The Miraculous Mandarin

Last updated
A csodálatos mandarin
The Miraculous Mandarin
Bartok Bela 1927.jpg
Béla Bartók in 1927
Music Béla Bartók
Based on1916 story by Melchior Lengyel
Premiere27 November 1926 (1926-11-27)
Cologne Opera

The Miraculous Mandarin (Hungarian : A csodálatos mandarin, pronounced  [ˈɒ ˈt͡ʃodaːlɒtoʃ ˈmɒndɒrin] ; German : Der wunderbare Mandarin) Op. 19, Sz. 73 (BB 82), is a one act pantomime ballet composed by Béla Bartók between 1918 and 1924, and based on the 1916 story by Melchior Lengyel. [1] Premiered on 27 November 1926 conducted by Eugen Szenkar at the Cologne Opera, Germany, it caused a scandal and was subsequently banned on moral grounds. [2] [3] [4] Although more successful at its Prague premiere, it was generally performed during the rest of Bartók's life in the form of a concert suite, which preserves about two-thirds of the original pantomime's music.



  1. Beginning—Curtain rises
  2. First seduction game
  3. Second seduction game
  4. Third seduction game—the Mandarin enters
  5. Dance of the girl
  6. The chase—the tramps leap out
  7. Suddenly the Mandarin's head appears
  8. The Mandarin falls to the floor

After an orchestral introduction depicting the chaos of the big city, the action begins in a room belonging to three tramps. They search their pockets and drawers for money, but find none. They then force a girl to stand by the window and attract passing men into the room. The girl begins a lockspiel—a "decoy game", or saucy dance. She first attracts a shabby old rake, who makes comical romantic gestures. The girl asks, "Got any money?" He replies, "Who needs money? All that matters is love." He begins to pursue the girl, growing more and more insistent until the tramps seize him and throw him out.

The girl goes back to the window and performs a second lockspiel. This time, she attracts a shy young man, who also has no money. He begins to dance with the girl. The dance grows more passionate, then the tramps jump him and throw him out too.

The girl goes to the window again and begins her dance. The tramps and girl see a bizarre figure in the street, soon heard coming up the stairs. The tramps hide, and the figure, a mandarin (wealthy Chinese man), stands immobile in the doorway. The tramps urge the girl to lure him closer. She begins another saucy dance, the Mandarin's passions slowly rising. Suddenly, he leaps up and embraces the girl. They struggle and she escapes; he begins to chase her. The tramps leap on him, strip him of his valuables, and attempt to suffocate him under pillows and blankets. However, he continues to stare at the girl. They stab him three times with a rusty sword; he almost falls, but throws himself again at the girl. The tramps grab him again and hang him from a lamp hook. The lamp falls, plunging the room into darkness, and the Mandarin's body begins to glow with an eerie blue-green light. The tramps and girl are terrified. Suddenly, the girl knows what they must do. She tells the tramps to release the Mandarin; they do. He leaps at the girl again, and this time she does not resist and they embrace. With the Mandarin's longing fulfilled, his wounds begin to bleed and he dies.


The score begins with an orchestral depiction of the "concrete jungle." The violins have rapidly rising and falling, wave-like scales over the very unusual interval of an augmented octave. One of the central motifs of the work is set forward in bar 3—a 6
rhythm in minor seconds. This motif will reappear at the violent actions of the tramps. The sound of car horns is imitated by fanfares on the trumpets and trombones. As the curtain rises, the violas play a wide-leaping theme that will be associated both with the tramps and the girl. The 3 lockspiele are scored for the clarinet, each one longer and more florid than the last. The old rake is represented by trombone glissandi spanning a minor third, another very important interval. As the tramps throw him out, the minor second in 6
returns. The music for the shy young man is a slow dance in 5
, also interrupted by the 6
minor second as the tramps throw him out. When the Mandarin is heard in the street, the trombone plays a simple pentatonic theme harmonized by 3 lines of parallel tritones in the other trombones and the tuba. When the Mandarin enters the room, the trombones and tuba play downward glissandos, again spanning a minor third. Three measures later, this interval is played fortississimo by the full brass.

The girl's dance for the Mandarin contains both a waltz and the viola theme associated with her and the tramps. When the Mandarin seizes the girl, the minor second is heard again. The chase is represented by a fugue, whose subject also has a pentatonic flavor. The concert suite ends at this point. In the complete ballet, the 6
minor second returns again as the tramps rob the Mandarin. The attempted suffocation and stabbing are illustrated with great force in the orchestra. As the tramps hang the Mandarin from the lamp, the texture is blurred with glissandi on trombones, timpani, piano and cellos. The glowing body of the Mandarin is represented by the entry of a chorus singing wordlessly, once again in the interval of a minor third. The climax, after the girl embraces the Mandarin, is a theme given out fortissimo by the low brass against minor-second tremolos in the woodwinds. As the Mandarin begins to bleed, the downward minor-third glissando heard at his entry is echoed in the trombone, contrabassoon and low strings. The work then stutters arhythmically to a close.

The scoring is generally heavy, and Bartók employs many colorful techniques here, including chromatic scales, trills and tremolos in the woodwinds; glissandi in the horns, trombones and tuba; cluster chords and tremolos on the piano; scales and arpeggios on the piano, harp and celeste; and scales, double stops, trills, tremolos, and glissandi in the strings. Other special effects include fluttertonguing in the flutes; muting the brasses and strings, a cymbal roll a deux (a cymbal crash followed by scraping the plates together); playing the bass drum with the wooden part of a timpani mallet; a roll on the gong; rolled timpani glissandi; string harmonics; col legno and sul ponticello playing in the strings; scordatura in the cellos; and, at one point, quarter-tones in the violins.

In 2000 a new edition edited by Peter Bartók, the composer's son, was published. Based on the composer's written manuscripts, corrections, and the concurrently written score for piano with four hands, it restored a considerable amount of previously lost music.


The Miraculous Mandarin is scored for three flutes (2nd and 3rd doubling piccolo), three oboes (3rd doubling English horn), three clarinets (second doubling E-flat clarinet and third doubling bass clarinet), three bassoons (second and third doubling contrabassoon), four horns (second and fourth doubling Wagner tuba), three trumpets in C, three trombones, bass tuba, timpani, snare drum, tenor drum, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, tam-tam, xylophone, celesta, harp, piano, organ, choir, and strings.


Performances of the ballet suite outnumbered performances of the complete ballet until recent years. Recordings of the suite include:

Notable recordings of the complete ballet include:


  1. "The Miraculous Mandarin". Universal Edition. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  2. "Classical Music News from NAXOS.COM".
  3. "Monthly Calendar". The Kennedy Center.
  4. Puccio, John J. "Classical Candor: Bartok: The Miraculous Mandarin Suite (CD review)".
  5. The Fischer recording's award on Gramophone's website

Related Research Articles

Symphony No. 9 (Dvořák) 1893 symphony by Antonín Dvořák

The Symphony No. 9 in E minor, "From the New World", Op. 95, B. 178, popularly known as the New World Symphony, was composed by Antonín Dvořák in 1893 while he was the director of the National Conservatory of Music of America from 1892 to 1895. It premiered in New York City on 16 December 1893. It has been described as one of the most popular of all symphonies. In older literature and recordings, this symphony was – as for its first publication – numbered as Symphony No. 5. Astronaut Neil Armstrong took a tape recording of the New World Symphony along during the Apollo 11 mission, the first Moon landing, in 1969. The symphony was completed in the building that now houses the Bily Clocks Museum in Spillville, Iowa.

String orchestra Musical ensemble

A string orchestra is an orchestra consisting solely of a string section made up of the bowed strings used in Western Classical music. The instruments of such an orchestra are most often the following: the violin, which is divided into first and second violin players, the viola, the cello, and usually, but not always, the double bass.

Concerto for Orchestra (Bartók) Orchestral work by Béla Bartók

The Concerto for Orchestra in F minor, Sz. 116, BB 123, is a five-movement orchestral work composed by Béla Bartók in 1943. It is one of his best-known, most popular, and most accessible works.

<i>Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta</i>

Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Sz. 106, BB 114 is one of the best-known compositions by the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók. Commissioned by Paul Sacher to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the chamber orchestra Basler Kammerorchester, the score is dated September 7, 1936.

Symphony No. 8 (Dvořák)

The Symphony No. 8 in G major, Op. 88, B. 163, is a symphony by Antonín Dvořák, composed in 1889 at Vysoká u Příbramě, Bohemia, on the occasion of his election to the Bohemian Academy of Science, Literature and Arts. Dvořák conducted the premiere in Prague on 2 February 1890. In contrast to other symphonies of both the composer and the period, the music is cheerful and optimistic. It was originally published as Symphony No. 4.

Symphony No. 3 was Aaron Copland's final symphony. It was written between 1944 and 1946, and its first performance took place on October 18, 1946 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra performing under Serge Koussevitzky. If the early Dance Symphony is included in the count, it is actually Copland's fourth symphony.

Symphony No. 7 (Bruckner) Symphony by Anton Bruckner

Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 7 in E major, WAB 107, is one of the composer's best-known symphonies. It was written between 1881 and 1883 and was revised in 1885. It is dedicated to Ludwig II of Bavaria. The premiere, given under Arthur Nikisch and the Gewandhaus Orchestra in the opera house at Leipzig on 30 December 1884, brought Bruckner the greatest success he had known in his life. The symphony is sometimes referred to as the "Lyric", though the appellation is not the composer's own, and is seldom used.

The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34, is a 1945 musical composition by Benjamin Britten with a subtitle Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell. It was based on the second movement, "Rondeau", of the Abdelazer suite. It was originally commissioned for the British educational documentary film called Instruments of the Orchestra released on 29 November 1946, directed by Muir Mathieson and featuring the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Malcolm Sargent; Sargent also conducted the concert première on 15 October 1946 with the Liverpool Philharmonic in the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, England.

Walter Sinclair Hartley was an American composer of contemporary (classical) music.

English Dances (Arnold) Compositions by Malcolm Arnold

English Dances, Op. 27 and 33, are two sets of light music pieces, composed for orchestra by Malcolm Arnold in 1950 and 1951. Each set consists of four dances inspired by, although not based upon, country folk tunes and dances. Each movement is denoted by the tempo marking, as the individual movements are untitled.

The Symphony No. 2 by William Walton was written between 1957 and 1960, and premiered in September 1960. It received a mixed reception at first: some critics thought Walton's music old-fashioned. Subsequently it has been re-evaluated and praised. The work was first performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by John Pritchard and was first recorded by the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by George Szell. It has subsequently been recorded by conductors from Britain, the US and elsewhere.

The Symphony No. 2 in E minor and C major by Arnold Bax was completed in 1926, after he had worked on it for two years. It was dedicated to Serge Koussevitzky, who conducted the first two performances of the work on 13 and 14 December 1929.

The Wooden Prince, Op. 13, Sz. 60, is a one-act pantomime ballet composed by Béla Bartók in 1914–1916 to a scenario by Béla Balázs. It was first performed at the Budapest Opera on 12 May 1917 under the conductor Egisto Tango.

Kossuth, Sz. 21, BB. 31, DD. 75a is a symphonic poem composed by Béla Bartók inspired by the Hungarian politician Lajos Kossuth.

The Symphony No. 1 Elevamini is an orchestral work by Australian-born composer Malcolm Williamson.

Symphony No. 3 (Penderecki) Symphony by Krzysztof Penderecki

The Symphony No. 3 is a symphony in five movements composed between 1988 and 1995 by Krzysztof Penderecki. It was commissioned and completed for the centenary of the Munich Philharmonic. Its earliest version, Passacaglia and Rondo, premiered at the International Music Festival Week in Lucerne, Switzerland, on August 20, 1988. It was performed by the Lucerne Festival Orchestra and conducted by Penderecki. The full symphony premiered in Munich on 8 December 1995, performed by the Munich Philharmonic, again conducted by the composer.

<i>Caballos de vapor</i> 1926–1932 ballet score by Carlos Chávez

Caballos de vapor, sinfonía de baile is a ballet score composed by the Mexican composer Carlos Chávez in 1926–32. An abridged concert version is published as Suite sinfónica del ballet Caballos de vapor.

Color Music is a suite of five different compositions for orchestra by American composer Michael Torke. The suite is well known for its association with the composer's synesthesia.

Hungarian Pictures, sometimes also referred to as Hungarian Sketches, Sz. 97, BB 103 is a suite for orchestra by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók finished in 1931. The suite consists of orchestrations of earlier short pieces for piano composed between 1908 and 1911.