Béla Bartók: Bluebeard’s Castle

  • Opera in 1 act (1911)
  • final version 1921
  • 4 3 3 4 - 4 4 4 1 - timp(2), perc(3), hp(2), cel, org, str - stage music: tpt(4), alto tbn(4)
  • Duration: 60’
  • Instrumentation details:
    1st flute
    2nd flute
    3rd flute
    4th flute
    1st oboe
    2nd oboe
    cor anglais
    1st clarinet in Bb (+cl(Eb), cl(A))
    2nd clarinet in Bb (+cl(Eb), cl(A))
    3rd clarinet in Bb (+cl(A), bass cl(A), bass cl(Bb))
    1st bassoon
    2nd bassoon
    3rd bassoon
    4th bassoon
    1st horn in F
    2nd horn in F
    3rd horn in F
    4th horn in F
    1st trumpet in Bb
    2nd trumpet in Bb
    3rd trumpet in Bb
    4th trumpet in Bb
    1st trombone
    2nd trombone
    3rd trombone
    4th trombone
    bass tuba
    timpani(2)
    percussion(3)
    1st harp
    2nd harp
    celesta
    organ
    1st trumpet in C
    2nd trumpet in C
    3rd trumpet in C
    4th trumpet in C
    1st alto trombone
    2nd alto trombone
    3rd alto trombone
    4th alto trombone
    violin I(16)
    violin II(16)
    viola(12)
    violoncello(8)
    double bass(8)
  • Roles: Herzog Blaubart, baritone Judith, mezzo-soprano Die früheren Frauen, silent Prolog, speaking part
  • Composer: Béla Bartók
  • Librettist: Béla Balázs
  • Miscellaneous: Michael Dimi Calvocoressi
  • Text source: based on the theatre fairytale "Ariane et Barbe-Bleue" (Maurice Maeterlinck)
  • Text adapter: Karl Heinz FüsslHelmut Wagner
  • Original language: Hungarian
  • Translator: Michael Dimi CalvocoressiChristopher HassallWilhelm Ziegler
  • Table of contents:
    Herzog Blaubarts Burg / Bluebeard’s Castle
  • Remarks: Distribution for the USA: Boosey & Hawkes, New York.

Work introduction

Béla Balázs actually intended the poem for Zoltán Kodály, but Béla Bartók had already read it in 1910, the year it was written. It left an indelible impression on him; the symbolic text gave him the opportunity to bring together in music almost all the problems, crises and doubts of his life so far.

Brought about by his readings of Nietzsche, Bartók felt at the time that he was living in a kind of limbo, hovering over the earth, detached from everyday life, a state which was compacting into fatal loneliness.

He submitted his one-act work to the Budapest opera competition in 1911 […]; the jury […] rejected it, declaring it was unplayable. The composer reworked it in 1912 (probably on the advice of Zoltán Kodály), and then again several times after that; the definitive design of the close cost him much effort […]

The first performance took place seven years after the initial version was finished, and not before the successful premiere of his second work for the stage, The Wooden Prince, in 1917.

The source of Balázs’ text, the Bluebeard legend, had existed in differing versions since the last decade of the 17th century in the European literature. Balázs himself called his poem a Mystery, declaring in the prologue that the scene of the events was the human soul; instead of a prologue, Bartók composed a four-part orchestral prelude reminiscent of a Hungarian folk song, to introduce the ballad-like atmosphere and to close the framework in the opera’s final bars. Within that frame, the work consists of a prelude and seven scenes; the symbolical setting, Duke Bluebeard’s castle, is actually the male soul, while the castle’s seven doors each correspond to a part of the psyche, a male particularity, a part of male life. The characters are likewise symbolic, the duke being Man and Judith Woman per se.

From © György Kroó, Bartók-Handbuch, Universal Edition, Vienna, 1974

Audiosamples

Bluebeard’s Castle
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The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

Next performances

World première

Location:
Budapest (HU)
Date:
24.05.1918
Conductor:
Egisto Tango

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