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(c) Copyright Bartók Archives of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Institute for Musicology, 2004-2005 

 

Dichotomies

 
Title page of Bartók's Two Portraits for orchestra, op. 5, which pairs the first movement of the early Violin Concerto as “One Ideal” and the orchestration of the 14th Bagatelle for Piano as “One Distorted” (1907-1911)    

“Kodály and I wanted to make a synthesis of East and West … Because of our race, and because of the geographical position of our country, which is at once the extreme point of the East and the defensive bastion of the West, we felt this was a task we were well fitted to undertake. But it was your Debussy, whose music had just begun to reach us, who showed us the path we must follow. And that, in itself, was a curious phenomenon when one recalls that at that time so many French musicians were still held in thrall by the prestige of Wagner. ... Debussy’s great service to music was to reawaken among all musicians an awareness of harmony and its possibilities. In that, he was just as important as Beethoven, who revealed to us the meaning of progressive form, and as Bach, who showed us the transcendent significance of counterpoint. ... Now, what I am always asking myself is this: is it possible to make a synthesis of these three great masters, a living synthesis that will be valid for our own time?”

Serge Moreux, Béla Bartók (London, 1953), 92

 

On one of these days, as if receiving inspiration from above, I suddenly realized the indubitable necessity that your piece can only consist of 2 movements. 2 contradictory images: that’s all.

Bartók to Stefi Geyer about his early Violin Concerto written for her, December 21, 1907,
in Béla Bartók, Briefe an Stefi Geyer (Basel, 1979), 56, facs. 21

 
 

I began to compose the ballet even before the war, then I put it aside for a long time. I went through a lot of anxiety. Last season, István Strasser performed my symphonic work Two Portraits; it was the first time I heard the second part (“Caricature”) played by orchestra. That inspired me to go on with the score of the The Wooden Prince...

Bartók, “About The Wooden Prince” (1917), in Béla Bartók Essays, ed. Benjamin Suchoff (London, 1976), 406, revised

 

 

It may sound peculiar but I must admit that the preterition of my one-act opera 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 depiction of that circumstance in abstract simplicity. Nothing else happens on stage. I am so fond of my opera that when I received the libretto of the pantomime from Béla Balázs, my first idea was that the ballet—with its spectacular picturesque, richly variegated actions—would make it possible to perform these two works the same evening.

“About The Wooden Prince,” in Béla Bartók Essays, ed. Benjamin Suchoff (London, 1976), 406

 

  Dohnányi conducts Bartók's Two Portraits in the Carnegie Hall, October 21, 1925
 

    

Page 49 of the earliest known autograph manuscript of Bluebeard's Castle showing the setting of a passage inserted by the composer into Béla Balázs's original text (“Szép vagy, szép vagy,” i.e. “You're beautiful, beautiful” from the last section of the opera); reproduced by the kind permission of Universal Edition A. G.  

With the singers (Olga Haselbeck and Oszkár Kálmán) and the stage director (Dezső Zádor) of the Budapest première of Bluebeard's Castle, May 24, 1918                           Title page of Béla Balázs's “Mystery plays” containing the first edition of Duke Bluebeard's Castle

 

The constructive strength of the music [of Bluebeard’s Castle] asserts itself even better if we hear The Wooden Prince after it. This ballet balances the disconsolate adagio of the opera with a playful, animated allegro contrast. The two together merge into one, like two movements of a giant symphony.

Zoltán Kodály, “Béla Bartók’s First Opera” (1918), in The Selected Writings of Zoltán Kodály (Budapest, 1974), 85, slightly revised

 

  
   
  
     

  The end of Duke Bluebeard's Castle in the first edition showing Bartók's interpolation of the text “Szép vagy, szép vagy”

  
   

 
Title page of Béla Balázs's The Wooden Prince showing one of Count Miklós Bánffy's drawings made for the ballet
  
  
 

 
The reviews of Bluebeard were better then those of the Wooden Prince... However, this year’s greatest success for me was not this, but rather my success in entering into a long-term agreement with a first-rate publisher.

 

            As far back as January “Universal Edition” (Vienna) made me an acceptable offer. Now, after protracted negotiations, we have agreed on everything... This is of great significance because for approx. 6 years nothing of mine has appeared—thanks to our home publishers—and because a foreign publisher has perhaps never before approached an Hungarian musician with such an offer.

To Ioan Buşiţia, [June 6, 1918], in Bartók Letters. The Musical Mind,
ed. Malcolm Gillies and Andrienne Gombocz, unpublished

 

 

The castle of the Princess     The Fairy     The Princess     The Prince
 

 

 

 

 
  Emil Hertzka, director of the Vienna music publisher Universal Edition, writing his first letter to Bartók after the successful first performance of The Wooden Prince in Budapest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As regards the lecture, I should like to ask you (1) not to overemphasize the folkloristic aspect of my work; (2) to underline that I never use folk melodies in my stage works just as I never do in my other original compositions; (3) that my music is throughout tonal and (4) has nothing to do with the “objective” and “impersonal” tendency (so in the last analysis it is not “modern” at all!)  [.]

 

Bartók giving advice to conductor Ernst Latzko, December 16, 1924, German original
in Béla Bartók Briefe, ed. János Demény (Budapest, 1973), vol. 2, 50

 

 
   

  

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