Mikrokosmos was originally designed as a collection of pieces for the beginning pianist, but over time it took on grander proportions, comprising 153 individual pieces that spanned the range of technical difficulty. Dividing into six volumes, it begins with pieces for beginners and progresses to those that challenge even the most accomplished pianist.
In Bartók's own words, it "appears as a synthesis of all the musical and technical problems which were treated and in some case only partially solved in the previous piano works." Perhaps chief among these musical problems was Bartók's attempted synthesis of Eastern and Western European musical traditions, particularly Eastern folk music with the Germanic tradition (as represented by Bach and Beethoven) and with the progressive harmonies of Claude Debussy.
With Bartók's work recently entering the public domain in many countries, new publishers are clamoring to offer versions of the celebrated collection of pieces.