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In Béla Bartók’s ballet The Wooden Prince, the idea of a’ work within the work’ is a multiple one: the wooden puppet as a means used by the Prince to attract the Princess’s attention; the puppet as a work of art; and the ballet itself as the composer’s’ calling card’ promising future major achievements. At the same time, the ballet represents a sort of compositional statement about and rationale for Bartók’s aesthetic conception based on a Künstlermärchen or’ artist’s fairy tale,’ a German concept that refers to the literary genre Künstlerroman. Does the ballet thereby play the role of a’ key work’ within Bartók’s oeuvre? Bartók’s composition can be understood as an expression of the dialectic process between’ progressive’ and’ regressive’ forces in musical modernism after 1900. His difficulty with the tension between regress and progress — apart from his facing performance issues related to the genre, which was new to him while at the same time striving to find a compositional style appropriate to his ideas — is reflected in substantial cuts, partial revocations and changes during the process of creating and revising the ballet.

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