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Bartók and the Piano: A Performer’s View  

by Barbara Nissman

More Reviews


"Barbara Nissman gets very close to the music and to the attentive reader- hers is very much the performer's viewpoint and Bartók is seen and heard throughout from the piano keyboard. This book is clearly the fruit of long and intensive study of the music but she has also steeped herself in Bartók's voluminous writings. Richly detailed...welcome features include a CD on which the author gives some spruce performances of 80 minutes of the music she discusses so eloquently." 





"[Nissman] offers the sort of insight that can only come from repeated performances of the music...Bartók and the Piano will undoubtedly find its main readership among pianists preparing this demanding but important repertoire for performance and teachers responsible for guiding students through it, but it also has much to offer to those interested more generally in Bartók.  It undoubtedly deserves to become the standard work on its subject."  





"An excellent addition to the pianist's library."





"Whether you are a pianist who performs and teaches Béla Bartok's music or simply a lover of piano music, you will find this book a valuable new resource. What makes this book such a treasure-trove are Nissman's insights into the music from a performer's point of view. This book would be an outstanding acquisition for music libraries and is worthy of inclusion in pianists' personal resource collections."   





"An admirable volume...It is heartwarming to see an accomplished, virtuoso performer such as Barbara Nissman equally at home in the scholarly activity of writing a book.  There is an engaging quality to her writing, at times refreshingly colloquial, that will certainly appeal to the proper audience- that is, to pianists in practice rooms around the world ."





"Bartók and the Piano is a well-researched edition by pianist Barbara Nissman who presents the composer's music in an engaging and informative style."  





"The book teems with music examples .The accompanying CD offers admirable performances by Nissman of 16 titles of interest to pianists at the learning and teaching levels."  





"It always lends a definitive veracity to a book when it is written by an internationally acclaimed concert pianist like Barbara Nissman who's been there, done it; moreso when it shows a keen analytic mind on matters of style, form and structure of Bartók's music. Barbara Nissman's credentials as a Bartók pianist are pedigree. She studied under Hungarian pianist György Sandor, himself a pupil of Bartók.  The books sub-title A Performers View, reveals its original purpose as a manual for pianists on how to tackle technical and interpretative aspects of Bartóks piano music. For that purpose the accompanying CD of excerpts played splendidly by Nissman herself is a crucial extra.  But what's in it for the music lover?  Plenty, provided you can read music, as Nissman's book has copious music examples. For a book covering all Bartók's works and life, my well thumbed Halsey Stevens classic The Life and Music of Béla Bartók is the one I keep returning to.  However Nissman's more specialised monograph delves deeper and more thoroughly into some of the piano works. Her coverage is wider and includes the unpublished Piano Sonata of 1898. Also her chapter 11 on Bartók the pianist includes all the piano recordings he made, much of it now restored to CD. This all makes Nissman's book a very different proposition to the Stevens one.  As a guide to the piano repertoire it's as thorough as one could hope for. Naturally it includes all solo piano works, and all the piano concertos including Bartók's transcription of his Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion into Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (I heard it performed here by the Kontarsky brothers with the NZSO. It works well). She even fits in little known arrangements such as his piano version of the orchestral Dance Suite. She has briefer notes on all chamber works with piano such as Contrasts and the two sonatas for violin and piano.  Rather than discussing works in strict chronological order, she offers a better semi-chronological alternative of grouping them into related chapters. That's in line with her approach which is not just about fingers, but embraces heart and intellect to guide pianists deeply into the core of each piece.  The Mikrokosmos works for instance, you'll find tucked into the chapter Bartók as Teacher. Most of his folk-inspired works are in Folk Music, thePerfect Union. That's the chapter I'd kick off with if teaching pianists. Nissman's thorough description of all those tiny key points such as modes, rhythmic patterns, meter, and intervals graphically show pianists and listeners Bartok's essentially East European dialect.  Then the next chapter Form and the Sonata shows how the microcosm of Bartók's language is synthesized into the macrocosm of West European form and counterpoint  that East-West fusion which makes him the greatest nationalist composer of all time. These sorts of insights reveal the quality of this ebulliently written book and its worth for pianists and music lovers alike." 


Ian Dando, New Zealand Listener. 



"Her imposing book on Bartók's piano music confirms  Barbara Nissman's communicative skills in words as at the keyboard (the book includes a CD to illustrate the text). There are insights on every page and it is notable for its practical perspective by a pianist who has studied and performed the whole corpus of this great composer's piano music. To sample it, look at the thorough analysis of Mikrokosmos, the teaching pieces begun for Bartók's son Peter, and often composed quickly during his lessons. We can all manage at least some pieces from the earlier books, designed to cover progressively the succession of musical and technical pianistic problems faced by the beginning student." 

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