Here's an excerpt from the piece Chromatic Invention from Bartok's Mikrokosmos, volume 3, page 39. I don't get why at the end of the lower line the bass clef indication is repeated. Is this "for security" like it's sometimes done with accidentals? But why do that here? This line is not ambiguous at all, is it?

Mikrokosmos excerpt

  • And why do the beams get carried across at beginning and end of the line shown? Phrase marks underlined?
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 9:28
  • I'm not sure I understand your second question but the answer to the first is that this line of music is surrounded by other lines in the original score.
    – user10960
    Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 9:43
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    I'm curious to know if this piece has a lot of change of clefs involved. If so, then perhaps inserting the bass clef again to show that there has been no change of clef would make sense. just a guess since I don't know the piece Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 13:18
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    Yeah, I think that clef is almost certainly a mistake, possibly the engraver saw the treble clef two systems above and forgot it had already been cancelled. It's also possible (more likely) that Bartok himself did that in the autograph sent to the engraver, and they just engraved whatever he sent them. In regards to @Tim's question, the beams indicate eighth-note groupings as always, it's just that these particular beams are being continued from the preceding line. Beams across barlines are quite common in Bartok's music. Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 13:44
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    The beaming here is used to indicate the motif that the piece is built from. See the analysis linked in my answer below. Commented Jun 1, 2014 at 14:00

3 Answers 3


There is an excellent motivic analysis of this piece by David Bennett Thomas.

For the question about beaming: This piece is built, like a Bach Invention, from the development of a single melodic motif. The beaming is used to make that motif clear, even when it gets rhythmically misaligned relative to the barlines, or split up by rests.

The bass clef is more puzzling. It doesn't seem necessary, and it may well be a typo, as others suggested. I note that it is not present in the analysis score that I linked above. However, its worth pointing out that this is the first time in the piece that the left hand goes that low in the bass, so it might be a friendly reminder that we aren't switching back to the treble clef again, and that the piece really does go that low. It's hard to say.

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    I think you're right - definitely for security. Personally, if I were reading this (especially if I were just playing left hand), I'd be somewhat likely to go to the treble E, rather than dropping a 12th.
    – Josiah
    Commented Mar 30, 2015 at 23:15
  • @Josiah that's an extremely unlikely reading in the context of the right hand part.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 4:37

I think the extra bass clef is a reminder. The last note before the crotchet (quarter note) rest is D (above middle C). It is the last note in a rising chromatic scale, the next note of which might conceivably be D# or E (above middle C). Therefore, the musician might be expecting the next note to be in the vicinity of E above middle C, not over an octave lower as marked. Their hand would be ready to play such a note, not a note over an octave lower.

The E above middle C is written on the bottom line of the stave in treble clef. The composer wants the G two octaves below middle C to be played, which is written on the bottom line of the bass clef. To avoid confusion, the composer has added the additional bass clef as a reminder.

  • Given that the right hand has the pitch a half step below the supposed E in the left hand, and given the contrary motion in the two parts, that confusion is extremely unlikely.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 12, 2020 at 4:39

One possible explanation for the extra bass clef is that Bartók might have originally notated the previous phrase in treble clef. An editor possibly changed that phrase to bass clef and forgot to remove the, now superfluous, bass clef.

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