8 February 2011

Béla Bartók - The Miraculous Mandarin

Béla Bartók is my second favourite composer (I doubt I have to say who my favourite is :'D) for several reasons. He wrote the most beautiful music for violin ever written; concertos and sonatas and other pieces (Romanian Dances anyone?), he also wrote AMAZING piano music (3 beautiful concertos, the Mikrokosmos and another pieces like Allegro Barbaro (so badass)), and he wrote one of my favourite operas: Bluebeard's Castle. He also wrote one of the best ballet scores ever: The Miraculous Mandarin. It's this piece that I want to write about. Here's the ending, played by the Berlin Philharmonic:

Pretty exciting, eh? The actual piece is quite a bit longer, but because it's only a one-act ballet it's only about 30 minutes long. It's hardly ever performed as a ballet (apparently it's rather filthy :'D), but it is played quite regularely in concert halls. You can hear the entire piece here (it's worth it): Part I and Part II. It's quite different from the other works I've posted so far, in that it's messier, less melodic (though still melodic), less straightforward and not necessarily easy to listen to. It's basically just really spastic. But I absolutely love it, and hope you will too.

Béla Bartók (1881-1945) was a Hungarian composer, and quite a gifted pianist. A lot of his work contain folk themes, he travelled around quite a lot, collecting and arranging tons of folk music (this made him one of the founders of ethnomusicology). He lived in Budapest for most of his life, although he lived in Vienna for a while as well. And like many other European composers and musician, he fled to the US after the outbreak of WWII. He died in New York, a city he apparently never liked and only 10(!!) people attended his funeral.

If you really like this piece I recommend listening to Stravinsky's Firebird, Rite of Spring and Petrushka, but you don't need to go looking for those because I'll do a post on at least one of them next week.


  1. On your unrelated note: shiny pixels are unnecessary in a strict sense, but still might augment the experience for us graphically-aesthetic folk. For instance, I adore Mahler, but my most treasured memory related to him is not of any concert of his work that I've attended, but a painting of him that I saw once when I was living in Vienna. It hangs in the Belvedere, and shows him conducting an orchestra. No frantic search on the internet has yielded it, and now I am resigned to purchasing a ticket to Vienna on a good year, solely to see this painting.

    My point is that sometimes the pictures and paintings can quite influential and important. What is, for instance, Shostakovich's fourteenth symphony without a picture of him looking like he's lived through a hundred and fifty years of suffering? (And if you find this painting I've sought, and include it when you're writing an entry on Mahler, I will worship the ground beneath your feet, etc, for at least a week.)

    As for Bartók, his Miraculous Mandarin really flows. One of those instances when one can easily sense music as a stream, or a river, of tones. This aspect the mentioned Stravinsky's ballets may share. But there is something more to Bartok, a sort of a delightful perversion of proper tonality. A lyrical dissonance of the sort that censors loved to outlaw a little later in the USSR, and this is perhaps, of Stravinsky's ballets, comparable only to the Rite of the Spring, and not the Firebird or Petrushka. A quality which recalls rather something like Wozzeck by Alban Berg, though his music does not have Bartók's flow.

  2. I'll be on the lookout for that Mahler painting ;). I think I'll start posting images, I don't know if people are interested in knowing what the composers look like, but I don't think posting pictures can make the blog any worse, right?

    I agree with your point about the Stravinky ballets, Le Sacre is definitely much more like The Miraculous Mandarin when it comes to tonality and dissonance (pretty much why I love those pieces so much). But I always sort of figure that people who like The Miraculous Mandarin and Le Sacre will also like Petrushka and the Firebird because of the energy and the rhythms, all the pieces have some sort of... motor-like (I don't know what the right term is :/) element to them that's just wonderful.

  3. I really like this piece and the energy its carries.

    This short excerpt intrigued me quite a lot and I'll definitely go and listen to the youtube links you provided for the full piece.

    About your unrelated note: I quite like how the blog look, though adding a picture of the composer is a nice idea. It's nice to be able to put a visual to the person behind the music.