Bartok's Bluebeard

Topics: Tonality, Arnold Schoenberg, Atonality Pages: 425 (147139 words) Published: November 17, 2012
Principles of Pitch Organization in Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

1. According to Hungarian custom, the family name is followed, not preceded, by the baptismal name. This leads to a considerable amount of confusion in countries where the reverse custom prevails. In my study, the Western order is employed: Béla Bartók, rather than Bartók Béla, which is correct in Hungary. In citing titles of Bartók’s works, I often use only the English titles as they appear in the comprehensive “List of Compositions” in Béla Bartók: A Guide to Research (Antokoletz 1997 [1988]: 5–43), but sometimes present the Hungarian titles as well, especially for major works such as Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (A kékszakállú herceg vára – literally The Bluebearded Duke’s Castle). In my study, the opera is variously referred to as Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, Bluebeard’s Castle, or Bluebeard. Hungarian titles of scholarly publications are accompanied by English translations; those in French and German are given in the original languages. 2. Bartók gave opus numbers 1 to 21 to his early works. In 1898, he stopped assigning opus numbers to his compositions for six years. In 1904, with the Rhapsody for piano solo (Sz 26, BB 36a), Bartók began the numbering once again, giving opus numbers to compositions that he considered major works. In 1921, he assigned the opus number 21 to his Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 1 in C-sharp-minor (I. Szonáta hegedűre és zongorára) (Sz 75, BB 84), dedicated to Jelly Arányi (1893–1966), after which Bartók stopped using opus numbers for good. The Sz numbers refer to András Szőllősy’s (1956) catalogue of Bartók’s mature works, “Bibliographie des oeuvres musicales et écrits musicologiques de Béla Bartók,” in Bence Szabolcsi’s edition of Bartók, sa vie et son oeuvre. In Béla Bartók, József Ujfalussy (1971 [1970]: 400–430) revised that list with a few corrections. In Bartók kompozíciós módszere (Béla Bartók: Composition, Concepts and Autograph Sources), the Hungarian Bartók scholar, László Somfai (2000 [1996]) clarifies matters regarding active research into sources, and the methodology used in the complete edition (BB); see also, Somfai (1995).

2 — Principles of Pitch Organization in Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

mystery play (misztériumjáték)3 the action is reduced to a minimum, with (internal) character development being the central dramatic process. In Magyar színpad (The Hungarian Stage), Bartók remarks on his opera as follows: It may sound peculiar but I must admit that the failure of my one-act play, Bluebeard’s Castle, prompted me to write The Wooden Prince. It is common knowledge that this opera of mine failed at a competition; the greatest hindrance to its stage production is that the plot offers only the spiritual conflict of two persons, and the music is confined to the description of that circumstance in abstract simplicity. Nothing else happens on the stage. I am so fond of my opera that when I received the libretto [of The Wooden Prince] from Béla Balázs, my first idea was that the ballet – with its spectacular, picturesque, richly variegated actions – would make it possible to perform these works the same evening. I believe it is unnecessary to stress that the ballet is just as dear to me as my opera. (BBE 1976 [1917]: 406.)

Duke Bluebeard’s Castle was premiered on May 24, 1918, at the Magyar Királyi Operaház (Hungarian Royal Opera House) in Budapest. On that occasion, Bartók declared: I set the miracle play Duke Bluebeard’s Castle from March to September 1911. It was simultaneously my first stage [work] and my first vocal work. At that time conditions were not suitable for its performance, so that I showed it to count Miklós Bánffy, and to conductor Egisto Tango only after the performance of The Wooden Prince. I am most grateful to them for sparing neither trouble nor pains in producing such a first-rate performance. Olga Haselbeck and Oszkár Kálmán sang their parts so perfectly that the performance...
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