Hal Peterson's Music Blog logo

Bluebeard's Castle — The Fifth Door

Organ and

The combination of a full pipe organ and full symphony orchestra is a powerful and special sound. It is the equivalent of doubling the impact of the organ or the orchestra when you hear it in concert. It doesn’t occur that often, and requires a unique orchestration. A number of these rare passages will be discussed in this blog.

The opening of the fifth door is one of the climactic moments of this one act opera. Suddenly the stage is filled with bright lights and Judith screams in awe as our two characters are staring at the vast panorama of Bluebeard’s kingdom that opens up behind the fifth door. The full organ leads the ensemble with a series of parallel major chords in root position. The chords are doubled by the wind section, and the strings play them in tremolos. Bluebeard triumphantly sings about his kingdom as the orchestra sustains a tied C major triad, figuring that Judith has to be impressed. After his first passage, there is a grand pause, and Judith responds in a quiet voice. Immediately a second passage of fortissimo chord follows and Bluebeard sings a second glorious passage describing the beauty of his kingdom. This time the chords are all voiced with their dominant tones in the melody. To add a little kick, Bartok adds a D seven sharp nine chord in a couple of three note figures to the long sustained G major triad that accompanies Bluebeard. Again there is a grand pause followed by a soft measure of singing, as an overwhelmed Judith responds.

Play the audio excerpt as you follow along the condensed score.

Bluebear's Castle Fifth Door 1
Bluebear's Castle Fifth Door 2

The third passage begins with the organ and orchestra playing major triads voiced with the third of the chords in the melody, except for the ending E major chord, which has its tonic note in the melody and the bass. Bluebeard pledges to Judith that this will all be hers forever. It should be noted that the orchestration also calls for eight off stage trumpets and trombones that also double the melody. Its an incredibly powerful sound that should send chills up your spine. But in this expressionist battle of the sexes, we soon discover that all this majesty and brilliance is not enough, as red clouds begin to emerge in the background reprising the “blood motif” that eventually shows up behind each door.

top of pageblog contents