Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Janacek and His World

Janacek and His World

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 328
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Janacek and His World
    Book Description:

    Once thought to be a provincial composer of only passing interest to eccentrics, Leos Janácek (1854-1928) is now widely acknowledged as one of the most powerful and original creative figures of his time. Banned for all purposes from the Prague stage until the age of 62, and unable to make it even out of the provincial capital of Brno, his operas are now performed in dynamic productions throughout the globe. This volume brings together some of the world's foremost Janácek scholars to look closely at a broad range of issues surrounding his life and work. Representing the latest in Janácek scholarship, the essays are accompanied by newly translated writings by the composer himself.

    The collection opens with an essay by Leon Botstein who clarifies and amplifies how Max Brod contributed to Janácek 's international success by serving as "point man" between Czechs and Germans, Jews and non-Jews. John Tyrrell, the dean of Janácek scholars, distills more than thirty years of research in "How Janácek Composed Operas," while Diane Paige considers Janácek's liason with a married woman and the question of the artist's muse. Geoffrey Chew places the idea of the adulterous muse in the larger context of Czech fin de siècle decadence in his thoroughgoing consideration of Janácek's problematic opera Osud. Derek Katz examines the problems encountered by Janácek's satirically patriotic "Excursions of Mr. Broucek" in the post-World War I era of Czechoslovak nationalism, while Paul Wingfield mounts a defense of Janácek against allegations of cruelty in his wife's memoirs. In the final essay, Michael Beckerman asks how much true history can be culled from one of Janácek's business cards.

    The book then turns to writings by Janácek previously unpublished in English. These not only include fascinating essays on Naturalism, opera direction, and Tristan and Isolde, but four impressionistic chronicles of the "speech melodies" of daily life. They provide insight into Janácek's revolutionary method of composition, and give us the closest thing we will ever have to the "heard" record of a Czech pre-war past-or any past, for that matter.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3209-5
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Janáček and Our World
    (pp. 1-10)
    Michael Beckerman

    In the 1970s and ʼ80s in Brno, we Janáček scholars had a marvelous and well kept secret. There, in this provincial capital,enormousconference/festivals took place that were entirely dedicated to our man. Indeed, one cannot imagine how in the so-called “dark days” they managed so many concerts in such a short time: more than forty in a week, including five or six operas. A full day of musicological conferencing would be followed by a concert of Bulgarian contemporary music at 4 P.M., selected Janáček chamber compositions at 6 P.M.,Makropulosat 8 P.M., and a recital of Janáčekʼs folk...


    • The Cultural Politics of Language and Music: Max Brod and Leoš Janáček
      (pp. 13-54)
      Leon Botstein

      History is rarely kind to personalities in literature and music with talent, industry, influence, and visibility whose achievements seem, posthumously, to lack some lasting quality of genius or originality. The result is that our sense of the past becomes distorted. Aesthetic judgments interfere with the task of historical interpretation and reconstruction. We often recall only the names of such individuals rather than their work. Consider the composers John Field, Joachim Raff, and Roy Harris, or writers as nominally famous as Lord Byron and George Sand. Despite repeated efforts at revival and critical revisionism, what we remember are fragments of once...

    • How Janáček Composed Operas
      (pp. 55-78)
      John Tyrrell

      It was exactly halfway through Janáčekʼs middle opera—number five out of nine—that he hit upon a method of writing operas that sustained him for the remaining eleven years of his life. It meant that in these eleven years he was able to write four and a half operas; the previous four and a half had taken him thirty years. Janáček began composingThe Excursion of Mr. Brouček to the Fifteenth Century(the second half ofThe Excursions of Mr. Brouček) on May 5, 1917, and completed it by the end of that year. The new speed of composition...

    • Janáček and the Captured Muse
      (pp. 79-98)
      Diane M. Paige

      Leoš Janáčekʼs relationship to Kamila Stösslová, a woman nearly four decades his junior, has become an essential part of the composerʼs biography. Relations between the two are generally treated as a titillating aspect of the composerʼs personal life, and there is a general assumption that she played some role in Janáčekʼs creative process. Much of what is known of their eleven-year relationship stems from the voluminous surviving correspondence. The letters penned to her, while they abound in courting gestures and evocations of his feelings, portray much more than the impractical obsessive feelings of an old man to an unlikely woman;...

    • Reinterpreting Janáček and Kamila: Dangerous Liaisons in Czech Fin-de-Siècle Music and Literature
      (pp. 99-144)
      Geoffrey Chew

      In July 1917 the Czech composer Leoš Janáček first encountered Kamila Stösslová, the young, relatively uneducated wife of a Jewish antique dealer, David Stössel, when he and the Stössls were on holiday at the spa town of Luhačovice. From then until the composerʼs death in 1928 there were regular meetings between Janáček and Stösslová, at first formal, and later passionate, at least on his side. These twelve years were the most productive of his entire life as a composer. In the hundreds of letters he wrote to her, he represented her as almost his sole source of inspiration, and made...

    • A Turk and a Moravian in Prague: Janáčekʼs Brouček and the Perils of Musical Patriotism
      (pp. 145-164)
      Derek Katz

      Leoš JanáčekʼsThe Excursions of Mr. Broučekis a decidedly odd work. The excursions in question take the title character through both space and time. Mr. Brouček is first sent to the moon, where he shocks the ethereal local Lunarians with his crass eating habits, and then back to the fifteenth century, where he proves himself a coward in battle. Even in the context of Janáčekʼs better-known operas, whose protagonists include singing animals, immortal sopranos, and infanticides, this stands out as peculiar.Broučekhas also been the subject of some unfortunately memorable invective. The baritone Václav Novák, for instance, who...

    • Zdenka Janáčkováʼs Memoirs and the Fallacy of Music as Autobiography
      (pp. 165-196)
      Paul Wingfield

      Oscar Wilde once remarked that “everybody has disciples,” but it is “Judas who writes the biography.” I share Wildeʼs antipathy to biography. A brief elaboration of my objections will provide a convenient frame for my principal topic: the memoirs of Zdenka Janáčková.¹ My worries can be grouped under three broad headings: evidence, ethics, and explanatory force. Regarding evidence, a crucial factor is that the survival of documentary detritus about any individualʼs life is random. In fact, a biographer rarely has access to all the extant material. Moreover, the accuracy of biographical matter is dubious: letters are tailored to individual recipients;...

    • Janáčekʼs Vizitka
      (pp. 197-216)
      Michael Beckerman

      I have Janáčekʼs vizitka.

      At some point last year I purchased it from a dealer in paper goods in Olomouc, Czech Republic. The man from whom I bought it, one Josef Dočkal, had previously sold me a photograph by Josef Sudek in one of his eBay auctions. We struck up a virtual conversation in Czech, and when he heard I was interested in Janáček, he offered me the vizitka and a photograph of Janáček, which I declined. When I purchased the vizitka he also sent me various composer stamps. Perhaps he was excited that heʼd made a large sale, perhaps...


    • Introduction: Janáček—Writer
      (pp. 219-220)
      Michael Beckerman

      In addition to his activity as a musician, Leos Janáček was also a prolific composer of prose. Active as an ethnographer, theoretician, pedagogue, and feuilletonist, his literary output sheds light on his goals, his changing ideas on aesthetics, and gives some potent hints about his creative process.

      We can find examples of Janáčekʼs writing as early as the mid-1870s with the establishment of the journalHudebnί listy(Musical pages) and an earlyomaggioto his first great teacher, Pavel Křižkovsky (he would later write such homages to Dvořák and finally Smetana). In these youthful efforts he dealt with issues in...

    • “Tristan and Isolde by Richard Wagner” (1884-1885)
      (pp. 221-225)

      When he wrote this article in 1884-1885 Janáček was still very much in the grip of aesthetic formalism as presented by his Czech contemporaries Josef Durdίk and Robert Zimmermann (the dedicatee of Hanslickʼs famousOn the Beautiful in Music). This philosophical system stressed the need for pure forms, and argued that the “conditions for musical beauty could only be forms.” This article makes it clear that Janáčekʼs champion was Antonίn Dvořák, and that he viewed his older colleague and friend as the true representative of Czech music. The name unspoken, and perhaps the one under attack, was Bedřich Smetana, widely...

    • “My Luhačovice” (1903)
      (pp. 226-238)

      This and the following four articles were all published in the journalHlίdka(Patrol) between 1903 and 1910. All of them deal in one way or another with Janáčekʼs notion ofnápĕvky mluvyor speech melodies, although each of them goes into other realms as well.

      Luhačovice spa was Janáčekʼs favorite summer haunt, his home away from home, his shelter from the stresses of the city, with spa waters, flowers, and an endless supply of beautiful young women. Depending on how we view it, the essay “My Luhačovice” is either another example of Janáčekʼs speech melody theory in action or...

    • “Last Year and This Year” (1905)
      (pp. 239-253)

      “Last Year and This Year” from 1905 is even more encyclopedic in its speech melodies, offering more than one hundred different examples. Here we find what is perhaps Janáčekʼs most famous description of speech melodies:

      The melody of speech is a truthful transient musical characterization of a person; it is his soul and encompasses his entire being in a photographic instant. The melodies of speech are an expression of the comprehensive state of a being and of all the phases of mental activity that arise from that state. They show us a person who is stupid or intelligent, sleepy or...

    • “An Example from Podskalί” (1909)
      (pp. 254-257)

      Four years later Janáček wrote a brief feuilleton featuring a speech melody he heard in the Podskalί district of Prague. In this case, though, the speech melody is used as a wedge to demonstrate the dramatic weaknesses Janáček finds in SmetanaʼsLibuše. Janáček considers the opera “unnatural” in terms of his own views, and his criticism is powerfully voiced. In the last part he writes beautifully about “the dead silence of a deep forest,” saying, “It almost hurts oneʼs ears. You are more likely to hear the strange rushing sound of your own blood, as if somebody was shaking tiny...

    • “Whitsunday 1910 in Prague” (1910)
      (pp. 258-270)

      “Whitsunday 1910 in Prague” is another broad portrait in place and time, animated by speech melodies. Here Janáček expresses his desire to take down enough melodies “to fill the largest Czech book, enough for a dictionary of the living Czech language.” Once again he seeks to find balance between “mysteries” and “theoretical formalism" and concludes that “he who is concerned with only one or the other is in the position of producing either dry descriptions or clichés.”

      We may remember that during this period Janáček was in a kind of nether world. HisJenůfahad been successfully produced in Brno...

    • “Stage Direction” (1918)
      (pp. 271-286)

      What follows is a translation of an article by Eva Drlίková published inOpus Musicum(No. 4, 1994, pp. 173-82) reconstructing Janáčekʼs notes on stage direction. Dr. Drlίková is administrator of the Janáček Center and has been the editor ofOpus Musicumfor more than twenty years. The article is a remarkable document showing the vitality of Janáčekʼs engagement with the stage. Although Janáček was never considered a Wagnerian, it is difficult to imagine a composer who has thought more deeply about the connection between a broad range of staging issues and the musical flow of a work. He asks...

    • “Janáček on Naturalism” (1924-1925)
      (pp. 287-306)

      “Janáček on Naturalism” is a translation of an article published by Miloš Štědroň in the journalOpus Musicum(no. 6, 1995, pp. 281-92). Štědroň has been a leading Janáček scholar for decades, whose work is most brilliantly summed up in hisLeoš Janáček a hudba 20. stoletί (Leoš Janáček and Twentieth Century Music),a virtual compendium of Janáčekʼs connections to the various artistic movements of his time. Štědroňʼs comments, included as an editorʼs note at the end of the study, explain the layout of the piece. Simply, the LJ numbers refer to the pages of Janáčekʼs own notes.

      As jottings...

  7. Index
    (pp. 307-314)
  8. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 315-316)