A Tale of Two Worlds

A Tale of Two Worlds

Vjenceslav Novak
Translated by John K. Cox
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Pages: 294
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  • Book Info
    A Tale of Two Worlds
    Book Description:

    In this novel, written by the esteemed novelist in 1901, a provincial composer and organist from Croatia struggles to find his way along the perilous frontier between the worlds of artistic vocation and humdrum family life. The local kapellmeister---a Czech, in good Habsburg tradition, and a confidant of Gaj and Palacky, influential politicians of the time---recognizes young Amadej Zlatanic as a prodigy and persuades the stingy mayor and stubborn parish priest to pack the teenager off to the conservatory in Prague. After several years of sordid student purgatory, Amadej returns to Croatia---ready for love and ready to make great art. The world of Central Europe in the 1860s flows past, and Amadej tries to keep abreast of political change. At the same time he ducks and dodges predatory relatives and townspeople in his native district, to which he has returned for the sake of employment. Despite his marriage to the impressionable and vulnerable local beauty, Adelka, and his devotion to their daughter Veruska, Amadej is sorely troubled by the political corruption and isolation of Croatia. His wife takes ill and his family is poor. Yet ultimately it is the vulgar, populist notion of Croatian "identity"---symbolized by the worship of the tamburica, a local musical instrument---that crushes Amadej's career. As it does so, he contemplates the two worlds of national greatness, amidst the Croatian national awakening, and international fame. Finally, frustrated beyond relief by unsuccessful affairs both amorous and professional, and tortured by the philistinism surrounding him, Amadej leaves the world of sanity for a mind-blowing descent into the maniacal and inescapable world of hallucination, paganism, and paranoia.

    eISBN: 978-615-5225-83-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Translator’s Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    John K. Cox
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-lxxxiv)

    Vjenceslav Novak was born on September 11, 1859, in the small coastal Croatian city of Senj. Croatia was then a part of the Habsburg (Austrian) Empire, having been absorbed first by Hungary in the distant Middle Ages (1102) and then into the Austrian Empire, based in Vienna, during the Ottoman invasions of the 1520s. Senj is a very old town. It was founded by the Romans and it is extremely well integrated into the multi-ethnic and culturally rich Catholic world of Dalmatia and the Adriatic. A number of famous writers hail from there, including Silvije Strahomir Kranjčević, Pavao Ritter Vitezović,...

  5. Part One
    • Chapter One
      (pp. 1-22)

      The oldkapellmeisterand organist, Jan Jahoda, running late in his preparations for vespers, received quite a surprise that Sunday afternoon when he strode into church. He heard, to his enormous amazement, unknown hands playing a prelude on the organ in the same style in which he had been habitually playing preludes at holiday vespers for many years. The elderly man stopped below the choir loft, rubbed his eyes, and looked around inquisitively. Am I dreaming? He wondered… Could this be a miracle unfolding, with me appearing as two people, one of whom is playing the organ while the other...

    • Chapter Two
      (pp. 23-40)

      It could happen, especially during the rainy days of autumn, that a whole week would go by without Jahoda leaving his house. He would sit, wrapped up in his nightshirt, in a large easy chair, drinking warm beer and correcting, with eyes closed as if he were napping, Amadej’s exercises on the piano. He quickly taught him how to read music, and then he forced him to play drills ceaselessly so that he would achieve technical proficiency and speed. But like a child who learns to read by tediously sounding out letters, and then rests and revives his spirits by...

    • Chapter Three
      (pp. 41-68)

      Jan Jahoda finished the Prague conservatory as a young man of twenty-four. The year was 1846. After its literary renaissance, the Czech nation was coming back to life politically as well. The idea of the indomitable strength of united Slavdom filled the young Jahoda, just as it did his co-nationals, with fervid inspiration. Indeed, when the great Palacký called together the Slavic Congress in Golden Prague, and the enthusiastic Czechs opened their fraternal hearts to the Russians, and to the Poles, Slovaks, Croats, Slovenes, and Serbs, Jahoda’s opening hymn “Under One Banner” won unanimous acclaim. Having received recognition of that...

    • Chapter Four
      (pp. 69-82)

      After Jahoda’s death, Amadej was hired on with the church choir, as the priest had promised. Amadej was content. His main concerns lay in ascertaining Adelka’s age and finding out at what age young people could marry. From his elderly landlady he learned that Adelka was fourteen, and after hesitating for a long time he mustered the courage to ask the notary about that second issue. However much he tried to prepare cleverly for it, by covering his question with a veil of indifference, at the decisive moment his certainty left him. His voice shook and he spoke so fast...

    • Chapter Five
      (pp. 83-104)

      In Prague Amadej noticed immediately that he vanished into the masses of people in the great city. He was alone—and without introductions or recommendations to anyone. And he also lacked the foundation and perspectives of a practical mind, which in such circumstances is our most trustworthy guide and reliable counsel. The unfamiliar panoramas and news of the metropolis were of only momentary interest to him; with sinking spirits he would ask himself why he had come here… And he was already starting to think that Adelka’s mother was right, and the mayor and the priest, feeling that he had...

    • Chapter Six
      (pp. 105-146)

      When difficult days began piling up for him, one after the other, the first thought that would assail Amadej in the morning when he opened his eyes, was: You have naught to eat…And whenever he met her, the elderly landlady would ask him now, in a voice ever more impatient: “What d’you mean? Still no money…?” The piano’s owner had already written on two occasions: I see in my account-books that you still haven’t paid the rental fee on that leased piano for three months now, despite our written arrangement that you would always pay one month in advance…He had...

    • Chapter Seven
      (pp. 147-160)

      Towards the end of his third year of studies at the conservatory, Amadej was allowed to engage in free composition. He had just begun to understand the old professor of composition, who forever had that German maxim about artists and the laws of art on the tip of his tongue when he critiqued the works of his students. His feelings about all those difficult and atrophied rules, which previously had villainously served to constrict his vibrant imagination, had changed; he now felt they were guards, unfailing in vigilance. They saw to it that no one strayed beyond the borders that...

    • Chapter Eight
      (pp. 161-170)

      Amadej had never before felt in himself creative powers of the type he sensed as he traveled south in the railway car. His mind invested the rhythmic clatter of the train with an enormous wealth of harmonies and melodies; it was as if invisible beings around him were bringing them forth…By dint of the creative force in his spirit, he became enthralled by the noble vanity of the artist and by the thirst for glory, and in those exalted hours for his soul, it seemed to him that everyone should have to bow before the divine spark that resided in...

  6. Part Two
    • Chapter One
      (pp. 171-186)

      Amadej found a position in the church. It paid four hundredforintsper year.

      “That’s enough to start out with,” he told Adelka confidently. “We’ll have lodging at your house, and later, when my work picks up the way I have it mapped out, you won’t be lacking for anything your heart desires. Once my name gets into circulation out there, musical societies and publishers will be falling all over themselves to get their hands on my material.”

      He had subscribed to a number of professional publications from Prague, and they carried detailed information about the conservatory’s end-of-year concert. About...

    • Chapter Two
      (pp. 187-222)

      At this point the family moved into Amadej’s old house. His former guardian demanded a hundred and fiftyforintsper year in rent; when Amadej made the observation that this amounted to thirty percent of the sum for which Plavčić had earlier purchased the house, the guardian—his face reddening precipitously—lashed out unexpectedly at Amadej. From the jumbled shouts that followed, a frightened Amadej was able to gather that Plavčić had made many repairs around the house with his funds and that since the town was on the verge of getting a railroad, the value of houses and parcels...

    • Chapter Three
      (pp. 223-312)

      I think and experience things that do not lend themselves to expression in written form. It’s been ages since I wrote down any kind of coherent musical idea. I sit down, try to force it out, write twenty bars’ worth, read it—and tear up the paper. The desire—it’s almost a necessity—to record my experiences has made itself known in me…But to what purpose? Perhaps I will find in my past whatever my sin was, and I can bury the artist in myself and be a man who prizes Adelka’s heart.

      It’s obvious that she is fading, but...

  7. Part Three
    • Chapter One
      (pp. 313-334)

      Without a doubt, Amadej had found the beauty in women since his youth—beauty that caused his blood to boil, beauty from which his sound and vigorous temperament was unable to free itself, as befits the powerful laws of nature. But there was one emotion—one that was independent of physicality, remaining as pure as it was forceful and stormy even when his body sensed neither the motivation nor the occasion to crave the embrace of a woman—this one emotion was only awakened in him by Adelka. And she caused its appearance in him, even when he was still...

  8. Afterword
    (pp. 335-345)
    John R. Palmer

    The lives of Vjenceslav Novak and the two main characters of hisDva svijeta, Jan Jahoda and Amadej Zlatanić, span an era that encompassed sweeping changes in Slavic musical culture within the Hapsburg empire. However, because they are of different generations—Novak lived from 1859–1905, and he implies that Jahoda was born in 1822 and Zlatanić in 1862—the musical environments of Novak and his characters, particularly Jahoda, would have been of two worlds.¹ Jahoda, a Czech, is a contemporary of Bedřich Smetana (1824–84), whereas Zlatanić grew up at a time when the voices of both Czech and...

  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 346-346)