focus, systematic work and (a lot of) patience. You should not try to run when balancing still proves to be a challenge!


March 2013 is (relatively) far off, but this work deserves the most focused attention. I am breaking it down in bite size sections and working intently on it. At this early stage of learning the notes I agonize over fingering. One can not afford to have any shadow of a doubt of which finger comes next and so slowly preparing the muscles I am putting the Bartók’s blue print in the palms of my hands.  Getting my hands around consecutive parallel fourths and fifths in one hand keeps me on my toes.

My preparation stretches of course beyond spending time at the piano. Even though the rhythms are tricky and unpredictable at times I am constantly reminding myself that there is a language buried here. Focusing on the fact that Bartók’s style is influenced by folk music is influencing my developing with the work and maintaining its natural spirit at the core of folk music. This should help in keeping a cool head in the learning process. I am tapping away on trains and catching myself humming the syncopated themes whilst buying groceries. When the performance date draws near I am sure that I shall probably be working on it in my dreams as well.

Solti’s Inspiration

I have been watching the DVD of the famous recording of the Sonata by George Solti, Murray Pariah, David Corkhill and Evelyn Glennie. It is fascinating to hear the artists’ take on the piece and also getting a glimpse of Solti’s directorship. A documentary on Bartók also gives more insight in the man behind this exciting and dramatic work. I find a certain inspiration too in the fact that Bartók himself premiered this work alongside his second wife Ditta Pasztory-Bartók and percussionists Saul Goodman and Henry Deneke.

The other B’s in my bonnet

The bookends to my Bartók is Beethoven and Bach. In November I will be performing the Beethoven Choral Fantasy for the second time this year. It is a work that I have come to love very much and to play a performance so soon after the last time is a highlight for me. Having worked on it earlier this year and now having the opportunity to get back to it means that I can see how I have progressed over the past few months, but at the same time I still have a hold on the music. The focus last time was on memorising it as I usually play with a score when working with others. This time I can delve even deeper in the work and get further behind the notes.

Talking about memorising – Bach’s f minor concerto, BWV 1056 is slowly making its way into my practise routine. Playing this work in South Africa in April next year I have plenty time to learn it. However, with his slightly different patterns, Bach is tricky to memorise and so the sooner I can get a grip on this, the better.

How brilliant isn’t it to be able to fill a day with such fabulous music, excellent challenges and then to be able to call it your job!


  1. Melanie Spanswick

    Great post Nico. Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion is such a wonderful work – you will have great fun with it. I have that Solti recording too – it’s very inspiring as you say.

  2. Alice HB

    An enticing blog! Took me back many, many years and reminded me of how I conditioned myself to ignore the bar lines. Not in this challenging composition, but other Bartok gems. Enjoy every note, every time signature and every performance in future.

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