Bluebeard’s Castle, op. 11

Bluebeard’s Castle was composed in 1911, prompted by a competition for new operas announced by the Lipótváros Casino. The work written on a libretto by Béla Balázs was rejected by the competition jury. Bartók later (in 1912 and 1918, then again in 1921) changed the score. The premiere took place in Budapest in 1918, the conductor was Egisto Tango. “Recollections and presentiments make Bartók specially sensitive to Balázs’ one act drama for two characters. However, there was also another kind of external motivation. On the one hand, the text is clearly related to Wagner’s Lohengrin, an association touching on Bartók’s deep and indelible Wagner experiences. In more than just the musical sense heard in dozens of motives and sounds of the opera, this experience also involves the ideas and whole ideology of Wagner’s music dramas. Bartók (and Béla Balázs) inherited from Wagner the idea of love as a saving force. The prohibition motive in Balázs’ one-act piece is a direct reference to Lohengrin (Nie sollst du mich befragen – “You are going to see, but never ask, Whatever you see, never ask!”) as well as the pair of the chosen male and fallible female stands for the Wagnerian idea of the artist’s desire to descend from “the heights of spiritual life” to mix with ordinary people and the infeasibility of fulfilling that desire. The other great connection and inspiration in the field of genre once again takes us, through Balázs and in this case, Balázs’ source of inspiration, Maeterlinck to Debussy and his Pelléas and Mélisande (1902), or even more to Ariane et Barbe-bleue, a three act opera premiered in Paris in 1907. The ballad style tone, the symbolic language and dramaturgy, the absence of crowd scenes, the chamber stage, the visual effects of light and colour and, in general, the close alliance of music and image are all ties linking Bluebeard to the French stage of the early 20th century.” (György Kroó)