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Today I came across an odd symbol in Béla Bartók's Microkosmos.

The symbol occurs in Book 1, piece 32 "In Dorian Mode", bar 6. It looks like a dashed line that joins a note on the right hand staf and a later note on the left hand staff:

enter image description here

What it is and how am I supposed to play it ?

-- edit -- Note that both clefs are in trebble

  • @Richard I understand your concern regarding duplicate but I think this case is a bit special, see my answer below. – Lars Peter Schultz Sep 27 at 21:12
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Normally such a line would mean that the connected notes belongs to the same melodic line. Sometimes a melodic line changes hands because of technical reasons making it difficult to play the line in one hand, usually because other things are also supposed to be played with that hand. Then the marking indicates where the melodic line is continuing. But here it is a bit weird, because if the note F belongs to the melodic line in the right hand why is it then written in the left hand when at first glance it seems as if the F could easily be played by the right hand?

I have Mikrokosmos in front of me here, and there is no explanation in the book. But by using some logic I have a qualified guess:

In each hand there is only one hand position, 5 notes which fits one position. If the note F in the left hand was written in the right hand you would need to exceed your right hand position. By writing the F in the left hand you can keep both hands in their position. I can't find any other useful explanation than that. Note that Bartok in this work (Mikrokosmos) is very careful about hand positions.

Elaboration:

For those who don't understand the idea with hand positions here is an image. As you can see there is an indication showing which notes appear in each hand in this piece. Five notes for each hand which also indicates one position for each hand. In Mikrokosmos, Bartok is very careful about the hand positions, especially in volume 1 where the beginner's pieces are.

enter image description here

  • thanks that's a very clear explanation! – 9Gh0K2ySEu Sep 28 at 10:06
  • @9Gh0K2ySEu you are welcome. I have added an image in my post. – Lars Peter Schultz Sep 28 at 13:25
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I've only got Books IV to VI, so I only know from Lars Peter Schultz's answer that both clefs are treble.

Bartok undoubtedly wants a sense of the two voices uniting in a unison. Without the dotted line a pianist might play the A and then raise his hand, leaving the left to finish the piece. In doing so he might even shorten the duration of the A, as if the right hand's melody has been cut off or snatched away. Bartok doesn't want that. He wants both hands to complete their lines. If it were two voices or violins playing, they would unite on the final unison: the idea that one of them should break off early is absurd.

What I do (I don't know this particular piece, but I play a lot of Bartok) is to play the note with both thumbs, one on top of the other! Please try it! So you end up with one thumb holding the other down. This guarantees that you don't shorten the penultimate note. And it looks better! That really does matter. (I think I generally find my right thumb is on top of my left, but I've no idea why!)

  • If the F was supposed to be played with both hands it would be notated in both hands. There are other pieces where there is a unison written in both hands. But here you should not do it. That would violate the idea of keeping the right hand position in the place for 5 notes, see my answer. – Lars Peter Schultz Sep 28 at 9:44
  • Then it should be played as if by both hands. [I didn't understand that the position of the RH ruled out the last note.] It's a bit like Mahler telling the violins to mime the passage that went too low for them. – Old Brixtonian Sep 28 at 12:07
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    In order to understand what I mean with hand positions I have added an image in my answer, That should clear up what I am talking about. – Lars Peter Schultz Sep 28 at 13:27

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