top of page

Analysis and Exercises on Quasi Adagio by Bela Bartok

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

Knowledge Skills

Béla Bartók is a Hungarian composer and Ethnomusicologist. This means his study and his music includes national folk songs from specific cultures.

Often considered to be one of the most important composers of the 20th century, Béla Bartók was born in what was now Romania and died in New York in 1945.

Learner Skills

This piece is quite slow with a melancholy melody that rises and falls in a dance like fashion. The requirement of a sense pulse and a good control of dynamics is perhaps a little more than that is habitually required usually for grade this standard.

Stylistic Skills

Quasi Adagio is based on an Hungarian folk melody. It is simple in nature and maintaining that simplistic skill is paramount.

The whimsical nature, almost thought like, climbing and falling must repeat without losing any clarity in tone or texture.

Sound Skills

The tone required for this piece is sweet yet confident. The pressure applied to each note should increase and decrease mimicking breathing, the lungs fill and release life-giving air. This reinforces the 'smorzando' towards and final echo in the bass as hope fades to nothingness.

Articulation Skills

The phrasing in this piece requires independence of hands. Effective phrasing with complimentary dynamics will enhance the slight indecisiveness that the harmonies imply.

Care must be taken not to cut the end of the phrases too short, it should be a gentle removal of sound, not a classical style crisp ending.

Technical Skills

The piece is in simple duple time with right hand phrases that break while the left hand phrase continues. This implied indecisiveness will require independence of hands that is a little in advance of the usual Grade one standard.

The subtleness of dynamic control also implies a greater ability that is usually found at this grade. The notes are simple and the speed appropriate for performance leaving plenty of scope for exploration of these techniques.

The final dynamic of 'smozando' should be observed and carefully practised.

Pedal Skills

There is no pedal requirement for this piece however a little pedal may enhance the depth of character in each two bar phrase. However over use will damage the delicate infrastructure of this piece.

The Una Corda pedal may be used at the end to draw the listener in to the 'smorzando' and lengthening 'decrescendo'.

Teaching Skills

Demonstration is essential with this piece. The phrase movement is difficult to describe but easy to demonstrate. Use the piece for the learner to develop listening skills and understanding by sound before attempting the notes. This way a learner is not pulled in to the thought that this is easy.

Practice Skills

Each phrase should be practised to ensure the texture is not lost in a 'piano' that is too quiet.

To enable an understanding of this concept I ask my learners to play each phrase at all six dynamic variations. This demonstrates to them that there is at least one dynamic below 'piano' before the gradient dynamics are added.

Performance Skills

This piece is exquisite when performed with subtle nuances of tone. The timing should feel natural with no sudden changes.

The listener should be aware of the rise and fall of dynamics emulating emotions of wandering thoughts as they pass through an unguarded mind.

Exam Skills

An accomplished learner will demonstrate the melancholy nature of this piece with the rise and fall of dynamics. Timing will be effortless and fluency apparent.

A satisfying performance will show the sombre nature and the rhythm will be secure. Dynamics will be apparent and a little character will be included.

On completion of the learning process an acceptable performance will contain the correct notes and show a burgeoning awareness of timbre and texture.


The parts of this study pack is available to purchase from


Chris Caton-Greasley LLCM(TD) MA (Mus)(Open)

Ethnographic Musicologist, Teacher, Researcher

bottom of page