OF LEOS Janáček
MUS. DOC. (EDIN.)
Dvořák MEDALLIST OF THE CZECHOSLOVAK
Originally published by PERGAMON
First edition 1971
Library of Congress Catalog
Card No. 68-22491
08 012853 X (flexicover)
08 012854 8 (hard cover)
The House of the Dead
The Makropulos Case
Cunning Little Vixen
The Excursions of Mr. Brouček
Operas of Janáček
Chisholm Web page
IN 1947 I sat with my young student wife in the gallery
of the National Theatre in Prague, listening for the first time to a
Janáček opera. It was Kátja Kabanová, conducted by that greatest of
Czech conductors, Václav Talich, with whom I was studying at that time,
and the cast included several famous Czech singers, such as Beno Blachut,
Marta Krasová and Ludmila Čerzinková.
What a revelation this performance was to me! Here was
a composer whose very name I hardly knew, who had been dead 20 years,
writing an opera in an entirely different idiom from anything I had
ever known, who used the human voice and the inflexions of his strange
sounding language in an absolutely original way, and whose instrumentation
and harmony produced colours and sounds unlike anything I had heard
before. We were so impressed with Kátja Kabanová that we determined
to see every possible Janáček opera while we were in Czechoslovakia.
So shortly after the war German composers were not popular, and there
was an astonishing wealth of Czechoslovak music to be heard; in fact
the selection was greater than it is today. We saw nearly all the Janáček
operas during that year, sometimes travelling to other towns to see
them in several different productions.
With every hearing, my admiration for the genius of
Janáček grew. I took vocal scores of several operas of this virtually
unknown composer back to London in 1948, and was fortunate in being
able to interest Norman Tucker of Sadler’s Wells in Janáček’s work.
Of course, these piano scores gave little idea of what Janáček’s orchestration
sounds like, and even one’s ecstatic descriptions of Janáček’s operas
as "a sort of mixture between Mussorgsky, Bartók, Debussy, Sibelius
and Mahler" could not create even to the expert mind much idea of the
actual sound of a Janáček score. Not that Janáček was particularly "advanced
"in his methods of composition-after all, Schoenberg had written Pierrot
Lunaire before Janáček’s Kátja -but he had the knack of expressing absolutely
new ideas with apparently conventional means. I managed to secure a
tape of Kátja through the B.B.C., and during a playback gave a sort
of running commentary to Norman Tucker and Desmond Shaw-Taylor, who
had heard a lot about Janáček, but very little of his actual music!
They were as enthusiastic as I had always been, and the first English
performance of a Janáček opera was given on April 10, 1951 at Sadler’s
Wells (Kátja Kabanová).
There has seldom been a time since when a Janáček opera
has not been in the Wells repertory; Rafael Kubelik also brought Jenůfa
to Covent Garden during his time as Musical Director there, and in more
recent years some American companies have taken the plunge. In Germany
there have been pretty regular productions of Janáček, and in the last
few years there have been magnificent productions in Sweden, France,
Italy and even South America.
Janáček could now bc said to have "arrived" outside
his own native land, and there is sufficient interest in the purely
operatic side of his output to make Erik Chisholm’s book not only welcome
but positively overdue. Dr. Chisholm was a fanatical propagandist for
a greater appreciation of Janáček’s art and no-one could have been better
qualified than he to write the first comprehensive analysis of Janáček’s
operas in the English language, indeed one of the few books on this
subject in any language.
Dr. Chisholm’s rather unusual idea of commencing his
analytical essays with Janáček’s last opera and working back to his
earlier ones seems particularly appropriate in this case, with Janáček’s
very unusual musical background and development as an operatic composer,
so that we plunge straight into his most mature work. It was also a
splendid idea on Dr. Chisholm’s part to write a complete thematic analysis
of at least one scene from a Janáček opera, in the Appendix, so that
the reader can follow the development and transformation of every small
thematic organism, watch the composer’s methods as it were under a microscope,
and see how these methods lie at the very core of Janáček’s operatic
I am quite sure that all lovers of Janáček will find
this book an essential part of their library, and I hope that it will
also awaken the interest of many more who do not yet know the work of
this most fascinating of opera composers.
THE problem of transliteration
always arises in dealing with languages using
many letters or symbols not found in English.
Here I have taken expert advice and retained
the original Czech form of names, some of
which, e.g. Petrovič (pronounced Petrovitch,
the č sound being familiar to most readers
here) or Lujza (Louise), are obvious, while
unfamiliar ones like Jan z Rokycan (John of
Rokycan) and Matĕj (Matthew) are translated
in footnotes where they first appear. The
name Kátja I have taken from the score,
although in Czech it can be written as either
Kát'a or Kátă, but I revert
to Kristina because the Krista and Christa
of the score are, I think, adopted to save
space; she is actually addressed in the text
Vec Makropulos is usually translated The Makropulos
Affair, "affair" having a wider significance than "case", but as it
was an actual legal case in the story, I have adhered to Dr. Chisholm’s
title, which was also used by Sadler’s Wells. Dostoevsky’s novel, in
Czech Z mrtveho domu (From the House of the Dead), was used exactly
by Janáček for his opera, but is often quoted without the "From", and
here I have retained Dr. Chisholm’s choice which often reads more easily
in a discursive text.
Czech inverted commas, as
often in German, are thus: ,,Nemám
psa", and exclamation marks precede as well
as follow a phrase thus:¡ ... ! I have used
the English simpler method. Incidentally,
as Miss Margaret Cox points out, the above
two-word sentence typifies the Czech characteristic
of brevity. Nemám psa means in colloquial
English "I have not got a dog"-in our shortest
form it would be "I have no dog". This characteristic
poses problems for those translating Czech
libretti into English (or German) for singing;
Norman Tucker has proved himself an adept
at the task.
His evocative references to orchestral effects come
straight from the professor rather than from the pedagogue -for instance,
the "ostinato chuckling figure ", "violins screaming at the top "or
a certain "theme gnawing away in the lower octave", likewise the "shimmering
triplets "and the reference to the idiotic "tidli-tidli figure". And
such homely phrases as "amorous goings-on" and "he makes a pass at her"
constantly remind us of Erik the down-to-earth human, the man of humour
whose delightful précis of the Osud story is quoted on page 359.
The sad fact that Dr. Chisholm’s sudden death robbed
him of an author’s opportunity for a final revision of his book has
imposed heavy responsibility on myself as his editor. Many a time while
scanning these pages I have longed for his personal clarification or
instructions. The 263 musical quotations, all sketched in his own hurried
hand and often with barely decipherable alterations or annotations,
sometimes even with a misplaced numbering, called not only for reference
to vocal scores but also for help from musicians with practical knowledge
of the music. The help was readily given by Charles Mackerras, who knows
it as both Czech scholar and as a practical opera conductor, also from
his colleague David Lloyd-Jones. To both of them I am immensely grateful,
especially to Mr. Mackerras for his Foreword.
I wish also to acknowledge the fine professional work
of Mr. Jack Lugg who, in preparing all these music quotations for the
press, discovered he had undertaken a task more demanding in time and
patience than even the transcription of a complete manuscript symphony
by one of our least legible composers!
Miss Margaret Cox, an expert in the Czech language and
unusually knowledgeable on Czech music, has given invaluable help by
going through not only the music and its accompanying lines of text,
but also the proofs. I am very grateful for her enthusiasm.
In a work of this kind there is always the problem of
style. A writer who indulges perhaps in no other musical activity develops
a characteristic literary style. Erik Chisholm was a man of immense
enthusiasms, white-hot convictions, and tremendous energy. A book like
this had to be squeezed in between his lecturing, conducting, administration,
and composing. For him it was more important to pour out this information
as though he were speaking it to his students, to you and to me: in
fact much of it was dictated. He had no chance to polish it, to weigh
up the niceties of delicately balanced phrases. I often wonder if he
did this with a subconscious knowledge that they would be his last lines
spoken on this earth, as indeed they almost proved to be.
Knowing him as I did, I can hear his Scots voice speaking
the text, with his homely but striking allusions, colloquial phrases,
and always with humour and humanity peeping through. Therefore I have
in the main left his copy as he sent it, making such slight changes
here and there as I felt he would have made had he lived to see his
proofs -adjustments in words to avoid duplication, corrections to obvious
slips in his hurried quotations from the published scores. Those from
the early opera Osud he must have noted in Brno; I have been unable
to find a single copy.
I therefore ask the indulgence of those readers who
may find inaccuracies, which, if substantiated, will be adjusted in
later reprints; I trust they will not be serious. Dr. Chisholm has minutely
analysed Janáček’s scores in the technique he learned with Sir Donald
Francis Tovey. As an opera composer and conductor his analyses are unusually
perceptive, even though some may occasionally find them pedantic. He
believed that the present growing appreciation of these operas justified
such treatment, and he died hoping, as does the Publisher, that this
may prove to be a valuable reference book for many years to come.
I WISH gratefully to acknowledge the assistance given
me in analysing the original Czech texts of the operas by Dr. Miroslav
Michl, a graduate of Prague University and an authority on Czech dialects.
Dr. Michl, who came to Cape Town in 1947, has collaborated with me in
this textual work over a number of years and I fully acknowledge that
thanks to his expert knowledge and advice any understanding of the Czech
language, and in particular of the characteristic Janáček speech curves,
which this work may disclose is entirely due to Dr. Michl.
Don’t look in dramatic music
only for melodies-opera must be of the stuff
of which real life is made.
For many years, I have been
on the track of the musical sounds of Czech
words: they are not to be found just in harmony,
in chords-I know that the well is much deeper.
The happy, carefree chatter of a child, the
undercurrent of passion in the speech of a
young woman, the clipt, manly tones of a successful
business-man, I recognize them all.
In Fate I captured the melodious
expression of a child, in Jenůfa I managed
to express the mental torture of Kostelnitcka
and Jenůfa, I followed the imaginative
flight of Mr. Brouček into celestial
space, in Kátja Kabanová I tried
to delineate the different characters and
in Sharp-Ears I wedded my muse to the shadow
of a forest and the miracle of dawn.
For my modern historical opera,
The Makropulos Case, I had to dig into a dried-up
At the time when I wrote it,
everything was so new to me: a passionate
introduction, the dark shades of a primeval
forest with the aroma of moss and fern.
The Beginning of a Romance
was an empty comedy and I felt it was not
in the best of taste to introduce into this
artificial atmosphere splendid Czech folk-songs.
Every one of my operas grew
a long time in my mind before I put pen to
paper-of that you can be certain.
MODERN transport has transformed the world. Conductor,
politician, journalist, tycoon may with ease and within a matter of
hours span the globe. They can be in Quebec one day, Yokohama the next,
and back home in London the day after that. We are as conscious of them
as if they had never left us. Never before could the term "ubiquitous"
be so easily justified.
It is not so, however, with those who deliberately go
to a far country to devote themselves to their art or their science
there. However nobly they strive, with never so remarkable results,
only a faint ripple of their work reaches home. A news item, perhaps,
now and then. But in spite of today’s facile communication, the old
saying "out of sight, out of mind" is unfortunately still true.
It certainly applied to the late Dr. Erik Chisholm,
despite an occasional trip to his native Scotland or to carry out high-speed
research somewhere in central Europe. On one of those rare visits, he
was able to attend the formal opening of the Commonwealth and International
Library of the Pergamon Press in Oxford in 1963. He was occupying a
sabbatical year (probably the only one of his life) by composing a full-length
opera, attending and speaking at a learned Conference or two, orchestrating
a few dozen songs by a fellow Scot, arranging another volume of sixty
Scottish folk-songs for publication in the U.S.S.R., and other trifling
activities of the kind. It was then, too, that the Pergamon Press, knowing
his enthusiasm for Janáček, commissioned him to write the present volume.
He eagerly accepted. Two years went by. He was back at his double post
in Cape Town. Then we heard he was in Moscow. Thither we cabled that
if we did not receive his manuscripts in double quick time, we’d....
Well, the next we knew was that he had completed it. One summer morning
in 1965 a fat parcel arrived on my desk. In it was this present book,
each chapter neatly cross-tied with blue ribbon, and a fulsome apology
typed on the familiar university blue notepaper adorned, as always,
with barely legible hieroglyphics from the master’s own hand.
Within a few days I opened the Daily Telegraph. There,
without warning, was his obituary notice. It was unbelievable. I was
stunned. He had had such a zest for life.
Since then I have discovered that owing to his long
absence in South Africa, and before that on active service in the war,
many musicians, especially of the younger generation, know nothing of
Erik Chisholm. I have therefore obtained the permission of the journal
of the Composers’ Guild, The Composer, to reproduce here an article
I wrote in October 1965, as a tribute to a remarkable man.
If ever a man deserved the epithet "human dynamo" it
was Erik Chisholm. Seldom has any musician been so generously gifted
for creation, execution and administration as he; even rarer it is to
find one, so versatile in his gifts, so prodigiously generous in the
dispensing of them.
Born in Glasgow on 4 January, 1904, Erik was a delicate
child; for this reason he left Queen’s Park School at the early age
of 13. He had always shown musical talent as a boy, composing songs
and keyboard pieces some of which were published. He was studying piano
with Pouishnoff, and organ with Herbert Walton; by the time he was 12
he was giving organ recitals including an important one in Hull. In
1924 he went to Canada where he was organist and choir master at the
Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nova Scotia, as well as Director of
Music at Pictou Academy. On his return to Glasgow two years later, as
organist of the Barony Church he was the first to give a complete performance
of Karg-Elert’s 66 Choral Variations, in three recitals. This was typical
of his active enthusiasm for fellow composers’ work, often at the sacrifice
of opportunities for his own music, and always using his strength almost
to the point of exhaustion.
This enthusiasm led him to found the Active Society
for the Propagation of Contemporary Music, 1929, which was indeed "active"
for ten years and responsible for more than 200 first performances in
Great Britain, inviting many of our own leading composers to perform
their works, and personalities like Hindemith, Szymanovski, Bartók,
and Casella; also Sorabji who gave what is still probably the only public
performance to date of his Opus Clavicembalisticum and Fourth Piano
Sonata. He also revived the Dunedin Association, formed thirty years
earlier by Andrew Lang and Hamish McCunn, and formed the Scottish Ballet
Society (1928). Realizing that in spite of his immense practical musicianship
he needed academic "sanction", he obtained from Professor E. J. Dent
and Donald Tovey written assurances of their complete confidence in
him, which admitted him to Edinburgh University, a rare privilege for
a student possessing none of the usual certificates and diplomas. There
he obtained his Mus.B. in 1931 and his Mus.D. three years later.
He lectured well, researched diligently into such subjects
as Gaelic music, and was music critic for the Glasgow Weekly Herald
and Scottish Daily Express from 1930 to 1934. But his most memorable
activity was with the Glasgow Grand Opera Society which afforded many
of us the first opportunity to become acquainted with works such as
Berlioz’s Les Troyens, given on two consecutive evenings, but also as
a double dose on Saturday afternoon and evening for the sake of the
numerous critics and musical cognoscenti who must have thus contributed
nobly to the finances of the then L.M.S. Region of British Railways.
All these years Erik was busy teaching, playing, conducting
and composing. His first piano concerto was performed in the Amsterdam
Festival of 1933 and he began writing operas in 1935. As musical director
of the Celtic Ballet (founded by Margaret Morris), which he joined in
1938, he wrote four ballets.
The war disrupted all these activities. His physical
grade was four-much to his disgust-so he sought ways to contribute to
the morale alike of civilians and Forces. Thus in 1940 he joined the
Carl Rosa Company as one of its conductors, and a year later became
conductor and musical director of the Anglo-Polish Ballet Company which
he toured Italy for ENSA in 1943. Perhaps his most remarkable achievements,
possible only to a musician of such practical dynamism, were as Musical
Director for ENSA to the South-East Asia Command from 1943 to 1945.
In India he formed a multi-racial orchestra which gave many concerts.
He also became extremely interested in Eastern Music (his Hindustani
Piano Concerto reflects that interest). Erik’s violent enthusiasm, which
always made him such a stimulating colleague and so effective in whatever
field he happened to be working, sometimes brought him in head-on collisions
with his fellows. Such a collision occurred with his equally forceful
chief, none other than Col. Jack Hawkins. The clash was fortunate in
that it removed Erik to Singapore, where many thousands of P.O.W.s were
anxiously awaiting repatriation and the return home. Here Erik formed
the ENSA Singapore Symphony Orchestra-truly cosmopolitan, of fifteen
nationalities from East and West-with which he gave over fifty concerts.
With these, and lectures and playing, he brought fresh interest and
hope to the bored men, who used to queue in the early morning for his
From there he travelled in 1946 straight to Cape Town,
where he had already been appointed Professor of Music (later, Dean
of the Faculty), and Director of the S.A. College of Music. His reorganization
of the Departments, engagement of first-class professors of international
repute, and introduction of degree courses never prevented his intense
personal activities as lecturer, recitalist, and conductor; his Opera
Group not only toured the Union but also visited Europe, and it is sad
to reflect that he was to visit London in July 1965 to arrange a similar
tour for the following spring (i.e. 1966). His active interest in Czech
music had brought him the Dvořák Medal in 1956, a most unusual honour
which pleased him greatly. It is sad to think that he was not to see
the publication of this present book.
There is no space here to list his own music; the last
of his ten operas (based on The Importance of Being Earnest) is dedicated
to Sir Jack Westrup. His end came suddenly, but there had been signs
of excessive tiredness during the past twelve months. Overworked, and
worried by the apartheid which so long had not affected his professional
classes, but now began insidiously to affect his activities, he was
ordered in March this year to rest for three months. After only a month
he was back in his office, as usual, from 8.30 a.m. until late evening.
He was full of plans for sailing on 18th June for England, where the
eldest of his three daughters, Morag, a doctor, could have ensured his
rest and treatment. But it was too late; while the ambulance was on
its way to take him to hospital, he slipped away-so unlike his turbulent,
unruly life. He is sorely missed. Music rarely has had so utterly devoted
a servant, so tireless a practitioner, as Erik Chisholm. He literally
gave his life to, and for, music.
I ASK readers to forgive me
for beginning this series of essays with an
excerpt from my diary of 11 November 1958.
Brno, part of the former province
of Moravia, supports a symphony orchestra
of 114 players and has had a permanent national
opera since 1881: there are at least ten other
opera-houses in Czechoslovakia.
is the big musical figure in the history of
Brno and using the thirtieth anniversary of
his death as a more or less reasonable excuse
for holding a music festival in his honour,
almost his entire works were performed there
between the 12th and 30th October. To perform
nine different operas and give eight different
programmes of orchestral chamber and choral
music within a three-week period was a tremendous
undertaking and one which speaks volumes for
the zeal, devotion, talent and resources of
musicians and musical organizations in Brno.
As support to the musical performances, there
ran concurrently a fortnight’s International
Conference of Music Theoreticians reading
papers on and discussing every aspect of Janáček’s
The Czech Minister of Culture
very kindly invited me to attend the Brno
Janáček Festival. I flew from
Cape Town to Brno, where along with other
guests from many different countries, I stayed
at Brno’s then top hotel, the Grand, during
the period of the Festival. It was a most
rewarding and, indeed, surprising experience:
like many others with whom I spoke who attended
this unique one-composer festival, I came
away more than half convinced that as a 20th
century opera composer, Janáček
stands right at the top, along with Puccini
and Richard Strauss. Yet, while the stars
of Strauss and Puccini have long been shining
brightly in the operatic firmament, that of
Janáček is really only beginning
to rise, at least so far as recognition of
his genius is concerned out of his own country.
After the last Prague Spring Festival (when
the five greatest operas of Janáček
were given), and now the complete works at
Brno, I believe it can be reasonably expected
that after thirty years of international neglect,
these highly original and widely different
operas may now begin to come into their own
on the world’s operatic stages.
Since I wrote this, Sadler’s Wells has followed up its
highly successful production of Kátja Kabanová with performances of
Vixen Sharp-Ears and The Makropulos Case. Jenůfa has, of course, been
given at Covent Garden and in 1964 the Prague National Theatre performed
at the Edinburgh Festival a series of Janáček operas which included
the first British performances of The House of the Dead.
Leos Janáček was born on 3 July 1854, in Hukvaldy, near
an ancient castle in the mountainous part of Silesia close to the Moravian
border. His father, Jiří Janáček, an enthusiastic amateur musician,
was schoolmaster in the village and noted for his tenacity, severity
and hot temper-personal qualities which he handed down to his son. Leos
was one of fourteen children.
As a boy of 11, he entered the Queen’s Monastery School
in Brno as a chorister, working there for eight years under the inspiring
direction of Pavel Křížkovský, a highly talented conductor and composer.
Nicknamed "Blue Boys", these young musicians were given
an exceptionally extensive practical musical education: in addition
to singing choral works of the very highest order, they were formed
into an orchestra, performing professional standard repertoire works
like Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and the Coriolan Overture. They even
ventured into the operatic field producing Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Magic
Flute, Auber’s Fra Diavolo and other operas.
When, in 1873, Křížkovský was appointed choirmaster
to the Cathedral of Olomouc, Janáček partly took over his post at Brno.
Feeling the necessity for further study, however, he relinquished this
appointment after a year, and first enrolled as a student at the Prague
Organ School (school of music) in 1871 where he was permitted to take
the first two years of the course simultaneously-then a few years later
had two further study periods in Leipzig and Vienna (1879-80).
Janáček has told how, as a poverty-stricken student
in Prague, he learned to play Bach’s forty-eight Preludes and Fugues
by drawing with a piece of chalk on a table a piano keyboard.
After his Prague studies, Janáček returned to Brno where
he taught music and conducted the Brno Philharmonic Society. His first
teaching experiences were anything but happy, for he found teaching
unmusical pupils a drudgery-a torture: nor as a choirmaster was he noted
for his patience and tolerance-if anyone sang a wrong note he would
pounce on them with baton and pencil and belabour their unfortunate
As a composition student Janáček had to write certain
exercises and when he had choirs under his direction he wrote choral
works for them. His first instrumental composition was a Suite for string
orchestra in six movements in which the influence of Wagner and Smetana
may be seen.
It was at this time that a friendship sprang up between
the immature Janáček and the mature Dvořák. While a student in Prague,
he had attended a concert at which that other great Czech composer,
Smetana, was present: after a performance of one of Smetana’s works
there was a tremendous outburst of applause-heard by everyone in the
concert hall except the great Czech composer himself: this was in 1874
- the fateful year when Smetana was smitten with incurable deafness.
Janáček, however, was never so great an admirer of Smetana’s music as
he was of Dvořák’s.
Janáček had fallen in love with one of his pupils, the
daughter of the principal of the Brno Teachers’ Training College in
which he was employed, and having ended his student days for good, and
having made up his mind to settle in Brno, he married the 15-year-old
Zdeňka Schulzová in 1881. The set of piano variations he wrote in Leipzig
are subtitled "Zdeňka’s Variations".
In the same year as his marriage, Janáček was appointed
director of the newly formed Brno School for the training of Moravian
instrumentalists and composers, a project of which he had long dreamed:
thereafter he was plunged into a tremendously full, extensive, active
and stormy musical life as teacher, concert organizer, conductor, and
An important event in Janáček’s life, and one which
gave his own creative bent a new lead, was his collaboration with František
Bartošek in collecting and editing Moravian folksongs.
Janáček’s domestic life took a tragic turn with the
death of his son Vladimír in 1890 and his 21-year-old daughter Olga
13 years later: the Janáček marriage never really recovered from these
tragedies and, as the years passed, husband and wife drifted further
With the establishment of a Czech theatre in Brno, Janáček
began thinking in terms of the theatre and in 1887 had composed his
first opera Šárka. He resigned his appointment at the Teachers’ Training
College in 1904 to allow himself time for composition. The record of
Janáček’s life from that time forward until his death at the age of
74 is mainly an account of his many compositions-orchestral and choral
works, chamber music and opera, and their performances.
It is chiefly as an opera composer that Janáček has
gained an international reputation, and it is these operas, their history
and content, which is the subject of the present series of essays.