Endings & Beginnings, part II
I have long held the Mikrokosmos (especially vol. 5 & 6) in high regard, and I’m itching to perform some of these miniature piano exercises in a collaborative situation. They are witty and clever--mentally and technically. In "Alternating Thirds," for example, the pianist must master the trick of playing the entire piece, a mouvement perpétuel consisting solely of thirds, with only the second and fourth fingers. No cheating! Once one surmounts that technical feat, the joyfully obsessive qualities of the music become apparent. As with Debussy’s Mouvement, the pianist should have a lot of fun playing this dervish of a piece. The end of "Alternating Thirds" is reminiscent of the Debussy, too: the final seven measures scale their way up three octaves, fading away to pianissimo and slowing down by virtue of the best written out* ritard ever. Bartok, like Debussy, is not satisfied to fade away into the stratosphere and so punctuates the piece with that low E, a soft punch that clarifies the e phrygian tonality. (You weren’t fooled into thinking the little piece was in C, were you?) All of this--the final note, the two (four) digits hunting-and-pecking--makes me laugh.
"Alternating Thirds" is just one of the many Mikrokosmos that begs for choreography; the pieces are short, each one complete, yet they group together well, thus inviting an exchange of solo, small group or ensemble dancing. The dancers could have as much knowing fun as the pianist (live musical accompaniment--pick me pick me pick me) by mocking or poking fun at the "classical" way that each piece cadences. Just like in ballet class, definitive ending and beginning positions might mirror each other and punctuate the whole with playful irreverence. Some modern dancer is going to seize upon this idea and shake it all up--from ballet to folk to modern--and I can hardly wait. Wait--to begin? Or to end? Ah!
*A footnote for composers: some people can get away with poetic performance indications; others are better served by textbook techniques. I allow M. Satie to tell me to "continue without losing consciousness," or "slow down good-naturedly," but I prefer the rest of you to sort out your eighths and quarters, quarter note and half note triplets, more professionally, please.