Personalities | Béla Bartók | Modern Era | Opera
Widely recognized as one of the twentieth century’s most important composers, Bartók was a complete original in terms of his musical language, creating a national style that merged folk melodies with the asymmetric patterns of Hungarian speech. His vocal lines, often punctuated by a heavy chordal style, are evident in Duke Bluebeard’s Castle, whose libretto by Béla Balázs is based on the Bluebeard legend of Maurice Maeterlinck’s play Ariane et Barbe-bleu.
Composed in 1911 and premiered in Budapest on 24 May 1918, this one-act opera with prologue was dedicated to Bartók’s first wife, and probably gave her ample food for thought about a husband who clearly identified with the central character’s feelings of loneliness and isolation. Bartók’s psychodrama unfolds with Bluebeard’s latest wife, Judith, accompanying him to his dark and ominous castle, where she unlocks seven doors that reveal the duke’s pain, suffering and worldly possessions. Musical motifs unite each of these segments – behind the fifth door is the glorious expanse of all of the duke’s land, heralded by a blazing C-major chord for full orchestra and organ. However, by the seventh door, having learned all of her husband’s darkest secrets, Judith is doomed to take her place alongside the other wives. Bartók remarried in 1923 and later relocated to New York, where he died in 1945.
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