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  • Print publication year: 2001
  • Online publication date: September 2011

4 - The stage works: portraits of loneliness

from Part II - Profiles of the music
Summary

Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter

oscar wilde, the portrait of dorian gray

There is a moment at the end of Duke Bluebeard's Castle that, perhaps more than any other moment in his stage works, seems emblematic of Béla Bartók's overall career as a stage composer. It occurs when Bluebeard is placing upon Judith the crown, mantle and jewels that are to be hers in the eternity of blackness that lies ahead. ‘Every night is yours now’, he intones with great solemnity, his words and actions eliciting subdued expressions of protest from the woman he openly admires as ‘beautiful, one hundred times beautiful’. The sombre F# minor theme then returns to conclude the opera. It was here, at this moment of great dramatic and symbolic significance, that Bartók, in late 1911 or early 1912, experimented by removing all Bluebeard's words in an attempt to find a more satisfactory conclusion, thereby rendering the character all but mute for the opera's final, puzzling minutes. Bluebeard, in this revised version of the ending, now sings only one line, ‘Now it will be night forever’, furnished to Bartók almost as an afterthought by the playwright Béla Balázs, who, separately, had also sensed that the closing needed further improvement. In place of the omitted lines Bluebeard simply gestures, placing the crown, mantle and jewels upon Judith without comment or explanation, as the orchestral music wells forth around them. Bartók's experiment has never been known to the public, for six years later he restored the deleted text, modified the ending further, and shaped the conclusion into the form in which we know it today.

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The Cambridge Companion to Bartók
  • Online ISBN: 9781139002219
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521660105
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