Wooden Prince

Wooden Prince

The Wood-carved Prince


Béla Bartók composed his music for the dancing play Wood-carved Prince, to the libretto by Béla Balázs, during the years 1914–1916. It was first performed on 12 May 1917 at the Hungarian State Opera House, with Egisto Tango, conductor, to whom the work became dedicated. The printed full score was published in 1924, preceded by a piano reduction in 1921. Subsequently the composer produced at least two different concert suites of the work, neither of which were published during his lifetime.

In 1932 the composer devoted considerable attention to this work. He produced a long list of modifications, mainly cuts, in the complete score. He advised his publisher, Universal Edition (in a letter from July, 1932), that the work should only be performed in this shorter version in the future, as the modifications constituted an improvement to the overall work.

At the same time he prepared a second list of modifications, directions as to the preparation of a concert suite from the revised score. It prescribed the use of sections of the music in a specific sequence, and their modifications or additions in bridging some of the sections together, all to be done using the abridged version of the score described above.

The matter subsequently became somewhat more complicated. In his own copy of the printed score the composer marked every one of the cuts and modifications he directed the publisher to make in the score, but then wrote over some of the cuts: “marad” (= “remains” in Hungarian). These notations appear to revoke the corresponding cuts the publisher was previously directed to make, thus affecting both the complete revised stage version of the score, as well as the concert suite to be made from it. (A detailed analysis of this problem can be found in an article by György Kroó: “Két máig kiadatlan Bartók partitúra“A Fából faragott királyfi szvit változatainak története” (“Two hitherto unpublished Bartók scores — history of the Wood-carved Prince’s suite versions”), Magyar Zene, 1969/I.

For reasons not fully known, the publisher did not print either the revised complete score, or the suite directed to be made from it, as of the end of the 20th Century. Plenty of causes can be considered: the imminent political chaos, Germany’s occupation of Austria and consequent disruption of Universal Edition’s business, Béla Bartók’s last journey to the U. S. A., difficulties created by those in charge of Béla Bartók’s estate. In 1953 New York publisher Boosey & Hawkes, Inc., declared that there was no suite of the Wood-carved Prince, except a former complete score with cuts suggested by conductor Fritz Reiner. A score was eventually printed by Universal Edition, prepared by Denijs Dille, incorporating both the original score and its revisions in a hybrid volume (Philharmonia 393) that was very difficult to read. A suite was produced, making cuts with scissors or stroke of a pen, but without editorial treatment and not available in printed form; copies were placed in the publishers’ rental libraries.

Production of the revised edition

In the course of producing corrected printed editions of Béla Bartók’s works, preparation of the Wood-carved Prince began in Peter Bartók’s workshop in the year 2000. Both a revised complete score (for stage performances), as well as a suite, were intended to be produced. Only those of the composer’s cuts were executed which he did not revoke in his own copy of the original score. This choice was made on the principle that it was preferable to include music the composer apparently changed his mind about deleting, than to omit it on the basis of his first list of cuts. In assembling the remaining mosaic after the cuts were made, editorial discretion was allowed so as to eliminate junctures that did not fit together, such as an abrupt change in mid-phrase of a melodic line that appeared in octaves before a cut and continued as single voice afterwards.

In the concert suite, minor editorial modifications were necessary in a few places where, upon assembly of the material, it was found that some cuts left insufficient time for instrument changes, such as clarinet to bass clarinet played by the same musician. In one situation a part written for clarinet in E-flat would have had to be played on a clarinet in A, uncomfortably high for that instrument, and through editorial modification it was possible to eliminate this problem.

All the editorial modifications are explained in the notes added to the volumes. As of this writing only the concert suite is available in printed form; the revised complete score (for stage performance) is yet to be printed.

This Suite from the Wooden Prince was first performed by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop in October, 2008 at Lincoln Center, New York. As of this writing the complete stage work, revised edition, to the best of our knowledge has not been performed anywhere.


The study score of the Wooden Prince Suite came off the press in October, 2009; the complete stage version became available towards the end of 2010. Both may be purchased from music retailers in the United States of America, Japan and Europe. Where unobtainable through normal channels both study score are available through the Internet from Bartók Records and Publications. Orchestra parts and conductor’s scores for performances may be obtained for hire from the publisher Boosey & Hawkes Inc. in the United States of America, Universal Edition in Europe or elsewhere.


Homosassa, 2010 / 2011