Bela Bartok: Powers in the Land

Bela BartokI didn’t intend to write a separate post about the composer of Bluebeard’s Castle, but WordPress has its limitations. Among them the impossibility of adding to a the bottom of a post once it has an image or a video on it.

This is just for those who might be interested to know A bit about Bartok and his influences. Since folk music, folk tales an fairy tales have had such a profound influence on my Magical progression, I find Bartok’s inspiration in Hungarian and Bulgarian folk music runs along the same lines.

Folk Music as Magical Inspiration

Why? Folk music comes from the deep primal layers of the soul. I believe this very early music was a gift from the spirits of the land, that the  rhythms and melodies express the energies of a particular place in its natural state. As industrialization takes over, the links between human and Faery are cut. Music itself becomes more industrial, divorced from the rays, currents, and tides that make magic possible. Bartok, in seeking to unlock the old folk songs of Central Europe, perhaps came into contact with these long exiled spirits. They came to hm and inspired his only opera, Bluebeard’s Castle, about a souls in tormented isolation who seeks, through the mediation of his wives, to re-merge with the patterns and cycles of Nature.

For one with the Witchblood, this urge is so deep inside you, that one cannot help but identify with Bartok’s alienated Bluebeard, filled with the same longing to return to what once was before the ways and portals of Faery were broken by metal and machines.

Biography and Musical Influences

The piece below is just pulled form Wikipedia as I can’t say it any better. Look him up there for more details.

The native form of this personal name is Bartók Béla. This article uses the Western name order.

Béla Viktor János Bartók (Hungarian: IPA: [ˈbeːlɒ ˈbɒrtoːk]) (March 25, 1881–September 26, 1945) was a Hungarian composer and pianist, considered to be one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. Through his collection and analytical study of folk music, he was one of the founders of ethnomusicology.

In 1907, Bartók began teaching as a piano professor at the Royal Academy. This position freed him from touring Europe as a pianist and enabled him to stay in Hungary. Among his notable students were Fritz Reiner, Sir Georg Solti, György Sándor, Ernő Balogh, Lili Kraus, and, after Bartók moved to the United States, Jack Beeson and Violet Archer.

In 1908, inspired by both their own interest in folk music and by the contemporary resurgence of interest in traditional national culture, he and Kodály travelled into the countryside to collect and research old Magyar folk melodies. Their findings came as a surprise: Magyar folk music had previously been categorised as Gypsy music. The classic example of this misconception is Franz Liszt’s famous Hungarian Rhapsodies for piano, which were based on popular art-songs performed by Gypsy bands of the time. In contrast, the old Magyar folk melodies discovered by Bartók and Kodály bore little resemblance to the popular music performed by these Gypsy bands. Instead, they found that many of the folk-songs are based on pentatonic scales similar to those in Oriental folk traditions, such as those of Central Asia and Siberia.

Bartók and Kodály quickly set about incorporating elements of real Magyar peasant music into their compositions. Both Bartók and Kodály frequently quoted folk songs verbatim and wrote pieces derived entirely from authentic folk melodies. An example is his two volumes entitled For Children for solo piano containing 80 folk tunes to which he wrote accompaniment. Bartók’s style in his art music compositions was a synthesis of folk music, classicism, and modernism. His melodic and harmonic sense was profoundly influenced by the folk music of Hungary, Romania, and many other nations, and he was especially fond of the asymmetrical dance rhythms and pungent harmonies found in Bulgarian music. Most of his early compositions offer a blend of nationalist and late Romanticism elements.

Bluebeard’s Castle

Bartók wrote what was to be his only opera, Bluebeard’s Castle, dedicated to his wife Márta. This suggests to me that he may indeed have identified more than  a little with the inner struggle of his protagonist.

He entered it for a prize awarded by the Hungarian Fine Arts Commission, which rejected it out of hand as un-stageworthy. In 1917 Bartók revised the score in preparation for the 1918 première, for which he rewrote the ending. Following the 1919 revolution, he was pressured by the government to remove the name of the blacklisted librettist Béla Balázs (by then a refugee in Vienna) from the opera.

Bluebeard’s Castle received only one revival, in 1936, before Bartók emigrated. For the remainder of his life, although he was passionately devoted to Hungary, its people and its culture, he never felt much loyalty to its government or its official establishments.

Personal Note: The Golden Stair

I was fascinated with Bartok’s use of Central European folk music in composing Bluebeard’s Castle, as well the Ottoman inspired staging of the 2004 production I found on UTube.

My unpublished (but hopefully not for long) novel The Golden Stair is based on Rapunzel but form the Point of view of the Witch. It is Grimm’s fairy tale, but I set in 15th century Royal Hungary at the height of the Ottoman wars. A battle with the Turkish invaders is the turning point of the book.

This is perhaps why I have been so thrilled with this opera. Not just because I love fairy tales, but because Bartok drew on the same current that motivated my own creative project.

Kay Nielsen, Bluebeard

Kay Nielsen, Bluebeard

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