Classical Music Forum banner
1 - 20 of 31 Posts

· Registered
Joined
·
6,418 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Masterpiece Theatre: Part Six - Bartók's The Miraculous Mandarin




Bartók composed the complete Miraculous Mandarin ballet in 1918 - 1919, orchestrated it in 1923, and called the first six sections as a suite in 1927. Ernö Dohnányi conducted this suite in Budapest on October 15, 1928. Incorporating both a grim modernist outlook and the folk influences that would come to the fore later in Bartók's is scored for large orchestra including triple winds, four percussionists, celesta, and piano. Designated a pantomime, it is of an unusual length for a stage presentation -- a long single act. But longer would have diluted both the visceral music and enthralling eroticism. Consider the plot:

Three ruffians hire brothel space and a girl, who stands in the window as bait; those who venture inside are robbed. The first to enter is an old, shabbily dressed cavalier; he is ejected when they discover him penniless. An impoverished young man is likewise thrown out. Then an apparition appears. In the score we read that "the Mandarin enters and remains motionless in the doorway; the girl flees terrified to the far part of the room. Urged by the [hidden] ruffians, she overcomes repugnance and begins to dance hesitantly, then faster. The Mandarin looks at her with a fixed, impassive stare. But when she sinks down to embrace him, he begins to tremble in feverish excitement. She shudders at his embrace and tries to tear herself from him. Briefly free, she runs but is stalked and finally caught. They struggle. The ruffians leap out...."

Here the suite ends (merely a section of the whole ballet, it is not a true suite). But the ballet proceeds: "The ruffians seize the Mandarin and strip him of his jewelry and money. They drag him to a bed and try to smother him with pillows and blankets. Then they stab him three times with a rusty sword. He staggers, but still tries to embrace the girl. They drag him to the center of the room and hang him from an overhead lamp-hook; it falls, and in the darkness the Mandarin's body begins to glow with a greenish light. At last the girl realizes what will save them. She embraces the Mandarin. His longing now stilled, his wounds begin to bleed, he weakens, and dies after a short struggle."

Bartók said, during a 1929 interview in London, that "people had [only] read the plot and decided it was objectionable. [The piece was not performed in Hungary until 1946.] From beginning to end the speed is almost breathless, and the effect accordingly is quite different from what had been imagined. The Mandarin is very much like an eastern fairy tale and contains nothing to which objection can be taken." (It wasn't reported whether his nose then grew six inches.)

A vertiginous first section depicts the city's streets and the girl's instructions. Each of her "decoy games" (so called in the score) is lured inside with clarinet arpeggios and ejected clamorously. A lewd trombone glissando characterizes the old man; a solo oboe the young man. The clarinet's third lure is more shrill, accompanied by a long orchestral tremor, interrupted by trombones, that ends in a shriek when the Mandarin stands in the doorway. After a sudden hush, he begins a slow waltz that accelerates until the orchestra shudders convulsively at his embrace of the girl.

She frees herself to whooping, pounding chords. A scurrying, Middle Eastern subject in the low strings gets hotly pursued by violins -- a fugue of scarifying intensity, twice interrupted when the Mandarin stumbles before he finally clutches the girl. This signals the ruffians' attack, and the crashing, crushing end of the concert suite.

[Article taken from All Music Guide]

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

One of my absolute favorite pieces of music of all-time. The Miraculous Mandarin is eerie, erotic and, at times, downright frightening, but, most importantly, it's a joy to hear. I often find myself grinning from ear-to-ear whenever I'm listening to it and this because it's such a ridiculous work (and I mean this is the best possible sense --- nothing negative). The plot makes zero sense to me, but, musically, it's all over the place.

What do you guys think of the work? Any favorite recordings? I suppose if I had to pick one recording, it would be Dohnányi's account on Decca with the Wiener Philharmoniker. I also adore Boulez's account with the New York Philharmonic on Columbia (Sony).

I like what Esa-Pekka Salonen had to say about it:

 

· Registered
Joined
·
12,857 Posts
It is an absolute and key masterpiece - key in the development of music in the early 20th century and key among Bartok's greatest works. I never tire of it. I have never seen the ballet but I know of few pieces of music that paint pictures (and pictures that fit the ballet's story) so effectively. I can almost see it in my minds eye.

Forget the suite: the whole thing is not so long (around 30 minutes) and there is no padding in it. The suite should be abolished! There are quite a few excellent recordings including from Dorati, Fischer, Boulez and Salonen (Philharmonia).
 

· Registered
Joined
·
6,418 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
It is an absolute and key masterpiece - key in the development of music in the early 20th century and key among Bartok's greatest works. I never tire of it. I have never seen the ballet but I know of few pieces of music that paint pictures (and pictures that fit the ballet's story) so effectively. I can almost see it in my minds eye.

Forget the suite: the whole thing is not so long (around 30 minutes) and there is no padding in it. The suite should be abolished! There are quite a few excellent recordings including from Dorati, Fischer, Boulez and Salonen (Philharmonia).
Yes, I agree about the suite. It's really unnecessary. The suite cuts 20 minutes of music from the complete ballet. It always irritates me when you have great conductors like Solti and Susanna Mälkki who are two great Bartók conductors and they just record the concert suite. I truly hope that Mälkki records the complete work at some point (I mean she did record The Wooden Prince in its entirety). Her ongoing Bartók series on BIS with the Helsinki Philharmonic has been excellent so far.

Have you heard the Dohnányi/Wiener Philharmoniker recording on Decca? If you haven't, then please do so! I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. Dohnányi couples it with an equally great performance of Stravinsky's Pétrouchka.

Edit 1 - Oh and another just superb Mandarin was from Dausgaard with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on Onyx. It smokes! It has all the necessary rawness and grit:



The cover art leaves much to be desired however, especially since this is a Russian painting (it's one those "isms" --- Constructivism, Suprematism et. al.).

Edit 2 - Another excellent performance that I forgot to mention is with Abbado and the LSO:

 

· Registered
Joined
·
12,857 Posts
Yes, I agree about the suite. It's really unnecessary. The suite cuts 20 minutes of music from the complete ballet. It always irritates me when you have great conductors like Solti and Susanna Mälkki who are two great Bartók conductors and they just record the concert suite. I truly hope that Mälkki records the complete work at some point (I mean she did record The Wooden Prince in its entirety). Her ongoing Bartók series on BIS with the Helsinki Philharmonic has been excellent so far.

Have you heard the Dohnányi/Wiener Philharmoniker recording on Decca? If you haven't, then please do so! I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. Dohnányi couples it with an equally great performance of Stravinsky's Pétrouchka.
Yes, those are the two I had in mind - Solti and Malkki. I did hear Dohnányi a couple of times. I would probably have bought it were it not that I really don't need another Petrushka.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
6,418 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
It's not a work that I like that much. I only seem to enjoy certain recordings of it.
I'm a Stravinsky junkie, so I love all periods of his musical development and, this may be my own personal bias rearing its ugly head, but he really could do no wrong. I've never heard a work from Stravinsky where I said "Man, that was terrible." Nope, this never has happened. A lot of listeners don't like his 12-tone period, but I love it. Anyway, like I said, he could do no wrong in my ears. ;)
 

· Registered
Joined
·
12,857 Posts
I'm a Stravinsky junkie, so I love all periods of his musical development and, this may be my own personal bias rearing its ugly head, but he really could do no wrong. I've never heard a work from Stravinsky where I said "Man, that was terrible." Nope, this never has happened. A lot of listeners don't like his 12-tone period, but I love it. Anyway, like I said, he could do no wrong in my ears. ;)
Yes, don't get me wrong. I enjoy the major pieces among his earlier works - The Rite, The Firebird and Petrushka (probably in that order) - and have more than ten recordings of each of those works so I obviously love them. But Stravinsky really became special for me when he started his neoclassicism. I certainly have no problem with his late (12 tone) music.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
6,418 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Yes, don't get me wrong. I enjoy the major pieces among his earlier works - The Rite, The Firebird and Petrushka (probably in that order) - and have more than ten recordings of each of those works so I obviously love them. But Stravinsky really became special for me when he started his neoclassicism. I certainly have no problem with his late (12 tone) music.
Yes! I believe this Neoclassical period is wrongly criticized by so many listeners. It's his most fruitful period in terms of timespan, but also in compositional output. I still haven't quite warmed up to The Rake's Progress, but I don't dislike the work and think there are several outstanding moments. Of course, this opera signaled the end of his Neoclassical period given its rather cool reception. If you ever get a chance watch this documentary, then please do:

 

· Registered
Joined
·
12,857 Posts
Yes! I believe this Neoclassical period is wrongly criticized by so many listeners. It's his most fruitful period in terms of timespan, but also in compositional output. I still haven't quite warmed up to The Rake's Progress, but I don't dislike the work and think there are several outstanding moments. Of course, this opera signaled the end of his Neoclassical period given its rather cool reception. If you ever get a chance watch this documentary, then please do:

I'll look out for that film. Have you listened to Stravinsky's own recording of The Rake's Progress? I think it a fine work.
 

· Registered
Wagner, Liszt, Mahler, Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Schönberg. And many more...
Joined
·
351 Posts
I share the enthusiasm for Bartók's Miraculous Mandarin, what a masterful work, absolutely overwhelming; very modern in its changing rhythms and dynamics, full of tensions, harmonic contrasts and ambitious explorations of timbres, very fiery and haunting at times, but anyway creating such a thrilling, impressive atmosphere that completely captures.
Boulez, Abbado, Fischer and Solti are my favourite recordings. I would have liked so much if Karajan had recorded more Bartók, but unfortunately it didn't happen.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
4,698 Posts
What do you guys think of the work? Any favorite recordings? I suppose if I had to pick one recording, it would be Dohnányi's account on Decca with the Wiener Philharmoniker. I also adore Boulez's account with the New York Philharmonic on Columbia (Sony).
Wonderful piece...another derivative of Stravinsky's "Le Sacre"....wild and erotic, violent, seductive...
My favorite is Martinon/Chicago - a really wild powerful affair...same can be said for Kertesz' version with CSO which is also outstanding...tough to choose between them...
 

· Registered
Joined
·
6,418 Posts
Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I'll look out for that film. Have you listened to Stravinsky's own recording of The Rake's Progress? I think it a fine work.
I have, indeed. I'll need to revisit, because it's been too long. Maybe over the Christmas holiday.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
6,418 Posts
Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Wonderful piece...another derivative of Stravinsky's "Le Sacre"....wild and erotic, violent, seductive...
My favorite is Martinon/Chicago - a really wild powerful affair...same can be said for Kertesz' version with CSO which is also outstanding...tough to choose between them...
The problem I have with the Martinon is it's not the complete ballet --- it's only the concert suite.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
17,995 Posts
A piece I should have listened to more often over the years. I'm not sure I have the best performances on CD? I have the Ivan Fischer on Philips, and the Solti on Decca which I believe is the suite. I've spent more time with the piano concertos, Concerto for Orchestra, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste, and the violin concertos. I also love the Cantata Profana.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
6,418 Posts
Discussion Starter · #16 ·
A piece I should have listened to more often over the years. I'm not sure I have the best performances on CD? I have the Ivan Fischer on Philips, and the Solti on Decca which I believe is the suite. I've spent more time with the piano concertos, Concerto for Orchestra, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste, and the violin concertos. I also love the Cantata Profana.
The Fischer recording is very fine, indeed. You should definitely revisit it and tell us what you think! And, yes, the Solti is only the concert suite.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
17,995 Posts
The Fischer recording is very fine, indeed. You should definitely revisit it and tell us what you think! And, yes, the Solti is only the concert suite.
I haven't listened to the Fischer for several years so I need to revisit soon!
 
  • Like
Reactions: Neo Romanza

· Registered
Joined
·
684 Posts
All the replies have convinced me to listen to this ballet! The first Bartók I ever listened to is his Romanian dances for orchestra because we just performed it with our youth orchestra and I really liked the piece. And my favourite recording of the Romanian dances also happens to be Fischer and on the same album is the miraculous mandarin so I will listen to that one
 

· Registered
Joined
·
6,418 Posts
Discussion Starter · #20 ·
But it's totally hair-raising!!....musical violence and seduction...Kertesz is very similar....the CSO low brasses go totally nuts....amazing playing....
Sure, I've heard (and own) this Martinon performance. It's very fine, indeed. I just prefer to listen to the complete ballet as the wordless chorus provides some unusually eerie atmosphere to this ballet. You don't get this with the suite.
 
1 - 20 of 31 Posts
Top