of manuscript handwriting is an accredited
attribute of genius, then Janáček must stand
alongside no less a composer than Ludwig van
Beethoven. I examined several of the original
Janáček scores at the Brno Museum and found
them to be all but unintelligible.
drew the stave lines himself with a free-hand,
despising printed staves which he said "in
their emptiness, tempt me to fill them with
a quite unnecessary number of notes ".
Rubber erasers would appear to have been an
unknown commodity in Czechoslovakia in the
first quarter of this century, and razor blades
and knives with keen edges a rarity (except
for taking the bloom off an occasional maiden’s
frequent corrections and alterations of his
original ideas are all piled one on top of
the other, so that often a page of his manuscript
looks far more like an abstract pen-and-ink
drawing than a page of music!
He had a habit,
too, of composing some of his operas in "bits";
setting a few lines of the libretto here and
a few lines there, making several alternative
settings and joining up all the "bits"
afterwards. Czechoslovakian musicologists
are not looking forward to the year 1978 when,
with the Viennese copyright of the big Janáček
works expired, they will have to face up to
the Herculean task of deciding which of the
many existing versions should be incorporated
in a definitive edition of his works. I was
told that in the case of the opera Fate, there
is almost enough music "left over"
to make another opera!
Osud is by
far the most controversial of the Janáček
operas: following the highly successful Jenůfa
and composed as long ago as 1906, it yet failed
to attract any opera promoter in Czechoslovakia
or elsewhere, and only received a first performance
at the Brno Janáček Festival in October 1958.
I hope readers
will forgive me for again quoting some notes
which I wrote in my diary at the time:
wrote some top-line music for his fourth
opera, Osud. I attended a couple of rehearsals
before the première on October 25th, so
got to know the music fairly well The
first act has in it some really dramatic
music; the garden scene is full of gay,
lilting rhythms and tunes; the whole opera
is near-vintage Janáček.
critics appear to find influences of Puccini,
Dvořák and Tchaikovsky: in my opinion,
the influence of other composers is negligible
and need not disturb us.
however, is so feeble as to preclude any
possible success for the work in its present
form. Here is a rough synopsis of the
loves a girl who has borne him a child.
They would marry, but the girl’s mother
considers her daughter better off as an
unmarried mother than as the wife of a
penniless musician. The opening act is
set in a fashionable park: teenagers romp
and dance, elegant ladies and gentlemen
promenade. The composer and his girl-friend
meet again by chance, and after doing
a spot of Tristan and Isolde staring at
one another, have two long discussions,
after which they finally decide to risk
marriage, in spite of Mamma’s objections.
Mamma, herself, puts in a short appearance
with fox stole, laced boots and other
faded Victorian trimmings, slouching about
the stage with melodramatic, half-crazed
looks from beneath her heavily mascara’d
We see the composer composing, the wife
knitting, the child reading. Enter Mamma,
tearing her hair; pushes daughter over
balcony and jumps over herself.
The composer, now grown sufficiently senile
to be a professor and principal of a music
academy, tells his students about the
opera he has just written on the sad,
sad story of his life. A sudden flash
of lightning-the composer falls dead-fried!
after the Brno première, the Stuttgart
Opera House gave Janáček’s music adapted
to a somewhat different story. After viewing
both productions, Janáček experts will
meet to discuss which version, if either,
should be published.
been known to succeed in holding an honourable
place in the repertoire despite the weakness
of their story, the most obvious example being,
of course, Verdi’s Il Trovatore. We know that
Janáček got hold of a garbled version of a
partly true story, which had already been
used for the basis of a one-act opera by Vitezslav
Čelanský, performed in Prague, 1897. A certain
Kamila (a name which somehow keeps popping
up in Janáček archives!) double-crosses a
certain Viktor (a poet), for she equally accepts
the advances of a certain young lieutenant.
When Viktor discovers the deception, he denounces
and renounces Kamila for ever.
the services of a 20-year-old schoolteacher
and friend of his daughter Olga, one Fedora
Bartošekova, to write the libretto for him as
a kind of continuation of this flimsy story,
giving her the most minute instructions how
the job was to be done: it had to be in verse,
similar to Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, which,
incidentally-both play and opera considerably
influenced the Janáček work: the meeting by
chance of the lovers in the park is paralleled
in Tatiana’s meeting with Onegin at the ball
in St. Petersburg; Osud originally contained
a letter scene, etc.
enthusiasm for the subject of his new opera
appeared to know no bounds: without even giving
his librettist a clear-cut picture of the
entire story, he sent her odd bits of the
libretto which he himself had written, asking
the dazed Miss Bartošekova to put them into
verse and send them back by return post; which,
when she did so, he immediately set to music.
of Osud which I witnessed in 1958 was that
edited by Václav Nosek: the Stuttgart production
which followed a day later was a musical and
textual rearrangement by Kurt Honolka. It
is now time to give a less frivolous account
of the story of the opera, as set to music
by Leos Janáček.
Here is the
story as first outlined by the composer: "A
wealthy young woman and a poor young composer
fall in love with one another. But fate will
not allow them to marry; instead the girl
marries a wealthy farmer. The sadly disillusioned
composer writes an opera exposing the falseness
and shallowness of the woman he loved: later
her husband deserts her. The couple meet again
by chance in a certain spa and become lovers
again." Dr. Theodora Straková, who has made
a special study of this opera, gives a fuller
synopsis of the dramatic material as it was
later laid out by the composer for a three-act
opera, a synopsis which, incidentally, differs
considerably from that finally accepted by
Janáček. This version was largely autobiographical:
one easily identifies Živný, the hero of the
opera, with Janáček himself, for, writes Dr.
Straková, he makes statements about art and
his method of composition which are Janáček’s
own, he writes music which, while being highly
individual, makes little appeal to the general
public, his opera is rejected by the theatre
manager; he becomes director of a musical
academy, and even mourns the loss of a beloved
daughter-experiences bitter and factual which
Janáček himself underwent. One notes, too,
that the definitive story of the opera as
told in Vogel’s book is by no means identical
with that given in Straková’s essay- "The
problem of Janáček’s opera, Osud". As the
vocal score of the opera has not yet been
published, it is somewhat difficult to set
forth a clear-cut account of the libretto,
which underwent many changes in the process
of construction and is by no means a straightforward
It is a bright
sunny morning: people are gaily promenading
in a park at the Spa of Luhačovice as the
orchestra plays a lilting waltz. Janáček introduces
a number of different characters whom he saw
and met at the Spa when he visited it in 1903.
The following motif is prominent in the orchestra:
sing a hymn to the sun of which Jan Kunc wrote:
"Janáček successfully portrayed in music,
nature painting which Antonin Slavíček had
equally successfully captured on canvas-the
feeling of blinding light and scorching sun
drenching the promenade of a small country
spa." A very beautiful and much-sought-after
young woman, Míla, appears and is presented
with a bouquet of roses by one of her admirers,
the painter Lhotsky. Suddenly and unexpectedly,
she sees among the crowd the composer Živný,
who once was her lover and by whom she had
a child. The following somewhat poignant and
nostalgic melody expresses the emotions of
the lovers at their unexpected meeting:
tells Míla of the loneliness of his
life since she left him and of the difficulties
he is experiencing in his own creative work,
which lacks inspiration and direction. Míla
is touched by his sincerity and her own deep
feelings for her former lover return. She
asks him if he has come to claim their son
and agrees to allow him custody of the child:
they arrive at a reconciliation.
scene is followed by a more lyrical episode
in which Janáček limits his orchestra to a
piano and wind instruments.
promenading crowd are groups of teenage girls
and students. Miss Prim (Stuhlá), the schoolmistress,
reminds her youthful charges that it is time
for them to attend a rehearsal. Another group
makes preparations for a picnic.
An odd character,
a certain Dr. Viktor Suda, enters flourishing
a huge umbrella around which some of the gay
young ladies tie brightly coloured ribbons
of red, white and blue, the traditional Slavonic
Two of the
teachers as soloists and the students as choir
in imitation, perform a rather serious choral
number accompanied by a piano.
Dr. Suda tops
this with a somewhat frivolous little song
(again in praise of the sun and based on the
previous sun motif, with something of the
character of a Russian folksong about it):
Lhotsky joins in the fun, exhorting them all
to eat, drink and be merry, and to the sound
of bagpipe and fiddle the company make a breezy
and noisy exit.
In a few moments,
Míla and Živný return from
their stroll and resume their conversation.
We now learn something of their past intimacies:
how, after seeing the composer conduct a performance
of one of his operas, Míla was so stricken
with a bout of hero-worship that she enthusiastically
jumped into his bed-later visiting an aunt
in the country to have her baby.
In a monologue
somewhat reminiscent of the atmosphere of
Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, Živný
confesses that he still loves Míla,
while she in her turn declares that she has
never ceased to love him and that it was her
mother who came between them and attempted
to force her into marrying a rich suitor.
Míla’s lyrically intense narrative
is one of the most moving and beautiful parts
of the opera: "I want to be scorched
by sunshine: I want the sun to burn up my
sadness", she declares passionately as
the orchestra plays the motif of "Fate"
which is prominent throughout the opera:
has pointed out the parallelism between Jenůfa
and Míla, both being unmarried mothers
and both victims of interference from loving
but misguided and unrealistic mothers.
have agreed to marry: Míla only fears
how her decision will be accepted by her mother.
The scene is dominated by the "Fate"
motif, supported by its characteristic ostinato
of an hour after saluting the rising sun and
going off on an early morning spree, the picnickers
now return lovingly in pairs, as night begins
to fall! Dr. Suda suggests they should go
to a nearby hotel and round off the evening
with a dance: there is merriment and some
In the preceding
crowd scene we may have caught a glimpse of
a tragic-looking woman, moaning moodily around:
this is the mother of Míla who now
re-enters. When she is told that her daughter
has been seen in the company of the composer
Živný and appears to be reconciled
with him, she is very much upset. "This
can only lead to disaster", she exclaims
dramatically, as the curtain falls.
themes from Act I give further evidence of
the high quality of Janáček’s music:
prelude with its chamber music scoring introduces
a quiet, pensive motif:
the intimate family scene in front of a warm
fire, which we are about to view.
acts, two important events have occurred:
and Míla have married.
to bear the thought of Živný
making an honest woman out of her daughter,
the old woman has gone mad; or, to speak
more charitably, as the grandes dames
in Stendhal’s Verrières might have behaved
if one of their daughters had married
the stable-boy. The shock of her daughter
marrying a penniless low born composer,
in preference to the wealthy suitor the
mother herself had chosen for her daughter,
so preyed on her mind as to affect its
balance. During the period of his bitter
bachelor-hood, Živný had written
the first two acts of an autobiographical
opera and when the curtain rises he and
his wife are seen paging through its score.
Živný’s opera is the one referred
to by Janáček "expressing
the falseness and baseness of the woman
to wrench your heart from its breast and show
to the whole world its fraud, its falsehood,
its rottenness", declares Živný, "but
I see now that I deceived myself, that I let
my mad passions and jealousy overrule me.
It is all lies, lies, lies that I have written!"
and the remorseful composer furiously tears
up this particular section of his opera.
is based on motifs and their variations having
an underlying tenseness not met with in the
first act. The "Fate" motif-No.
237, sometimes varied-is also present and
with its usual ostinato accompaniment.
says that she too was guilty, presumably of
not running away with her lover in the first
A dark shadow
is cast across the mutual confessions and
new understanding of the lovers by the mad
mother, off-stage, interjecting: she is obsessed
by the terrible sin once committed by her
daughter. Her voice continues as a sinister
counterpoint in an echo-like duet as Živný
reads telling excerpts from letters which
have passed between him and Míla during
their time of trial. Here Janáček
reduces the orchestra to a piano quasi-extemporization
In an expressive
and revealing monologue, Živný
chastises himself still further for having
caused Míla needless suffering and
for being so uncharitable as to believe the
rumour that she had betrayed him: he has at
least musically atoned for this by destroying
the portion of his opera which centred round
these unpleasant and now proved false and
untruthful incidents. (Further development
of motifs which may be classified as a "Živný
family" group of themes.) All this time
their young son Doubek-recently legitimized-has
been sitting quietly reading a book.
He now turns
to his mother and asks her naively: "Mother,
do you know what love is?"
to which she
guardedly, but with real feeling, replies:
"It is when Jack and Jill love one another."
Míla’s mother now enters and at once
angrily attacks Živný as the seducer
of her daughter: the Fate motif which has
persisted in the orchestra is now taken up
by the voice (the mother).
woman works herself up to a wild, uncontrolled
frenzy and passion, accusing Živný
of marrying Míla for her money (if
a phrase like "wanting to rob me of my
gold" can be so interpreted). She keeps
screaming "Osud" (Fate); finally,
clutching hold of her daughter she pushes
Míla through the balcony window and
jumps after her to her death.
boy cries pitifully: Živný pathetically calls
on Heaven to strike him down with lightning
and put an end to his sorrow.
builds up to a dramatic climax in which No.
235 reappears and the Fate motif-sometimes
introduction to the third act describes a
storm and has something in common with the
opening scene of Smetana’s opera Viola (based
on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night) of which the
composer left only some fragments. (* Miss
Margaret Cox remarks that when Smetana tried
to write Viola he had become quite insane,
and that Dr. Chisholm’s comparison is unfortunate.-Ed.)
storm music is based on this subtly chromatic
over from orchestra to an off-stage male-voice
choir in an unusual and highly original piece
of music. Accompanied canonically by trombone,
tuba and bass, the storm motif is sung by
a solo tenor, gradually being taken up by
different orchestral instruments: when the
climax is reached, the Fate motif reappears
in a new rhythmical and melodic variation.
The last act
is set in the hall of the College of Music
of which Živný is now Principal. Some years
have elapsed since the tragic death of his
wife and the suicide of her mother. A group
of students are excitedly discussing the forthcoming
première of their professor’s new opera. One
of these students, Verva, asks the others
if they know what important people are likely
to attend the opening performance (mainly
organ and harp accompaniment). Verva has a
score of the opera and plays an excerpt from
it-the children’s scene in Act II.
arrives and in answer to questions from some
of his students, he explains to them the story
of his opera, adding that he has written only
the first two acts- "the last act is in the
hands of God, where it must remain!"
hero /composer of the opera is called Lensky,
the students fully understand that the opera
is really about their own professor: the audience
knows, too, all about the tragic misunderstanding
between Živný and Míla
(from Míla’s "aria" in Act
I); and as Živný continues the
story we have witnessed in Osud Act II (with
sympathetic comments from the students), he
gradually loses himself in an ecstatic vision,
dropping all pretence that the story is not
that of his own life history.
When he recalls
the beauty, charm and sweetness of Míla,
Doubek, the child of their love, pathetically
cries out for his mother. During Živný’s
narrative sequence, the storm which commenced
in the orchestral interlude gradually becomes
increasingly severe. There is a blinding flash
of lightning in which a vision of Míla
appears for a moment: "That is her cry!
Can you not hear it?", cries the distraught
composer as he falls to the ground struck
it is music for the last act of your opera",
the bright pupil Verva exclaims hopefully.
Some students run off to fetch a doctor as
Živný staggers shakily to his feet: "Music
for the last act?", he exclaims with
great intensity, "No! That is in the
hands of God and there it must remain! "
Leaning heavily on his son and supported by
students, Živný staggers out, bruised but
believes that a descending passage in the
orchestra indicates the death of Živný struck
by the thunderbolt, but that Janáček in a
revision of the libretto changed his mind
about killing off his hero.
The Fate motif
and in variations such as the following:
plays a large
part in Act III.
Osud is important
in the development of Janáček’s individual
compositional technique, for here the constant
variation and metamorphosis of motifs is thoroughly
mature for the first time. The opera is in
a sense monothematic: the Fate motif and its
many derivatives dominates all three acts,
unifying the three contrasting themes of:
the sun-Act I, the home-Act II, the storm-Act
admiration for the story and the libretto
of Osud has already been commented on and
must be accepted as his sincere conviction:
certainly he wrote a magnificent score to
what every writer on Osud agrees is a singularly
unmotivated and painfully weak story.
In his enthusiasm,
Janáček could write that "the main characters
are all clearly defined and the episodes are
blended in happily: the verse flows along
fresh and melodious".
Yet in spite
of this and similar laudatory statements,
he must at times have had inner reservations
about the literary and narrative merits of
his work: thus, when offering the opera to
the Vinohradske Theatre (The theatre in Vinohradske,
a district of Prague) for production he suddenly
panicked, writing to his great friend Artus
Rektorys, that he was afraid of the severity
of the Director, Subert’s, criticism, and
asking Rektorys to stress particularly the
fact that the story of the opera was actually
true, a somewhat negative argument in its
Again we find
him in September 1907 asking the author, Dr.
František Skacelik, to rewrite the libretto:
and a decade later he begged the poet, Jaroslav
Kvapil, to undertake a similar task for him.
Finally, when Kvapil and even that most slavish
of all his admirers, Max Brod, turned down
the offer he accepted the unlucky "osud"
of Osud and stopped trying to sell the opera
version of the story by Honolka puts on the
stage a wealthy suitor to whom Míla’s
mad mother marries off her daughter. This
at least provides a motif for Živný’s
jealousy and subsequent conduct and brings
wealth, poverty and love into a conventional
conflict. Although Honolka restores the mother
to sanity in the last act (which is a good
point) he unfortunately omits the main motif
of the story which is the self-revealing opera
of Živný motivated by his belief
in Míla’s unfaithfulness and desertion
of him, with the knowledge that later when
he is told the truth he has been unjust to
her, which feeling of remorse is the reason
why he cannot finish his opera. And -all things
considered-possibly a good thing, too!
Operas on which Janáček Might Have Composed
Puccini had lived as long as Emilia Marty
and he had written operas on all the librettos
and stories he contemplated doing during his
lifetime, he would have been the composer
not of a mere dozen or so operas, but have
had at least seventy-five to his credit.
and unlikely subjects considered by Puccini
were Hugo’s Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame and
Les Miserables, Shakespeare’s King Lear, Henry
IV and Henry V, Lord Lytton’s The Last Days
of Pompeii, Blackmore’s Lorna Doone, and Buddha,
Benvenuto Cellini, Oliver Twist, Rip van Winkle,
La Glui, The Arabian Nights, Trilby and William
We know that
Debussy wrote sketches for King Lear and also
considered As You Like It, The Fall of the
House of Usher, The Devil in the Belfry and
Tristram and Yseult as possible subjects for
had his dreams, although the subjects he considered,
apart from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and The
Living Corpse (both, by the way, down on Puccini’s
list), are not likely to mean much to non-Czech
on "Mr. Brouček", he had toyed with
a number of subjects, including another Moravian-Slovak
drama The Farmer’s Wench and a one-act play
Spring Song, both by Gabriela Preissová, the
librettist who had served him so well in Jenůfa.
A year later, in 1905, he visited the village
of Blatnice to note down various melodies
he heard at a fair there, with the intention
of composing a national fairy-tale opera "Johnny,
the Hero", on a text by Dostal Lutinov.
Other plays he considered at this period were
an Easter mystery play The Soul of the Bells,
an historical play The Mint-master’s Wife,
and a national costume folk-drama Marysa.
A rival subject
to Ostrovsky’s The Storm was a tragic idyll,
The Forester’s Wife, much as Šalda’s the Child
was an alternative to Karel Čapek’s Utopian
comedy, The Makropulos Case.
One of the
last jobs he did ("They want me now to
try a comic opera!"), was to make musical
sketches for Gerhard Hauptmann’s Schluck und
Jau-a six-act play which is a kind of cross
between Holberg’s Jeppe of the Hill and the
opening of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the
offered him by various optimistic authors
included "Judas ", "The Lost
Head", "The Witch", "Body and Soul",
"Castle in Bohemia", "The Cloak
with the Golden Stars", "The Haunted
Mansion", and "A Grandfather against
reckoning-seven major operas (if we can somehow
squeeze in Osud) and two trial efforts-is
surely enough for one man’s contribution to
operatic literature, and more than enough
for a realistic share of the world operatic
If out of
seven, only Jenůfa and Kátja Kabanová have
really crossed the national frontiers of Czechoslovakia
to any purpose, that is surely because these
two operas belong to the emotional, romantic,
realistic school which makes a wide international
public appeal, and not because the music of
the other five operas is inferior. The Felsenstein
production of Sharp-Ears (the Czech equivalent
of Hansel and Gretel) raised immediate and
widespread interest in this enchanting nature
opera: after having seen this delightful production,
nothing would surprise me less than Felsenstein-or
someone in his class-turning the Adventures
of Mr. Brouček into a similar success: the
basic comedy in words and music is there for
of the Dead, exciting but static, and The
Makropulos Case, moving but wordy, have had
outside successes in the last few years: the
inherent sterling quality of the music of
both operas is undeniable.
Osud, I fear,
will need the miracle of a new libretto to
be performable other than as a pious tribute
to a musical genius, who somehow on this occasion
got himself confused and went astray.
conclude my tribute to the musical genius
of Leos Janáček with the words of Browning
used by Rosa Newmarch thirty years ago as
a peroration to her comprehensive survey of
MUSIC! GOOD ALIKE AT GRAVE AND GAY!'
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