Bluebeard’s Castle

Bluebeard’s Castle

English translation

The corrected edition of Bluebeard’s Castle, that came off the press in 2007, differs from the edition marketed prior to 2007. There are subtle differences in the musical part, that was the result of some five years of research and all the errors that could be determined in the prior version were corrected to the extent humanly possible. The corrections cover two areas: musical score and vocal text, each presenting different problems. While the determination of errors was complicated by the finding that all manuscripts differed from each other in some respects, the end result is nevertheless all based on Béla Bartók’s writing. The resolution of ambiguities is taken up in the Notes at the end of the volume. The vocal text presented an entirely different set of problems, to be discussed here.

I. History
In the manuscript stage the opera was equipped with the original Hungarian libretto as well as a German translation. The latter was prepared by Wilhelm Ziegler, believed to be a relative of Márta Ziegler, who was then Mrs. Béla Bartók. The first edition of the work was published by Universal Edition in 1921 with these two texts, as a vocal-piano score only. A full score, bearing the copyright date 1925, was printed in a limited edition.

The publisher printed a pocket score in 1963, with a “revised” German text and an English translation replacing the Hungarian text. The new English text departs in meaning from the original Hungarian to a considerable extent. The greatest departure, details to be discussed later, is found in the Bard’s Prologue: instead of the original poem of 28 lines (in five stanzas, the last one augmented), the translation is extended to 40 lines (not separated into stanzas). By coincidence, the revised German text also has 40 lines. The Bard’s Prologue, as originally written, is an essential part of the opera; with the changed text it no longer serves its original purpose. It is not known what led the publisher to make these changes or, on what authority; it is unacceptable.

For this reason the English translation is replaced in the current (“2005″) edition — not only the Bard’s Prologue, but the balance of the opera text, as it had too many errors and undesirable features. The following is an answer to the many requests for an explanation.


II. The English translation by Christopher Hassall
The sung text
While the prologue had to be replaced in its entirety, the sung text could have been retained with only errors corrected. Nevertheless, there seemed no justification for this, when the opportunity presented itself to rewrite the entire text in a manner that is believed to follow more closely the Hungarian original in contents and style. Some sentences, phrases or words remain the same as those used by Hassall; for instance, the Hungarian “Kékszakállú” could hardly be translated into anything else but “Bluebeard”.

In general, the Shakespearian English (art thou fearful of thy shadow) is abandoned. There is no indication in the original text that the use of an old style would be required: the Hungarian is modern throughout, its introduction in the English text appears to be affectatious and unwarranted. The objective of a translation is to make the sung text understandable; it is a conversation between two people that should be followed by the audience, just as in the Hungarian original.

The author’s use of repeats in the text are retained in the new translation. It is believed beyond doubt that, when Balázs repeated a phrase several times, it was not the result of his inability to find a variety of expressions for similar purpose, but to stress a certain idea by deliberate repeats. The introduction of departures from the original text just for the sake of eliminating such repetitions is, therefore, avoided.

In some instances the translator’s English text is not correct, using words that are not the equivalent of the Hungarian. Examples will follow.

Rhythm of the vocal lines: it is possible to modify the musical rhythm to suit a language that differs in character from what the music was originally written for. However, if a rhythmic equivalent can be found, there seems no purpose in modifying the original rhythm just for its own sake. At the same time, if a rhythmic modification makes the text simpler, to the point, and does not conflict with the musical part otherwise, it is believed desirable. The addition of an unnecessary word, just to provide one more syllable, is avoided if possible.

We have Béla Bartók’s own objection to the breaking up of text lines so that an unaccented continuation of a word would fall on a musical downbeat. Even though we find one such instance in the original Hungarian text, its occurrence elsewhere was avoided in the English translation.
The following examples are intended to illustrate the above points and should not be regarded as a list of all the details in Mr. Hassall’s translation that are criticized and were corrected in the new edition. References are to rehearsal number and bar in the score.

[2]+5: Original Hungarian text: “Megérkeztünk”, (literally: “We have arrived”). The text is four syllables, but can be modified without conflicting with the current rhythm of the music. The Hassall translation: “Here we are now”; the “now” is an unnecessary addition just for the sake of retaining the four syllables.

[2]+7: “Ime lássad: ez a | Kékszakállú vára.” (See here, this is | Bluebeard’s castle.) The Hassall translation has: “Now at last you see be – | fore you Bluebeard’s Castle”. The words “at last” are unnecessary additions. The word “before” is broken as shown; so “– fore” falls on the beginning of a six-syllable section of text; undesirable and can be avoided.

[2]+13: “Judit, jössz-e még utánam?” (Judith, are you still following me?) Hassall: “Judith, answer: are you coming?” The word “answer” is unnecessary, just provides two syllables. The question “are you coming?” misses the idea of “still” following; that is, Judith has started to follow Bluebeard into the castle, but is she continuing to do so?

[4]+6: “Megállsz, Judit? Mennél vissza?” (You stopped, Judith. Would you rather return?). Hassall’s text, “Dearest Judith, are you frightened?” misses the point. According to Balázs, Bluebeard notices Judith having stopped or hesitated, and inquires if she would prefer to go back home. There is no question about Judith being frightened; it will come up in due time. Judith having stopped, and the question about her preference to go back home, are not in the Hassall translation.

[11]+9: “Úgy-e Judit jobb volna most völegényed kastélyában…” (Would it not be better now, Judith, to be in the mansion of your betrothed…) Here Bluebeard suggests that Judith may be more comfortable in the large country house (not another castle) with the man she was planning to marry and abandoned in favor of Bluebeard. Hassall substitutes her father for her betrothed, and refers to his castle being gay, as if that was all that mattered. Balázs’s text does not place the man who expected to marry Judith in a castle.

[12]: “Ne bánts, ne bánts, Kékszakállú!” (Do not hurt me, Bluebeard.) Judith takes slight offense at the above suggestion and asks Bluebeard not to hurt her. Hassal: “Never, dearest Bluebeard”, although not inappropriate, misses this point. According to Balázs, Judith does not profess that it would never be nicer with her original intended, only begs Bluebeard not to cause her emotional pain.

[13]+8: “Milyen sötét a te várad! Milyen sötét a te várad! Milyen sötét.” (Your castle is so dark! Your castle is so dark! So dark.) The intentional use of repetition is obvious, for effect, not as if Balázs could think of nothing else to say. It is disregarded by Hassall: “Ev’rything is veiled in twilight. I can hardly see your castle. All is darkness.”

[29]+8: “Én akarom kinyitni, én!” (I want to open it, I!) Approaching the first closed door, Judith stresses (with the repeated “I”) that she wants to be the one who opens it. In Hassal’s version, “Bluebeard, let me open it now”, the stress seems to be on the time when to open the door, rather than who opens it.

[32]–1: “Mit látsz?” (What do you see?) The first door was opened and its contents appear to be instruments of torture. While Judith looks with amazement, Bluebeard asks her to say what she sees. Hassal’s translation: “What seest thou?” is not incorrect; using unnecessarily old-fashioned word forms, increasing the syllable count from two to three to accommodate them, while the two-syllable question: “What’ s there?” seems to be simpler.

[36]–1: “Félsz-e?” (Are you scared?) Similar to the above situation. Without increasing the syllable count “Frightened?” seems to serve the purpose instead of Hassall’s “Art thou afraid?”

[85]+3: “Nem akarom, | hogy elöttem | Csukott ajtó- | id legyenek” (I do not wish | that you should have | Any closed doors | before me!) Judith here shows anger, like an unmanageable child, demanding to see what is behind every door; in four four-syllable phrases. In Hassall’s text two downbeats fall on unaccented syllables: “Two more doors. Not | one of your great | doors must stay shut | fast against me.” The problem is avoidable.

[108]+2: “Mondd meg nekem, hogy szeretted? Szebb volt mint én? más volt mint én? Mondd el nekem, Kékszakállú.” (Tell me, how you loved her? Was she prettier than I? Was she different from me? Tell me, Bluebeard.) Inquiring about Bluebeard’s former wives, the first sentence is but an introduction, rather than a question about the precise method whereby Bluebeard loved a former lady. In the next two questions Judith asks to be compared with the former lady: was she prettier? was she different?; not about a comparison of the degree of Bluebeard’s love for each of them. The Hassall translation (Tell me in what way you loved her? Was she very fair? Did you love her more, more than you love me, my Bluebeard!) emphasizes the degree of love (not in Balázs’s text), and omits the repeat of the request (Tell me, Bluebeard.), that stressed how anxiously Judith wanted an answer.

* * *

These are examples, not the only points of criticism. Discussion of The Bard’s Prologue was deliberately left to the end, as the most objectionable part of the translation. The prologue is an essential part of the opera, as it contains the key to understanding the symbolic message. Its original text (not the Hassall translation) explains that the legend is but a frame for presenting our lives and their relation to others. Whether the original text is omitted, or is replaced by a translation such as Hassall’s, it is not surprising that the opera is thought of as the story of the man who killed his wives.

The problems will be taken up stanza by stanza (Hungarian, literal English, Hassal English).

1. Haj regö rejtem
Hová, hová rejtsem
Hol volt, hol nem:
Kint-e vagy bent?
Régi rege, haj mit jelent,
Urak, asszonyságok?
My riddle,
Where should I hide it?
Once upon a time:
Outside or in?
Old fable, what does it mean,
Gentlemen and ladies?
Once upon a time…
No need to worry when.
But as to place, where was it?
Here? or there?
‘Tis just another legend, you may say
And so dismiss it.
Ah, but, gentle folk,
Should any of you ask me what it means,
Alas, there’s but a single true reply —
The echo of an echo of a sigh.

The first two lines introduce us to the fact that the following story hides a riddle. It was apparently missed by Hassall. The third line is the traditional beginning of a fairy tale, equivalent to “Once upon a time”, also found in Hassall’s text, but earlier. The Hungarian equivalent of “once upon a time” is “hol volt, hol nem volt” (where was it, where was it not) gives Balázs the opportunity to play with the words, adding: “kint-e, vagy bent?” (outside, or inside?), a hint that this will be of significance. Hassall, talking about “the place, where was it? here or there?” misses the point; as the author is not talking about a geographical location, but outside or inside [our lives]. The stanza would end here, but Hassall goes on, elaborating on Balázs’s rhetorical question as to the meaning of the fable or legend, and provides his answer: “The echo of an echo of a sigh”. It is beyond our comprehension what this is trying to suggest; one certainty is that Balázs did not write anything like it.

2. Ím szólal az ének,
Ti néztek, én nézlek.
Szemünk pillás függönye fent:
Hol a színpad: kint-e, vagy bent?
Urak, asszonyságok?
The song goes on,
You look at me, I look at you.
The curtain of our eyelids is raised:
Where is the stage, outside or in,Gentlemen and ladies?
You see me standing here,
And I see you.
The curtains of your eyelids allare raised.
But where is the stage?,Within us, or without?
Here where I stand?
In me? In you? Ah, friends,
Why start the questioningthat never ends?

For the first six lines the Hassall translation follows the original text. But then, in four more lines he proceeds to confuse matters with the discussion of a physical location for the stage, and complaining about the question being raised at all.

3. Keserves és boldog
Nevezetes dolgok
Az világ kind haddal tele,
De nem abba halunk bele,
Urak, asszonyságok.
Bitter and happy
Remarkable events
The world outside is full of armies
But that is not what causes our death,
Gentlemen and ladies.
Life’s a strange patchwork
Of the grave and gay,
The paltry and august;
And the teeming world
Time and time again is torn apart by wars.
But, gentle folk, that isn’t what we die of,
No, not at all!
Of what, then, do we die?
The answer is the echo of a sigh.

Here again Hassall first renders, in many more words, something that resembles Balázs. But, in the last two lines he again provides his own answer to a statement. Balázs left open the subject of wars, although our lives are threatened by something even more serious. Here Hassall injects his own idea: “the echo of a sigh”, that can only serve as a red herring and can not be found in Balázs’s poem.

4. Nézzük egymást, nézzük,
Regénket regéljük.
Ki tudhatja honnanhozzuk?
Hallgatjuk és csodálkozzuk,
Urak, asszonyságok.
We look at each other,
We tell our tales.Who knows,
where we broughtthem from?
We listen and are amazed.
Gentlemen and ladies.
We sit in chimney corners, telling tales.
Who knows, where they were born?
Who knows? Who knows?
We listen and we marvel and we cry —
When? Where? … and hear the echo of a sigh

In the first two lines Balázs makes it clear: we face each other and each of us tells his/her own tale, the story of our lives. Hassall changes it to sound like we are entertaining everyone by telling tales. The point, that the “tales” are the stories of our own lives, is missed. And again, Hassall insists on providing further thought of his own, “we hear the echo of a sigh.”

5. Zene szól, a láng ég,
Kezdödjön a játék.
Szemem pillás függönye fent.
Tapsoljatok majd ha lement,
Urak, a sszonyságok.
Régi vár, régi már
Az mese, ki róla jár,
Tik is hallgassátok.
The music sounds, the flame is lit,
Let the play begin.
The curtain of my eyelids is raised,
Do applaud, when it drops down,
Gentlemen and ladies.
Old castle, old is
The story about it,
You, too, should listen to it.
The music starts,
The flame leaps up and up.
Let the play begin!
The curtains of our eyelids all are raised.
And when they fall, Sirs,
Give us your applause.
‘Tis an old castle, as ancient as the tale.Hearken ye, one and all. Hearken ye.

This stanza essentially conveys what Balázs said. The translation of the entire poem suffers from the use of too much additional text, some parts incorrect, that detracts from what Balázs was able to say so much more concisely. The introduction of the “echo of a sigh”, apparently an obsession of the translator, can only distract from following the thread of the original text that appears to have been carefully drafted to convey a specific idea essential to the understanding of the opera that is to follow.

This discussion is critical of the English translation by Hassal that is replaced in the new edition. The previous, 1963 edition had German, instead of Hungarian words in addition to English. That German text, a revision by Füssl/Wagner, appears to be not much closer to the Hungarian original than Hassal’s English. In the 1963 edition Judith’s former fiancé is identified as her father in the English text; in the German translation he is only changed to a lover. However, both begin with an introductory poem attributed to a “Prolog”, in the cast of characters, rather than to a Bard, and both show the same obsession with an “echo of a sigh”, an idea that was never set down by Béla Balázs’s pen. The opera was written and first published with texts in Hungarian and German, the latter (by Wilhelm Ziegler) approved by Béla Bartók, but the publisher deemed it necessary to alter the German text in 1963, when the composer was no longer in a position to have any say in the matter.

* * *

The new translation of the poem and sung text seeks to rectify the problems with both. While I am responsible for this work, the English texts were reviewed by several persons; the prologue also by a poet. A private concert was organized to perform and record the opera before an invited audience. A few small details were modified as a result of this try-out. Both publishers Universal Edition and Boosey & Hawkes Inc. then received xerox copies of the complete volume and their suggestions were complied with. The new score, with Hungarian text and English subtitles, was performed at Salt Lake City, Utah, on April 28 and 29, 2006. The corrected study score with English translation was off the press and has been available to the public since August, 2007, the corresponding vocal-piano score since June, 2008. Conductor’s scores and orchestra parts are in the respective publishers’ rental libraries, Boosey & Hawkes, Inc. in the U.S.A., Universal Edition in the rest of the world.

PETER BARTÓK

Homosassa, August, 2008