SHARP_EARS GETS HERSELF TALKED ABOUT
and the schoolmaster are playing cards in
a private room just off the main bar of the
Pásek Inn; both are well into their cups.
As the parson watches the game he pulls on
a long meerschaum pipe. As we see later, Janáček
intended the parson and the badger to be allied
characters and the pipe to be the visual link
between them. From time to time, the parson
takes long pulls at a tankard of ale. We are
evidently in the midst of a conversation for
we hear the parson saying to his friends that
in his new parish people are bound to respect
him. (No. 95 and A of No. 95 in a descending
sequence with the second note prolonged) That
reminds him, says the forester jokingly, that
there is bound to be a big wedding here one
of these days for everyone knows that our
friend the schoolmaster has a sweetheart.
The parson mutters under his breath "Non des
mulieri corpus tuum".
now launches into a song in which he mocks
the bashful schoolmaster for being so backward
in his courting of Verunka-in the excellent
English translation of the libretto by Norman
Once long ago he went
He and his girl,
springís call obeying,
Now all these
days are fast decaying,
Flowers are fading,
May timeís over
The girlís grown
old-so has her lover!
to this phrase
The song has
a folk-song flavour about it: at first the
accompaniment consists of No. 95, No. 95 inverted
and the descending sequence derived from (A):
later, when Sharp Ears is being discussed,
this tune appears
until the schoolmaster leaves.
Forester! "exclaims the schoolmaster
reproachfully, for it appears that the schoolmaster
never got around to asking Verunka to marry
him. The schoolmaster retaliates by saying
that foresters often go to the other extreme.
What about that vixen he took home with him
a while back? "Donít mention her to me
", replies the forester crossly, "she
got the better of me and I am well rid of
her. "The tipsy schoolmaster trumps his
own ace-an act of folly which completely restores
the foresterís good humour.
enters, somewhat alarmed at the amount of
noise coming from the ante-room. The parson
who has been by no means behind the others
in his drinking, again mutters his Latin tag
which the forester irritably asks him to translate.
"Give not thy body to a woman",
he chants piously, at which the forester laughs
uproariously and lifting up the coat-tails
of the schoolmaster asks if, by any stretch
of imagination, anyone could call this walking
skeleton a "body". He can't stop
laughing at his own joke. The schoolmaster
rises shakily to his feet, goes towards the
window, sees through it the first streak of
dawn and announces that as a cock has just
crowed it is time he went home.
replies that it is best to leave the cock
out of it: didnít Peter betray Jesus because
of one? The schoolmaster takes his hat, pays
the innkeeper and makes a drunken exit. The
innkeeper, who has been standing on tenterhooks,
summons up courage enough to whisper in the
parsonís ear that if he doesnít want to make
a scandal and have an embarrassing meeting
with his new parishioners, heíd also better
think about going home. With an irritable
"You donít have to tell me!" the
parson picks up his hat and hastily retires.
As the parson makes his exit we hear again
ten bars of the orchestral introduction, No.
At this point,
in German productions of the opera, the customers
in the main pub are seen looking threateningly
at the parson. In the vocal score, top of
p. 69, there are, indeed, two bars of music
in which the villagers express disapproval
of their new pastor: "Shame on you-drunkard!"
On the other hand, in performances of the
opera I have seen in Czechoslovakia the chorus
parts are omitted (and are likewise omitted
in the Supraphon recording by the Prague National
Theatre): indeed, the customers in the main
pub are never seen, nor is the above incident
mentioned by so great a Janáček authority
as Vogel in his account of the opera.
My own feeling
is that Janáček added the chorus parts and
the stage directions in the vocal score at
the suggestion of Max Brod who, as has already
been stated, made many questionable "improvements"
on the original libretto but whose judgment
Janáček trusted implicitly. The best that
can be said for this interpolation is that
it livens the action and makes more convincing
the punitive transfer of the parson to another
forester says facetiously to the publican
that maybe, after all, the schoolmaster will
sell his old bones to a woman. As he orders
another beer, he quotes from Scripture- "In
the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat thy bread
", pointing out that there is not a single
word in them for or against drinking. If only
the Lord had dropped a hint of two, but he
didnít, so another beer please! The innkeeper,
making conversation, says that one of these
days the forester must tell him all about
his adventures with the vixen. But this is
a sore point with the forester and he explodes
with a "Damn you, man, there is nothing
more to tell-she ran away thatís all, and
I am not running after her if thatís what
you think!" and bids the publican a curt good-night.
material for the dialogue between the innkeeper
and the forester is almost entirely devoted
to figure D in No. 94. From it grows the twisting
befuddled theme of the next orchestral interlude.
furiously, it tapers off into a soft trill
when the curtain rises.
Some way into
the forest we see a path leading uphill, bordered
by a fence behind which enormous sunflowers
are growing. Bright moonlight. One would naturally
suppose that this scene follows immediately
on the previous one when the cock crowing
has just heralded the dawn. It is unwise to
ponder on this and similar discrepancies in
Janáčekís opera, for this is the dangerous
path taken by Max Brod which resulted in him
making unnecessary and unwanted "reforms
comes up the path unsteadily, stopping for
a moment to say that either the earth is rotating
from west to east or his own centre of gravity
has shifted (rocking, off-balance phrases
in the orchestra). Anyway, something seems
to be the matter. He asks himself three questions:
Why had he spent the whole night drinking
with strangers (sic)? Why, when the whole
world was asleep, did he have to stay awake?
Why should he find himself groping about in
this ludicrous manner at the risk of breaking
a limb? He stumbles (a big climax in the orchestra
with trombones, etc., blaring out the first
two bars of No. 98), remarking that without
his stick he probably wouldnít get home at
all. The stick gives him the equivalent of
three legs to support him which makes a perfect
balance. He sways backwards and forwards shakily,
unwisely risks a few steps without the aid
of his stick and falls down on the ground
beside the sunflowers.
At this moment,
Sharp-Ears runs among the sunflowers and hides
(lovely pattering, shimmering sounds in the
orchestra). A gentle breeze makes the sunflowers
tremble mysteriously and the drunken schoolmaster
somehow identifies them with a former sweetheart
of his-not the Verunka mentioned in the previous
scene-but a gypsy girl named Terynka. We will
hear more of this Terynka in a few moments
for it appears that the parson once nursed
a guilty passion for this maiden, and still
another character, the disreputable Harašta,
whom we meet for the first time in the last
act, will lay claim to her as his bride. As
already stated, Terynka appears directly neither
in the opera nor in Tesnohlidekís story although,
in the latter, she is spoken of as the owner
of a sweet-shop.
raises a forefinger enquiringly (atmospheric
sustained "vision" music of great
beauty): "Staccato! Flageoletto!"
and then addresses the sunflower as though
it were Terynka. If he had only known she
was waiting for him he would have left the
inn hours ago
Does she really
love him? The flower, moved by the obliging
Sharp-Ears, nods a reply. He has loved her
for ages, she has kept him waiting so long
for an answer (picturesque music and scoring
which increases in erotic excitement) and,
although he is a poor, weak character, yet
his love for her is strong, and now that he
has found her again he will stay with her
forever. The sunflower moves coyly away. The
schoolmaster, taking this as a direct invitation,
runs towards the fence, bursts through it
and collapses helplessly on the other side
(deftly illustrated in the orchestra). Sharp
Ears runs from the sunflowers and hides in
now enters, tries unsuccessfully to light
a cigar and sitting down on a stone racks
his brain as to where in the classics the
phrase "Always remember to be a good
man" comes from. The drunken parson catches
the eyes of Sharp-Ears glowing through the
bushes and identifies them with the eyes of
This was altogether
a lamentable affair and occurred in his student
days when she used to look at him with eyes
of modesty and innocence-dark eyes, deep as
a pool that mirrored the skies above, but
eyes which also held in them treachery and
She got herself
into trouble with a butcher boy and he (the
music rhythmically livens up), the young priest,
was blamed for it. Since then he has never
been able to trust any woman but, he concludes
sadly, all that lies in the dim and distant
past (motif of longing, No. 101 again) and
now he is nothing but a poor old useless creature.
He brightens up though, when he suddenly remembers
that the phrase "Always remember to be
a good man" comes from Xenophonís Anabasis!
in hand-rushes in pursuing Sharp Ears, but
the vixen eludes him as the orchestra gives
a scream of rage. The shocked schoolmaster
and parson hurriedly pick themselves up, whimpering
pathetically that this rough-and-tumble character,
the gamekeeper, doesnít understand the frailty
of man. The schoolmaster climbs the fence
and rushes off as the parson makes his exit
in the opposite direction. The forester twice
fires his gun after the vixen and, coming
from the wood, says "I bet you anything
that was our own cunning little vixen. "(No.
101 transformed out of all recognition and
worked up as a whirling figure as the curtain
IS WOOED AND WON
We have come
now to one of the big, and certainly one of
the loveliest, scenes in the opera, the enchanting
wooing and marriage of Sharp-Ears. A wordless
and barely audible chorus off-stage sets an
atmosphere of romance and mystery preparing
us for the love scenes which are to follow.
and delicate theme has something of the quality
of a Moravian folk-song about it, with its
typical (Lydian) augmented fourth interval
at (A). It is preceded and followed by a forceful
orchestral version of the first two bars,
with a series of perfect fourths replacing
(B) of No. 103 which we hear lightly tripping
in a 3/8 allegretto as the curtain rises.
This semiquaver "tiptoe" 3/8 figure
of fourths combines and alternates with a
lilting triple-time version of bar 1 of No.
is resting blissfully in her vixenís den.
It is a warm midsummerís night, bathed in
bright moonlight. She hears a rustle in the
undergrowth and a handsome young fox appears.
She trembles all over. The fox approaches
her in a very refined manner and asks politely
whether his sudden appearance has startled
her. He has come to look at the birds which
he believes are nesting ;n this part of the
wood. Sharp-Ears replies modestly that -no,
he didnít frighten her and that there are
birds here, for she knows the neighbourhood
well. She was just going out for a short stroll
having a touch of headache. The fox asks if
he may accompany her, that is if her mother
doesnít mind: there are dangerous gamekeepers
about and she needs protection. The vixen
replies that she has been independent for
a long time and has, in fact, her own house
which her Uncle Badger bequeathed to her.
The ingratiating phrase
we have heard
before in Act I-compare with A of No. 86.
The fox is much impressed. She continues with
her tale at one time she lived with a forester
as one of his family where she was brought
up like a human being. In a low thrilling
voice she tells the fox how she was forced
to steal (a mischievous, "cocky"
little phrase No. 105)
was caught in the act by the forester who
boasted that he would kill her and make out
of her pelt a fur coat for his wife. But she
knew how to defend herself all right and the
forester got the worst of it:
on you, you old rip", she shouted, letting
her imagination run riot: "how dare you
strike an animal. Youíve got plenty of everything
and I have nothing. Go on, hit me! hit me!
But just you watch out" (forceful heroic
presentation of No. 106 plus). "And he
did hit me. ĎYou have asked for it thení,
I shrieked, and rushed at him. He fell to
the ground like a tree sawn asunder. I ran
off and have lived in the forest ever since
where I feel completely free. " One would
naturally assume that Sharp-Ears was giving
a boastful and exaggerated account of her
escape at the end of Act II: on consulting
Tesnohlidekís novel, however, one finds it
is quite another incident which she is describing.
The fox, overawed
with admiration, bows low before the vixen
and introduces himself (flutes play a variation
of the 3/8 allegretto sequence of perfect
fourths). He is Golden Crest, a curly-headed
fox from the Deep Ravine. She replies that
her name is Sharp-Ears, vixen, late of the
Foresterís Cottage, Lakeside, and gives him
a paw which he kisses. The fox asks if he
may be allowed to pay her another visit and
does she often walk in this clearing (the
affectionate lilting version of the first
bar of No. 103). She replies bashfully that
she has no objection to seeing him again,
and that between midnight and one oíclock,
she often goes for a walk alone (a tripping
whole-tone scale passage). She has no male
friends and she never allows anyone to keep
her company. He replies gallantly that she
is a model for the modern woman-oh and-by
the way -does she smoke? "Not yet",
I am very fond of rabbits."
The fox takes
formal leave and hurries away.
Sharp-Ears stretches herself out on the ground,
rolls in the sand, then cleans herself, smoothes
her fur and polishes her nails. Why does he
find her so attractive? Is she really so very
lovely? She ponders in blissful reverie to
equally lyrical, translucent music. Listen
to the delightful flute cadenza
the love motif
giving a sympathetic,
wonderfully true and tender portrayal of the
awakening of young love.
The fox quietly
stands watching the vixen from a hiding place
in the bushes. How lovely she is! He must
act quickly or someone else may claim her.
Sharp-Ears is likewise rhapsodizing about
the handsome fox who now emerges timidly,
bidding her good-morning. Rising shyly, SharpEars
asks why he has returned early. They both
laugh a little self-consciously
He says he
has brought her something nice for breakfast,
and shows her a rabbit he has just caught.
He continues to look at her lovingly, twirling
his moustache. They sit down to breakfast;
the sky brightens with the rosy glow of dawn.
Getting bolder, he bends his head down, places
his tail alongside the vixen and gives her
a timid kiss on the ear. Has she ever been
in love? No, the vixen replies bashfully:
what about him? "Nor I", says the
fox, and in an upsurge of passion he tells
her that that is because he has never met
a woman whom he could respect and honour-one
for whom he would be prepared to give his
But if he
did meet such a person-the vixen gulps and
is near fainting-he would ask her right out
whether she could love him. After a momentís
hesitation, he fiercely embraces the vixen,
who is terrified at these new emotions within
her and commands him roughly to go away and
never see her again.
fox tells her that he will kill himself-he
cannot live without her. "Itís you, Sharp-Ears,
you that I love so dearly! "he declares
passionately. "Me? "cries the vixen
incredulously, "M@! Why me? "(No.
96 as a delightful capricious polka).
no cunning, lying fox", he continues.
"I say only the things my heart is feeling.
I love your soul, not your body You are marvellous!
One day people will write books and operas
(sic) about you!" (further derivative
love motif). He hugs and kisses her, and asks
her if she really wants him (solo violin,
harp in tender erotic music). "Yes",
she whispers humbly, "yes, indeed."
They both slip into the den.
The blue dragon-fly
reappears and repeats her questing dance from
the first scene of Act I to the same delicate
tentative flute and violin music. An owl flies
in fussily like a shadow (to wonderfully descriptive
screeching owl music). Have they heard the
news? Do they know the scandalous thing that
has happened? The little vixen is as bad as
the rest of them! She has just seen it all.
A host of animals have now appeared: squirrels
chuckle, a hedgehog sticks out its tongue,
a canary and a jay nod knowingly.
crawls out of the den followed by the fox.
her downfall! The phrase is immediately repeated
in the orchestra in a triumphant jerky variation,
probably indicative of the foxís satisfaction.
is the matter? Why are you crying?" the
fox asks anxiously. "Donít you know?
Canít you guess?" and Sharp-Ears whispers
in his ear and falls on his neck (climax).
The fox sighs deeply: "Well, in that
case... we had better see a parson! "
A woodpecker pokes his head out of an old
ash tree (clattering xylophone noises) declaring
gruffly that it is about time too! Do they
want him to marry them? "Yes, if you
please", replies the fox. The woodpecker
conducts the wedding ceremony and the chorus
of animals and insects sing a broadened chorale-like
version of the first half of No. 103, concurrently
with the loud opening bars of the orchestra
(i.e. the same theme) with happy animal clutterings
on top. The chorus then sing and dance a gay
nuptial dance, the haunting third and fourth
bar of No. 103 speeded up and boxed into a
conventional sixteen-bar phrase in polka time.
Contrasted to it is No. 112 in happy waltz
rhythm with block chord harmonies in the orchestra:
these two themes alternate three times. No.
112 at its third appearance is interrupted
by soprano, tenors and trumpet crashing in
with the end phrase of No. 103 (marked C).
This new idea is repeated several times and
the jolly (wordless) wedding dance-song concludes
in triumph with a tutti piu mosso repeat of
the first part of the dance.