Pattern Manipulation and Different Levels of Process
in Béla Bartók's "From the Diary of a Fly"
Mikrokosmos, vol. 6, no. 142


December 1, 1997

Table of Contents:


Of all the twentieth-century classical music I have studied thus far, I have liked the music of Béla Bartók the best—his rhythmic complexity, assymetrical patterns, and interesting formal structures are all fascinating to me and have had a profound influence on my ways of thinking about music. After listening to his Mikrokosmos, furthermore, a collection of 153 pieces for piano, I was especially drawn to the piece entitled, "From the Diary of a Fly," not only for its musical ideas but for its humor as well. Note right away the marking, "Ouch! a cobweb!," at m. 49, and the absence of bass cleff throughout the composition, lending the piece a very insect-like sonority.

After having listened to the piece with the score in front of me several times, then, I began to ask myself more specifically what contributed to my liking of the piece and to my liking of Bartók's style in general: what about the music itself—from the very smallest detail, all the way up to the movement of the piece as a whole—contributes to my interest in "From the Diary of a Fly" and in Bartók as a composer? Why do I like this stuff? What is Bartók doing that captures my attention so much? I came to several general observations.

First of all, the tension Bartók creates between the right and left hands, pitch-wise and rhythmically, works well to mimic the voice and motion of a fly! The chromatic tension always present between the two hands creates a very dissonant sound—as in the opening two measures of the piece, for example—which works well to create a sense of a fly's "buzzing." This dissonance, combined with quick, precise, and often unexpected motion, well portray a fly in motion: ostinati that don't repeat in exact form, along with unpredictable motion in and out of canonic material are two methods Bartók employs to create this precision and unexpectedness.

Also, the variation of ostinati and the use of canonic progression, as we will soon inspect more closely, are examples of patterns which Bartók manipulates. Further exmples will be explored that reveal this tendency within the piece to create models and then to distort them. This is a major aspect of the piece, and the aspect most responsible, I think, for my adoration of Bartók. A quick glance at the first page alone will reveal this concept at work: only five notes are present in either hand (G, A, B, C, and C in the right; F, G, A, B, and C in the left), giving a subsidiary role to pitch content and emphasizing the manipulation of patterns.

Thirdly, the formal structure is also interesting in the piece for its palindrome-like symmetry. In terms of register, the piece progresses from G4 up to B5 (mm. 43-48) and back down to G4 in the closing measures. Dynamics are also symmetrical, starting off in pp, getting louder (crescendo), and reaching a heavy accentuation (sff) and the loudest dynamic (f) (m. 59) before falling back down in volume (diminuendo) and finally reaching the original pp at m. 98. Symmetry is also created in the progression from single-note lines, to two-note intervals (mm. 42-48), to three-tone clusters (mm. 49-59), and back to single-note lines. All of these parameters work in conjunction, then, to build the piece towards a climax (the Agitato section of the piece) which then gradually releases itself of tension until resolving back down to the focal point of the piece (G4, m. 1 and m. 103).

As we will see, however, the symmetry of the formal structure is imperfect, just as ostinati are varied in repetition and other forms are manipulated within the piece. Overall, the formal structure of the piece is created through the realization of several smaller processes (e.g. canonic progression, climbing and falling patterns, speeding up and slowing down patterns, expanding the register, etc.)—similar, say, to how the human body is the result of several combining systems (e.g. the nervous system, the circulatory system, the endocrine system, etc.). In their restatements throughout the piece, however, these proecesses are manipulated and distorted, lending a certain asymmetrical quality to the piece as a whole. Thus, asymmetries present themselves within larger symmetries, creating a sense of complexity and dynamic motion within the piece.

In sum of my overview, then, what is most interesting in "From the Diary of a Fly" (and in Bartók's music in general), is the manipulation of patterns on many levels. His music is similar in effect, I believe, therefore, to the art of M. C. Escher (Fig. 1) in that both create interesting ideas from the combination and manipulation of simple variables: symmetry, inversion, transposition, augmentation, etc. I will now inspect more closely these combinations and manipulations at work within the Bartók piece.

Figure 1. M. C. Escher, "Bevrijding" ("Liberation"), lithograph, 1955, 43.5 x 20 cm.



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As I have already stated, the whole first page consists of only five notes in the right hand (G, A, B, C, C) and five notes in the left hand (F, G, A, B, C): it is not the pitches that create the interest here, therefore, but the manipulation of patterns that they create. For example, in measure one, we see that the opening G is outlined by the notes above and below it: G and A. Similarly, the A in measure two is outlined by the notes above and below it: A and G. We can recognize, furthermore, that the right hand in m. 2 imitates the left hand in m. 1, transposed up a chromatic tone. The left hand in m. 2, also, imitates the right hand in m. 1, but is transposed down a chromatic tone and inverted.

From measure to measure, then, each hand imitates the opposite hand of the previous measure, distorting it by transposition (the right hand is always a half-step transposition above the left) and inversion, employing, thus, a quasi-canonic approach. Each measure as a whole, then (considered with both hands), can be seen as flipped over in the next measure. I like to think of this mirroring and distortion technique as similar to the effect of a kaleidoscope on an image. We can see this most clearly in usage between m. 1 and m. 2, and between m. 3 and m. 4.

MM. 5-6 are especially interesting because we find the first example of rhythmically varied ostinati: the manipulation of patterns becomes more complicated than in the previous four measures because now we find not only the imitation, transposition, and inversion between the hands, but also the distortion of previously established material: i.e. the pitch content in these two measures is exactly the same as in the previous two (mm. 3-4), but the pitches are given different rhythmic interpretation. The motive in the right hand of mm. 3-4 (G, A, B, A) is broken up between the A and the B by giving the A a quarter note value tied to an eigth note in the following measure; the left hand is similarly treated. This technique, furthermore, increases the rate of imitation between the hands since the left hand always immediately imitates the right hand on the next eighth note that the the right hand does not occupy with a note, and the A—because it has been given a quarter note duration in m. 5—initiates the left hand on the last eighth note beat in m. 5.

This increasing rate of imitation is also the result of a process in mm. 1-6: a pattern can be found here that creates a sense of speeding up. Accents on the first beat of two measures in 3/4 meter are followed by accents on the first beat of two measures in 2/4 time. The five note motive in the right hand of m. 1 becomes a three note motive in m. 3; which, furthermore, becomes a two note motive in m. 5—following, thus, a fibonacci pattern (5 notes, 3 notes, 2 notes). Accents on the first beats of mm. 3 and 4, furthermore, are increased to accents on each beat of mm. 5 and 6. The combination of all these ideas—less beats per measure (time signature), less notes per measure, and more swiftly occurring accents—all create a sense of speeding up, or accelerando, in these first six measures. I like to think of it as the "fly" starting to take off.

Just as I have shown the material in mm. 5 and 6 to be a slight variation of mm. 3-4, furthermore, it can also be said that the motive in mm. 3-4 is tied to the material in mm. 1-2 in a very related way: in the right hand of m. 3, the back and forth motion between G and A found in m. 1 is varied in m. 3 by rising in one instance to the B instead of falling to the G.

In following, the material in mm. 7-8 is a further manipulation of previous material. Rather than proceed G, A, B, A, as in the right hand of mm. 3-4 and mm. 5-6, the right hand now begins a motive which proceeds inversely as B, A, G, A. The motive immediately repeats itself in m. 8, but m. 9 presents an eighth rest where the A had previously occurred: another example of varied ostinato. Following in the right hand of m. 9, we find the uninverted motive of m. 3 again (G, A, B), but the motive ends in climbing to the C rather than falling back down to the A. Remember, also, that the right hand in m. 3 was seen as a variation of the right hand in m. 1, which similarly ended by rising one note rather than falling.

Thus, we find that material is manipulated in a very on/off-up/down manner: patterns are varied by giving notes longer durations (more "on") as in the A of m. 5, by replacing notes with rests (turning notes "off") as in m. 9, or by going up a note where a previous pattern went down (as in the right hand of m. 3 and m. 10). The operation of the piece, therefore, can be said to behave in a very binary manner: from note to note, and measure to measure, the piece acts like a computer choosing the value of binary variables (or "flags")... invert motive: FALSE or TRUE (0 or 1); new note: FALSE or TRUE (0 or 1); play note: FALSE or TRUE (0 or 1); transpose note: FALSE or TRUE (0 or 1), etc. Thus, the unpredictable nature of these binary variables creates the aural sense of quick, precise, unexpected motion, characteristic of a fly.

Following the C in m. 10 we find the inverted motive reappear and end in m. 11 (B, A, G, A), the A here receiving many "new-note: FALSE" commands and thus holding for the measure.

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The imitative nature between the two hands ends at m. 7, and we move out of canonic material into a layered texture—i.e. the hands playing separate material at the same time. In the speeding-up process of the first six measures, previously described, the hands follow each other faster and faster until, now, they meet at measure 7, continuing simultaneously at this point to pursue their own directions. We have seen already how the right hand is a manipulation of previous patterns, and we shall see now how the left hand, too, though in its own way, pursues its direction based entirely on previous material:

Just as we saw in the first two measures how the one hand repetitively outlined the sustained note of the other hand with notes above and below it, we see here in m. 7 this two-handed idea condensed into the left hand alone: the sustained G is repetitively outlined by notes above and below it (F and A). Besides condensing the idea to one hand, the motive is further varied here in outlining the sustained note (G) with notes a whole-step away rather than only a half-step away. This left hand adaptation of the motive in mm. 1-2 makes sense, furthermore, since it maintains the chromatic tension between the left and right hands: the left hand plays natural keys (F, G, A, B, C), the right hand plays mostly flattened ones (G, A, B, C). This chromatic tension, as I have stated, creates the sense of the fly buzzing around. The left hand motive in mm. 7-10 can also be seen as a manipulation of the left hand pattern in mm. 1-2, where the G in the original G to A repetition is lowered (transpose note: TRUE) to an F. Either analysis equally validates the material in light of the previous material.

Canonic procession is reintroduced at m. 11, where the left hand pattern ending on the A in m. 12 is reproduced in the right hand, transposed—as in the first six measures—up a half-step. Here, however, the canon continues to climb by half-steps in the left hand of m. 13 and the right hand of m. 14. Imitation from one hand to the next similarly occurs on the following eighth note after each motve as in the first six measures of the piece. MM. 11-13, in contrast, do not portray inversion between the parts of the hands as in mm. 1-6; and besides transposition, the imitations are exact. Inversion does occur, however, between m. 13 and m. 14, where B, A, B can be seen to invert the pattern A, B, A in m. 13.

M. 15 ends this second canonic procession and enters again with a layered texture between the two hands, presenting as in mm. 7-10 manipulation of previous patterns and varying ostinati. In the right hand of mm. 15-20 we see transpositions and inversions of a motive based on ideas in the right hand of mm. 7-10. M. 15 is like m. 8, retrograded, inverted, and transposed up a whole-step. M. 16 can be found between the last notes of m. 7 and the first two notes of m. 8. M. 17 is the retrograde-inversion of m. 16, transposed down a whole step. The right hand in mm. 18-20 is exactly like that of mm. 15-17. This new ostinato, furthermore, is varied in mm. 21-23: in m. 21 the last note falls to G rather than rise again to the B, and m. 22 and m. 23 appear in reverse order from the pairing in the previous two appearances (mm. 15-17, mm. 17-20). MM. 24-25 introduce rests—"off" notes—into the variation, though the patterns are still recognizably related to the previous material: m. 24 looks like m. 23 without the last note; m. 25 looks like m. 21 without the first note. In a less specific sense, notes in the right hand of mm. 15-25 are moving stepwise between four notes (G, A, B, and C) in a very loosely structured way, approaching an almost random decision from note to note whether or not to rise or fall (transpose note: FALSE or TRUE => random function within note list {G, A, B, C}).

This right hand pattern is juxtaposed on top of a similar pattern in the left hand, moving instead in durations of quarter notes: an expansion of the right hand idea, transposed to the notes G, A, and B. We see the ostinato B, A, G, A created between mm. 14-17 and mm. 18-19. B replaces the G in m. 21, however, or we may view m. 21 as a repetition of the first half of the ostinato. M. 22 is like m. 21 except that the first note is "off." In m. 23, the B is back "on," and the ostinato appears to continue in m. 24, except that the last note of the ostinato (A) is transposed up to C. Or we may say that the ostinato was to start over at this point (B) but is transposed up a whole-step (C) (transpose note: TRUE). We can begin to see that the complexity of the material is becoming thus that the derivation of new material can be interpreted in many different ways, having many available origins and explanations, all having their foundation in the first two measures of the piece.

MM. 26-27, for example, return to the "kaleidoscope-like" figure in mm. 1-2, different only in that it appears now transposed a whole-step below the original statement. We find in m. 26, therefore, a return to the opening material. It is interesting to note, however, that after creating a process which climbs by half-steps in mm. 11-14, we sense now that the piece is suddenly starting over at a lower point. It feels to me that in the first page the fly takes off (mm. 1-6), ascends (mm. 11-14), darts around (mm. 15-25), and is now redeparting from a different surface, probably slightly lower in elevation (mm. 26- ).

MM. 26-29 are an exact transposition of mm. 1-4, including shifts in time signature and accentuation, except for the final note, which breaks the pattern by falling to a D rather than to an E. At this point, we encounter a return to 3/4 meter and the beginning of a new pattern (mm. 31-34). The last D in m. 29, furthermore, clues us in to the function of this new pattern since we know that it is a note below where it should be (i.e. an E, if we consider it part of a whole-step transposition down from m. 2). With this in mind, we can easily interpret what is happening in the rest of the left hand of mm. 30-34: the original motive of G, F, E in the left hand of m. 29 is being repeated, except for the last note, which is descending: E is replaced by D in m. 29, by C in m. 30, by B in m. 32, and by A in m. 33.

Other manipulations are obviously occuring here as well, in the left hand. The left hand in mm. 28-29 is condensed into one measure of 3/4 meter in m. 30. From mm. 31-34, in following, only the latter part of this ostinato appears (the three eighth notes). G, F, C in m. 30 is directly repeated in m. 31, but on a second repeat the C is turned "off"—we encounter an eighth rest in m. 32. Its next restatement directly following the rest in m. 32 exhibits the descending behavior previously noted, followed again by an occurrence with an "off" note—the B is replaced by an eighth rest in m. 33. The ostinato continues itself, falling finally on the last note to an A, without inhibition. Besides the descending notes, then, in the left hand between mm. 30-34, we find the motive in the left hand of mm. 28-29 condensed into one measure (m. 30), halved into only the three eighth note idea (mm. 31-34), interrupted by "off" notes (mm. 32-33), and finally repeated one after another (mm. 33-34): all of which support the sense of something that is speeding up. Speeding up, remember, was also the process of mm. 1-6 (the "taking off" of the fly), and thus, this new pattern (mm. 30-34) fits well after the restatement of the opening material (mm. 26-29), and derives its material directly from the notes of the previous two measures.

In the right hand of mm. 30-34, we find a similar manipulation as in the left hand, except that the transposed notes are climbing (m. 30: C, m. 32: D, m. 33: E). The motive is manipulating the right hand of m. 28, similarly condensing it into one measure (m. 30), and then focusing solely on the three eighth notes part of that motive (mm. 31-33). M. 31 begins the ostinato of the three eighth notes (F, G, C), and then the ostinato is varied in the last half of the measure with the reversal of the first two notes: F-G becomes G-F, i.e. is inverted. This inversion continues into m. 33, climbing in the last note to D, but returns to the uninverted version of the three note ostinato in the last half.

The last two notes of m. 33 are very clever, in my opinion, and are a departure from the right hand ostinato. Look again in the left hand in m. 33 where the eighth note was previously analyzed as an "off" note in the left hand ostinato G-F-B. What the right hand is doing in the last two notes of m. 33 is filling in the "off" note and continuing the left hand ostinato from that point: B-G!!! Where the two hands had departed from canonic material in m. 30, they here return in m. 33. M. 34 can also be seen in this light, where G and B are just an inversion of the right hand canon in m. 33. Then, we find a sudden return to the previous right hand ostinato where we had left off in the first three notes of m. 33: F, G, E—F being defined as an "off" note. In sum, while the left hand motive included descending notes, the right hand has notes that climb in mm. 30-34, creating a process, in the combination of the hands, which expands the register.

The presence of rests in the right hand of mm. 33-34 divides the motives into two note segments which leads very well into mm. 35-40, which continue this exercise. MM. 35-40 can also be seen to imitate the pattern established in mm. 5-6, including the return to 2/4 meter. This is especially interesting to note since mm. 26-29 have been shown to imitate mm. 1-4. Therefore, the opening material of the piece (mm. 1-6) is restated in mm. 26-29 and mm. 35-40, with an interluding process in mm. 30-34 that, furthermore, we have noted functions to speed up and expand in register. I propose that this extra interluding segment is "necessary" since the opening material (mm. 26-29) occurs at a whole step below the original statement (mm. 1-4): more is needed to lift the fly to its original height.

In any case, at m. 35 the rhythmic identity and canonic appraoch of mm. 5-6 are combined with the climbing half-steps of the material in mm. 11-14: the motive in the right hand—a leap of a minor 3rd—is transposed up a half step from the previous motive in the left hand from mm. 35-40, without inversion.

A new process begins at m. 41 that continues to include higher notes as in the climbing motive of the previous five measures, but also includes in each hand the idea of expanding register found in mm. 30-34! In m. 30 we find C as a high note in the right hand and C as a new low note: a registral interval of a major 7th, or, in reduced form, a minor 2nd: in the right hand of m. 42 we find an interval of a major 2nd; in the left hand of m. 43 we find a minor 2nd. Between the D and the B of m. 32 we find a registral interval of a minor 3rd (in reduced form): in m. 43 we find a minor 3rd in the right hand. The process in mm. 30-34 expands to a perfect fourth (B in m. 32, E in m. 33) and finally to a tritone separation (A in the left hand, E in the right). We find, also, in m. 44 a perfect 4th, in the left hand, and tritones in the intervals of the right hand from m. 44 and m. 48, and in the left hand of mm. 47-48 (A-E).

Thus, we have seen now two instances where two processes are combined into one in later material: mm. 35-40 combine the concepts from both mm. 5-6 and mm. 11-14; and mm. 41-48 combine material from both mm. 35-40 and mm. 30-35. A complicated web of pattern manipulation is indeed, thus, forming itself out of the combination of simple processes and variations: a "web," furthermore, which quite literally affects the fly—"Ouch! a cobweb!" notates the following section.

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Ouch! A Cobweb!

MM. 49-59, the Agitato section, contains similar material to the opening two measures of the piece: 3/4 meter, repetitive back and forth eighth note movement, and notes that envelope others—i.e. just as the G and A envelope G in m. 1, E, G, and A "envelope" F in the right hand, and B, C and E "envelope" D in the left hand. Both hands, with their own notes, are now playing the motive in unison, emphasizing a tendency that had been leaning, in earlier measures, towards polyphony for the first time in the piece. Rather than imitate one another, or pursuing their own directions (layered texture), the two hands are now joined in rhythm from mm. 45-49, creating a sense of climax, or "agitation"—similar in effect to the polyphony that is reached in Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" after the drawn-out ametric introduction.

This polyphony is short lived, however, and the ostinato of m. 49 is varied rhythmically without unison between the two hands, introducing previous concepts of "off" notes and notes that are extendedly "on." M. 51 calls back to m. 3 by shifting into 2/4 meter, but this is immediately changed back to 3/4 in the following measure, diminishing the 2/4 motive. Similar canonic influence to mm. 1-6 can be found between m. 50 and mm. 51-52, where the rhythmic identities of the hands are flipped from measure to measure. M. 54 presents a more independent variation between the hands, but returns immediately to canonic material in m. 55, where the pattern of eighth note to a dotted-quarter-value cluster of three tones is continually imitated through m. 56.

What is important to notice in m. 57 is the rate of accentuation, which now occurs at every beat in the 3/4 meter. This rate of accentuation has been speeding up since m. 49, calling back to the same process in mm. 1-6. The space between sf markings becomes less and less, occurring on every third beat between mm. 51-54, after two beats between m. 54 and m. 55, and then on every beat between mm. 55-58 (except for the last beat on m. 56).

The polyphony of m. 49 returns at m. 57, after the "off" note in the left hand, and canonic material is created again in m. 58 with the hands imitating the identity of three eighth notes alternating between a single pitch and a strongly accented three-tone cluster. It is interesting to note, also, that the canonic progression here, for the first time, has overlapping: the right hand comes in with the last note of the left hand motive (D) rather than occuring on the following eighth note value, and the left hand does the same, entering with the last note of the right hand motive (F). We can also view m. 57 as an overlapping canon, with the left hand imitating the right a beat after it has begun.

The left hand is also, of course, transposed down a minor 3rd from the right hand beginning on D rather than on an F as the right hand does on the last eighth note of m. 56. The three-note cluster in the right hand includes two chromatic tones above the F (F, G) and one chromatic tone below (E); the left hand three-note cluster includes two chromatic tones below its D (D, C) and one chromatic tone above (E): the imitation is, besides transposed, thus, also inverted, achieving further similarity to the first six measures of the piece, which I have described, for the same reasons, as possessing a certain "kaleidoscope" effect.

This kaleidoscope-like imaging is here further distorted in mm. 57-58, also, by an overlapping of the canon: the imitation is, in a sense, like the polyphony of mm. 47-49, but which has now become shifted out of phase, so that it appears in identity like something in between polyphony and canonic material!—another clever combination of previous patterns that derives a more complicated structure. It is similar in effect, I believe—this combination of patterns—to FM (frequency modulation) synthesis, which produces rich sounds through the combination of simple sinusoids. These combinations also work to create smooth transitions from one section in the piece to another; as, for example, moving from polyphony to phase shifting to canonic material.

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Starting with the second half of m. 59 up until m. 67, we encounter material identical in rhythmic identity to the climbing pattern analyzed in mm. 35-40. The function of the material here, however, is that of falling: perhaps the fly has detached itself from the "cobweb" and is now going to settle down and take greater caution in his flying escapades! As in mm. 35-40, the canon is not overlapping, and the second note of each hands' entry is a half-note transposition of the previous hand's second note—a half-note transposition down this time, however (F, F, E, E, D, C, etc.), as opposed to up.

Another difference is that the motives in mm. 35-40 had always leaped by a minor third (e.g. F-A in the right hand of m. 35), whereas in mm. 59-67, the leap down is never a minor third, nor does it leap uniformly. What we find, instead, is a pattern of leaps in the right hand alternating effectively between two leaps of a major 2nd and one leap of a perfect 5th. (The major 2nd, as in m. 59 and m. 65, may be spelled, however, enharmonically as a diminished minor third.) This pattern repeats itself three times between m. 59 and m. 67, acting as a sort of ostinato for intervallic content within the process of canonic descent!

The left hand also displays a similar intervallic ostinato, varying in only one instance—mm. 61-62 (E, C)—where the major 2nd (or diminished minor 3rd) identity of the ostinato is augmented to three occurrances rather than two before proceeding to the leap of a perfect 5th (F, B) in mm. 62-63. This variation, set against the ostinato in the right hand, sets up a pattern of two against three (two major 2nds in the right hand, vs. three major 2nds in the left) which shifts the ostinato out of phase, as previously remarked upon in mm. 57-58. All of this occurring within the canonic descent.

Such a pattern as the intervallic ostinato in mm. 60-67, I propose, is not immediately noticable without close inspection at the score—you hear that something is different, but the order behind it is not readily decoded. In the combination of many manipulation patterns, the structures inherent to the piece become more and more hidden from our perception as listeners. Yet the results are aurally pleasing, I also propose, because a sense of structural complexity implies itself: just as a kaleidoscope is very pleasing to look at, though you may not understand exactly how the image is being manipulated.

In following, just as the pattern in mm. 35-40 proceeded to a rhythmic identity of a half note in one hand and three eighth notes in the other, so does the pattern of mm. 59-67 proceed to this rhythmic identity in mm. 68-71. Content-wise, however, this pattern here takes on a function of ascent; in fact, all of mm. 68-75 create an interlude of ascent. Juxtaposed to the descending pattern of mm. 59-67, we can really perceive the fly buzzing itself around.

From the D in the left hand of m. 68, the right hand ascends chromatically to the E in m. 69. The right hand is then imitated by the left hand in m. 69, rising instead higher than the E to the F. M. 70 repeats the three eighth note identity of the previous two measures, starting on the next highest note in the sequence (D). This then rises to F. M. 71 repeats the process of m. 70, starting at the next highest note in the three note sequence (D) and rising to G, a half-step above the previous goal (F). M. 72 starts its ascent, then, at the next highest note in the sequence of the left hand in m. 71 (D), but continues climbing in m. 73 to an A, extending the three note identity to a five note identity. This five note identity repeats itself in the right hand—ending the effect of canon—starting, again, at the next highest note (F) in the previously stated chromatic sequence. This ostinato continues itself through m. 75.

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It is structurally interesting to consider that after climbing in mm. 11-14, the piece fell as previously analyzed below its original statement (m. 1) at m. 26, presenting a brief interlude of contrast before continuing to climb to a climax in mm. 35-44. Here, in mm. 68-75, we again find a brief interlude of contrast: within a motion of descent following the climax (mm. 49-59) is a process of ascension carrying us back up to roughly the same level that had started the piece (m. 1)—notice the sustained G in the left hand of mm. 72-87. The rest of the piece following the ascension in mm. 68-75 occurs at roughly the same pitch area as mm. 1-10. We can begin to see, therefore, the palindromic symmetry to the formal structure of the piece. Palindromic form is further evident in readily visible ways: on the last page we return to the idea on the first page of separating flattened notes in the right hand from natural notes in the left hand.

MM. 76-87 present a section that combines a new pattern of arpeggiation with the concept of ostinatos that are out of phase similar to that analyzed in mm. 57-58 and the unmatched intervallic ostinati between the right and left hands of mm. 60-67. Here, we are not presented with an overlapping canon as in mm. 57-58, however. Rather, we find unmatched ostinati between the hands: the right hand ostinato repeats itself after eight eighth notes, whereas the left hand ostinato repeats itself only after six. This can be seen between mm. 76 and 78, where the right hand does not return to the A in the first note of m. 76 until the first note of m. 78, whereas the first G in the left hand of m. 76 repeats itself again by the second to last note of m. 77. In this way, Bartók is pitting 2/4 meter against 3/4 meter—the two meters present in the piece—to create phase shifting between the unvaried ostinati of the right and left hands. This pattern carries itself for twelve measures (mm. 76-83), repeating itself in entirety at the sixth measure (m. 82) where the right hand has completed three cycles of its ostinato and the left hand has completed four cycles.

After this interlude of phase-shifting arpeggiation between the hands, we come to a familiar pattern at m. 88: quarter notes pitted against eighth notes, as in mm. 14-25. Here, however, in mm. 88-97, the motive of mm. 14-25 is inverted: the right hand is playing quarter notes rather than the left. The same effect is employed by both hands, however, in that they are each moving stepwise between a set of notes (A, B, G in the right hand; F, G, A, G in the left), and the same analysis of mm. 14-25 also applies itself here.

In the left hand of m. 98, we see a return to the opening pitch of the piece (G) sustained for six measures to finish out the piece alone in m. 103. The piece can be said, then, to have a focal pitch (note: not a "key") since it both begins and ends on G. In the right hand of mm. 98-102, we find the same pitches as in the right hand of mm. 1-6 (G, A, B), stating, again, a return to the opening material. The G and A of mm. 98-100, furthermore, have the same enveloping function as in the first measure of the piece: G and A are the half-notes above and below the left hand's sustained G. The last motive of the right hand, in m. 102, contains also the B in m. 3. The A and G of m. 102, furthermore, are an inverse of the previous two enveloping identities of mm. 98-100. The right hand in m. 102 also calls back to the three-tone clusters of mm. 49-59, since it combines at one time A, B and the G of the sustaining left hand. The rhythmic identity of the right hand in mm. 98-102, furthermore, relates back to the climbing section of mm. 35-40 and to the descending section of mm. 60-67, combining now in one hand the sustained note of one hand followed by an eighth note in the other.

There is also a process of slowing down in these last six measures, which is opposite to the speeding up process of mm. 1-6 and in other sections of the piece (mm. 26-35). The motives in the right hand become further spaced apart, creating a sense of ritardando: before the right hand in mm. 98-99 is one and a half beats; before the right hand in m. 100 is two beats of rest; before the last motive in the right hand of m. 102 is two and a half beats of rest; and ending the piece in the right hand is three beats of rest. The process adds one more eighth rest between right hand motives from one and a half beats all the way to three beats of empty space, creating a sense of ritardando which smoothly ends the piece. After buzzing every which way and braving cobwebs, the fly now comes to a final rest. Maybe exhaustion. Maybe sleep (do flies sleep?). Perhaps the fly's diary even ends in death.


Thus, a sketch of the movement of the entire piece, accounting for processes that climb and descend relative to the opening pitch material, would look something like this:

Figure 2. Graphical representation of Bartók's "From the Diary of a Fly".

With slight distortion, the structure is symmetrical about the y axis, suggesting an imperfect palindrome: distorted, again, in a sense somewhat like a kaleidoscope. Just as patterns within the piece have rarely been restated without manipulation, so too the formal structure of the piece shows repetition with distortion. From the content of motives within the piece (varied ostinato and binary variations), to comparisons of sections in the piece with similar functions but varied implementations (e.g. mm. 1-6 and mm. 26-30), to an analysis of the piece as a whole, then, we find the concept of pattern manipulation: all things are tied in some way to everything else around them, from the smallest perception to a more holistic vantage point.

I think this grasps at the essence of the piece and is why Bartók labels it a Mikrokosmo (microcosm): "From the Diary of a Fly" is a universe within itself, a "little world." Each part contains the meaning of the whole and yet portrays its own unique expression of that meaning; just as we, for example, are all members of the human race, and are yet, at the same time, each unique individuals: we are all, in a sense, pattern manipulations on human foundations—slightly different images within the same kaleidoscope.

Figure 3. Kaleidoscopic image.

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©1997, john a. maurer iv