Bartók was in his mid-thirties when he composed the ballet "The Wooden Prince." (…) In Bartók's autobiographical sketch we are told that he had withdrawn completely from public musical life in 1912. On his way back to rediscover the fountainhead of music he had turned first to the peasants of his Hungarian homeland, to note down and record their songs and dances; later, he had extended his research trips to the neighbouring countries of Slovakia and Rumania. Had the war not broken out shortly after the "modest beginning" of an excursion to Arabia, he would surely have gone still further afield.
The outcome of this intensive research into the bases of music, which was decisive for Bartók's artistic growth and which pointed the way for a decisive evolutionary phase of European music, is already present in the music of "The Wooden Prince" in a high degree of creative sublimation. The share of folklore, especially Magyar folklore, in the work lies in the basic components: in the substance and constitution of the musical material - particularly characteristic are the many modal and pentatonic traits of the melodic writing - and in the specific elements of the subject. Form and content are a product of the imagination, an imagination, however, which is still on a tight rein and orientated towards traditional rules. The libretto by Balázs is on a rather different artistic level, but its mixture of naive fairy tale and nature mysticism, of morality and symbolism, does show related features, and it therefore must have corresponded closely to Bartók's intentions. (F.S.)