THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD
1 Part2 Part3
Novel-its Relation to the Opera: Act II
Aljejaís friendship with Petrovič is
one of the most beautiful episodes in the entire book, and the character
of Aljeja himself is drawn with extraordinary delicacy and sympathy.
Aljeja was the youngest of five brothers. "His smile was so confiding,
so childishly trusting, his big black eyes were so soft, so caressing,
that I always found a particular pleasure in looking at him, ever a
consolation in my misery and depression", writes Petrovič in his alleged
The reader may be curious to know how
it came about that this simple-hearted youth could land among this den
of thieves, thugs and cut-throats. It appeared that one of his elder
brothers ordered him to take his sabre, mount horse, and go with them
on some expedition. With the respect that a younger brother owes to
an elder brother, Aljeja did not dream of asking what the expedition
was or where they were going. It soon became evident that the elder
brothers intended to rob and, if necessary, kill a rich merchant. And
so it happened. All six brothers were caught, tried and sentenced to
penal servitude in Siberia. Aljeja, being the youngest, received a shorter
sentence. His touching story may be read in pages 56-60 of the novel.
As with the episode of the eagle, Janáček
also presents this story in two stages: (a) a vicious attack on Aljeja
at the end of Act II leads, naturally, to his hospitalization and to
(b) the conversation between the wounded boy and his sympathetic friend
about Jesus and his miracles. Readers of the novel will remember that
Petrovič spent a considerable part of his imprisonment is the relatively
congenial surroundings of the prison hospital.
The story of Lujza and the German watch-repairer
is told on pp. 114-19, only the reciter is not Skuratov but one Bakluškin,
described as one of the liveliest and most charming of the convicts.
Like Skuratov, he is always in high spirits, good-natured and classed
as a self-appointed entertainer, full of fire and life. In his initial
plan for the opera Bakluškin was to be a lyric-tenor and it was only
while writing the opera that Janáček thought of combining the two characters
into a single person. They had much in common for they were both merry
fellows who did their best to keep up the morale of the other prisoners.
It is true that while the convicts neither despise nor detest Bakluškin
for this, Skuratov overplays his act so much that they think of him
as a foolish and useless person. His shrill crazy voice screaming out
"La, la, la" and his wild outbursts of dancing get on the
nerves of the other convicts who, at heart, are a very conservative
lot of men. But this is a subtlety Janáček could afford to ignore.
Janáček has somewhat abbreviated the
story of Bakluškin (Skuratov) and his love for the little German laundress,
omitting altogether the events which immediately follow his shooting
of the sausage-eating watch-repairer. He is not immediately arrested,
as Lujzaís aunt is so frightened that at first she tells no one of the
incident. Lujza searches out her soldier lover, throws herself on his
neck crying that it is all her fault for listening to her aunt, that
she truly loves him and will follow him anywhere. It is all the same
in the end, of course, but the touching reunion of the lovers and their
wishful hopes for a life together remind one of a similar mirage of
hope and happiness just before Cavaradossi cheerfully faces the firing-squad
in Pucciniís Tosca. The drunken convict who keeps interrupting the narrative
with his cries of: "He keeps telling lies! Not a word of truth
in it. It is all a lie! "is taken from quite a different part of
the book, Chapter 10, pp. 132-3.
The Theatricals occur at Christmas and
Dostoevsky gives details of the orchestra the convicts assembled for
the performances: 2 violins which scraped and screeched, 2 home-made
balalaikas which were wonderful, 2 guitar-players of whom one was a
splendid performer ("the gentleman who had murdered his father!"):
a tambourine "instead of a double-bass" (sic), and 2 accordions
which were played with dash and fire.
"Kedril", the second of the
pantomimes presented, is obviously a fragment with no meaning or consistency
in it. Don Juan (the master) has a touch of Faust about him for we are
told that he once made a pact with the Devil and -the hour of reckoning
is at hand. Kedril (the servant) is the real hero of this hilarious
sketch and his fooling and buffoonery, his "taking off" of
his master, makes up the entire piece. Janáček added Elvira, the clergymanís
wife and a knight to the dramatis personae, bringing it more in line
with the traditional Spanish legend and its subsequent dramatic and
operatic treatment by Molière, Mozart and others. The little devil who
returns to pinch the clergymanís wife is an amusing touch (Janáčekís
idea) similar to the humoresque postscript at the end of Rosenkavalier,
when the little blackamoor page skips in to collect Sophieís handkerchief.
It was also Janáčekís idea to make the third visitor in "The Millerís
Wife Pantomime", Don Juan, disguised as a Brahmin and allow him
to triumph over the husband and make a conquest of the amorous millerís
wife. For some reason the playwrights and librettists who have worked
on the Don Juan theme have made their hero out to be really a singularly
unsuccessful lover, despite his vigorous assertions to the contrary.
It may seem fantastic that convicts
can get drunk in prison and have access to women. The novelist assures
us, however, that arrangements with women were difficult but by no means
impossible and, by setting the amatory scene between a young convict
and Chekunda (see pp. 30-31) during the holiday festivities when guests-including
women guests-had been invited, Janáček makes this scene out to be quite
plausible. Vodka and other drinks were smuggled into the prison by so-called
"publicans"-prisoners without any trade who undertook this
dangerous task. Needless to say, there was never any lack of customers.
The drunk convict who keeps interrupting
Skuratovís tale is only one of several theatrical devices which Janáček
introduces to keep his action alive, and to give an otherwise bald narrative
an as it were fourth dimension: in Šapkinís story there is Lukaís coughing
and a group of convicts who kept asking if the Chief of Police was crazy.
Lukaís dying coughs become louder and more ominous in the narrative
which follows-the story of Akulkaís husband, and the eager interjection
of the excited Čekunov and the snoring of the convicts bring a strong
conviction of reality to these scenes.
The end of Act II is very cleverly handled
by Janáček the librettist: in the last five minutes of the act several
short vivid scenes succeed one another with the rapidity of a film sequence.
First the sixty-second dialogue between the soldier and the prostitute
(amorous); then the twenty-eight-word conversation between the smart-alec
convict and the toothless old soldier (humorous); then the eight-measure
song about the young Cossack (pathos) which, reduced to half its length,
intrudes into the grim final scene where the aggressive bully taunts
the two friends, assaulting one of them (tragedy). There are few five-minute
sequences in all opera into which so much action and contrast are packed.
Music of Act II
Musical themes in open fifths have been
used before to represent pictorial effects, perhaps the most familiar
example being at the beginning of the third act of La Boheme when snow
is falling. The open fifths on flutes, as prelude to the wordless song
at the beginning of the second act of The House of the Dead, may suggest
to some a bleak and barren landscape which becomes warmer when the high
tessitura of the song is heard: an oboe adds a pastoral touch when it
repeats the plaintive phrase of the voice.
One bar later, plucking strings duplicate
the voice rhythms; this immediately becomes an instrumental theme in
its own right
and together with its inverted variation
dominates the bustling and increasingly
animated toccata-like introduction until the curtain rises.
The sound of a saw and a general feeling
of restless activity prepare us for the scene of convicts hammering
away at the boat they are breaking up. Janáčekís theme here is the descending
three-note chromatic figure (A) of No. 13 repeated over and over again
presto and harmonized in major triads. The hammers clang mechanically
away in time to the music.
(A) of No. 13 is transformed out of
all recognition, as Petrovič and the gentle Aljeja talk of Aljejaís
mother and sister. It begins quietly on legato strings and cor anglais,
in moderato tempo and compound-triple time, with the major triads of
the hammer sequence changing much more slowly. Janáček, who is almost
as detached and objectively orientated from the characters he portrays
as is Dostoevsky, allows himself a touch of compassion (or is it desperation?)
when Aljeja speaks with emotion of his mother appearing to him in a
dream. When he first mentions his mother a warm expressive arpeggio
phrase is heard on the horn (see -4). Petrovič eases the tension
by quickly changing the subject and offering to teach the youth to read
This figure also accompanies the "Hou,
Hou" chorus of the convicts as they resume their noisy hammering
(). The falling mast is somehow understood to be the signal for the
festivities to begin: the convicts lustily shout "Holiday "to
a chord bristling with flats and double flats . While this gay little
figure is tossed about in the orchestra
we hear the peal of many bells, about
double the number used in the already extravagant bell sequence in Tosca
which perhaps suggested this idea of Janáček. Jaroslav Seda calls them
Easter bells, another writer says they ring from the castle. Tosca is
set in Rome, a city of churches, The House of the Dead is a Siberian
prison where, one would imagine, the sound of a bell would be as rare
as the sound of children laughing. No matter-if it is a bit far-fetched
in the context of a verismo drama, we accept this (and other stagey
or contrived effects such as the choral snoring of the prisoners, the
organized laughing chorus and the unison beating of the hammers) because
it provides contrast and colour in a stage piece which could be so easily
monotonous and repetitive.
While the orchestra plays a grotesque
march  with one of the longest tunes in the opera-four bars-Commandant,
guests and guards arrive. A solemn peal of bells-the score calls for
bells of twenty-five different pitches- "Greetings on this holiday"
is the nearest to a blessing Janáček, who was a militant atheist to
the day of his death, will allow his Priest. Music of hilarious gaiety
follows (p. 70) (a jumpy three-note figure repeated ad infinitum): the
Priest and Commandant leave as the orchestra plays the middle part of
the processional March . The three note figure continues to repeat
itself while a military drum executes a long roll: great excitement:
the same motif with the middle note of double value and phrased differently
is heard at the introduction to Skuratovís narrative . The Skuratov
themes in Act I, later reappearing in Act III, are not used at all in
his Act II narrative. It is possible that the Skuratov dual motif (No.
9) referred to is associated in Janáčekís mind with the convict Skuratov
as we see him -slightly mad-in his present wretched condition: and the
new themes in the narrative are to be understood as being associated
with the innocent young soldier and his tragic love affair. It is much
more probable, however, that the music he composed for the narrative
covers Bakluškinís story: after which he decided to combine the two
characters, liquidate Bakluškin and attribute the latterís narrative
to Skuratov. Bakluškinís (Skuratovís) theme is a single melodic thread
in keeping with the simple, straightforward, honest, humble and likeable
young soldier that he was. The unexpected supertonic major chord marked*
is a charming
harmonic touch. Figures A, B, C and D form
themselves into appendix motifs: A at +17,
 and -7: (B) and (C) at -5 and
(D) in many places but particularly between
 and  and as ostinato bass from 
+ 6 to  where it persists like the ticking
of a clock. The sad little melody of No 17
is always accompanied by the anxious ostinato
figure in the bass denoting the young soldierís
troubled state of mind when Lujza fails to
Examples of interrelationship of themes
in Šapkinís story (see p. 72). (Universal Edition Score Act III 
Figure A (in shorter notes, in imitation
and in the whole tone scale) expresses his growing anxiety.
"But how could she deceive me!"
-7 (return of the quiet No. 16).
"If you donít come then I will
", a stronger presentation of No. 17 which becomes tender and
tearful (at the Meno mosso) as Lujza sobs out, "Saša, I have a
very rich cousin who wants to marry me."
Janáček has seized on the point that
the German who wishes to marry Lujza as a comfort for his old age is
by profession a watch-repairer, so the orchestra itself for a time 
to  becomes a conglomeration of ticking clocks.
Skuratov and the orchestra ignore the
rude shouts of the drunken convict until, at , the by then weeping
Skuratov flings himself on the annoying interrupter. This disturbance
is neatly timed: it allows the hysterical Skuratov to vent his feelings:
it keeps the audience on tenterhooks, waiting to hear the continuation
of the story: it is a much-needed spot of action in a monologue. The
diversion is welcomed, too, by the other convicts who make the "Hou!
Hou!" sounds which replace whistling in the prison. The story continues
with No. 16 deceptively calm (p. 83).
A new theme-a kind of sister theme to
No. 16-on high winds with thick chords on trombone and tuba appears
at  which seems to depict the madly jealous Skuratov barely able
to stifle his jealous anger. It alternates with an anger motif at 
The ominous words "In case of trouble,
I also took my pistol" are powerfully declaimed on a single note.
The music works up to a big climax as Skuratov rants and shouts, reliving
the revengeful scene of violence which cost him his freedom and lost
him his Lujza.
But the convicts have heard quite enough
of Skuratov and his misery. Today is a holiday and they mean to have
fun while the going is good. Clapping their hands and stamping their
feet, they sing some wild snatches of "Russian" folk-dances,
consisting of two sixteen-beat phrases alternating ( + 7 and 
+ 15) .
They are particularly excited when it
is announced that the first play is about to begin.
THE PLAY OF KEDRIL AND DON JUAN
Don Juanís first encounter with the
devils is pictured in brilliant, sparkling orchestral colours. The scurrying
demisemiquaver pattern of (A)
rises to middle register level, then
flames out on piccolos (the composer requires four flutes, three of
which must double on piccolos). The gay 20 (B), with derivatives, is
tossed about defiantly in the orchestra. The devilsí music persists
until the struggling Elvira is brought in: 20 (A) thunders out on three
timpani as Don Juan attacks the devils with his dagger (+1-4): it
shivers on lower strings when the servant trembles with fear; it pierces
out in three-part harmony on flutes and piccolo as Don Juan commands
Kedril to serve his supper and to hell with the devils.
Scene 2 of the pantomime (Con moto -12)
begins with a similar dual theme to Act I, No. 5.
The knight storms in to the broken arpeggio
in the lower voice (B of No. 10) played presto. The short duel is cleverly
managed by Janáček: (A) of No. 21 on strings and in a slower tempo admirably
suggests the combatants cautiously circling round one another, then,
as they lurch at each other with swords, the tempo changes from a moderato
"to a spirited 9 with the arpeggio figure (B) riding vigorously
at top: this alternation of the two themes continues until the death
of the knight. Seldom have sword clashes been so précisely indicated!
Elvira runs away as Don Juan cleans
his sword-the romping arpeggio figure from  which, a moment later,
rages triumphantly (piccolo, etc.) on top of heavy brass chords, across
the beats of a 6/4 tutti-as Kedril drags off the body of the slain knight.
Interlude 1 (p. 96, bars 5-10)
The ostinato four-note figure of the
devilsí music (No. 20 A) is heard a few times in sixths, as the ever-resourceful
servant returns with food, pushing in the ugly cobblerís wife.
Scene 3. Don Juan finds her disgusting
(twisting little figure at  above a sequence of 6/4 major chords)
whereas the cobblerís wife wants to be amorous (sentimental phrase in
double thirds at  + 5-6 and 9-10) and at a nod from his master Kedril
throws her out.
Interlude 2 (p. 97 up to un poco piu
After three introductory bars of a new
three-note figure which overlaps with itself, the arpeggio motif (B
of No. 21) enters and-mainly as a two-bar phrase-rises sequentially
intertwining with the new overlapping three-note figure,
Scene 4, last line p. 97 till .
A happy lilting motif in B major-with
its echoed variant-indicates that the clergymanís wife is fair game
It alternates with the less ardent two-bar
phrase of Interlude 2.
At  the piercing devilsí music is
resumed and sure enough we see them creeping out again. Don Juan shouts
his defiance at them (a variation of the waltz tune No. 22) but they
overwhelm him and carry him off as the same waltz tune-again slightly
varied-appears with an interesting quaver group in the bass. At top
of p. 100 Kedril takes control: the skittish quaver group continues
alternating with the clergymanís wifeís tune (No. 22) now with a new
broken arpeggio figure in the accompaniment which becomes an ostinato
chuckling figure on violin and flute during the ensuing laughing chorus
(pp. 101-2). It also depicts the cheeky little devil who returns to
pinch the clergymanís wife.
Oboe and muted trumpet, then horn and
cor anglais, alternately double the vocal "Chi-Chi, Cho-Cho"
(compare with -1) hilarity of the convicts who have been immensely
amused at the broad humour of the pantomime they have just witnessed.
The phrase lengths here are 4 (2+2-D flat major), 3 (G flat major),
5 (E major), 4 (A flat major where a second laughing motif is introduced)
and 4 (D flat major) in a steady crescendo.
Kedril announces the second pantomime
to two bars of devilsí music.
MUSIC OF THE PANTOMIME
"THE BEAUTIFUL MILLER S WIFE"
Scene 1. The Scheherazade-like theme
of the Millerís wife dominates the music of the pantomime: it is a pert,
quasi-Russian folk-song of three bars (representing the wife) first
heard on clarinet with plucking harp and string accompaniment in the
key of E minor, and is immediately repeated forte in G major (representing
the No-nonsense-when-I-am-away Miller). This pattern of alternate piano
and forte entries occurs four times passing through C major, E flat
minor and B major.
Note the subtle displacement of accents
in the repetitions of the first five notes (compare (A) and (B)) . As
the Miller leaves we hear the tune unharmonized in a quicker tempo extended
by repetitions and ending on an E flat trill.
Scene 2. The wife begins to spin (her
demure little tune steadied up in A flat minor): there is a tentative
knock at the door (timid xylophone taps) as a nervous little scale passage
dissolves back into the E flat trill; the phrase is repeated (she is
surprised). We now hear a warm and richer presentation of (A) of No.
23 which expands as the amorous neighbour enters. Flute and oboe play
the tune as the lovers embrace , then, rather grotesquely, a bassoon
as they kiss. Further xylophone knocks: the frightened wife hides her
visitor under the table (piu mosso) as a solo piccolo twice plays the
tune which goes over-with the expansive extension-to an E flat clarinet:
an agitated little four-note figure keeps scurrying about on celesta
and violin. The Millerís wife composes herself, although the demisemiquaver
runs before  (compare with +11) tell us that inwardly she is
anything but calm.
Scene 3. As the clerk and wife bow to
each other the orchestra plays this more sedate motif in canon
(derived from  + 18 and 19). After
four repetitions (2+2), figure (A) is worked up, as the clerk approaches
the Millerís wife. Another knock: confusion: the clerk hides in a chest-a
new two-bar agitato figure alternately on winds and strings repeated
four times, leads into a series of trills as the Brahmin enters. Above,
steady crotchet chords (p. 107-key D flat major) the clarinet plays
the wifeís familiar theme: violins take it up, then piccolo in an extended
form. Six heavy bangs on the bass-drum announce the return of the Miller.
Great confusion. Another ostinato four-note figure appears and combines
with the wifeís tune-slightly varied-as she pretends to spin. The Miller
kicks in the door (crash on the bass-drum)-looks suspiciously around
(same tune in a steadier tempo, then trill sequences as at )-finds
the first two lovers and throws them out (repeat of wife theme combined
with agitato ostinato figure, followed by further development of the
theme fortissimo) .
As Don Juan climbs out from his hiding-place
we hear the screaming devilsí music from the first pantomime. The devils
themselves appear and the Miller collapses. This new one-bar motif
may or may not represent the persistency
of the devils: a stage direction states where the devils are to creep
out but there are no further indications as to whether they disappear
with the collapse of the Miller or circle around Don Juan and the Millerís
wife in their ensuing dance, as the constant presence of this figure
in the bass somewhat suggests.
Don Juan and the Millerís wife dance
round to the waltz tune from p. 99 bars 7-10 (and always with No. 25
gnawing away in a lower octave) which alternates with an allegro unharmonized
presentation of the jolly wifeís tune, she being delighted at the new
turn of events. The pantomime concludes with a six-bar Coda from .
Finale (A) (pp. 112-13)
The thirty-seven seconds scene between
the soldier and prostitute is set to singularly unromantic music, with
a staccato piping figure in double octaves (p. 1 12) and a jerky little
figure at . One gets the impression that the couple are a little
self-conscious (note hesitations at bars  + 1, 3, 5, 7).
banter (p. 1 14) between Šapkin and the old
convict is even shorter (duration-seventeen
seconds). In the background we hear choral
harmonies to "Aj! Oj!" from the
convicts which also accompany the dirge-like
song of the young Cossack  tinged with
a similar sadness, despair and poignancy of
the Simpletonís song in Mussorgskyís Boris
The next number in this sequence of
contrasting scenes, appearing and disappearing at breakneck speed, is
where the fat little convict becomes insulting and aggressive to Petrovič
and Aljeja. It begins with a three-note figure (p. 115, bar 7) consisting
of a widely spaced open fifth and a contrasting 6 major chord, which
persists right up to the assault on Aley and, indeed, with further variations,
to the end of the act.
The conclusion, sforzando and long trill
on a solo military drum, reminds one of the even more startling effect
at the end of Tosca, Act II: here the military drum is obviously linked
with the action or the guards who force the prisoners back into the
Story of Act III
The first scene of this act is set in
the prison hospital where we see a number of occupied camp beds. Among
the patients is the wounded Aljeja; Petrovič sits beside him. In the
background, we can see an old convict sitting on a stove. The time is
towards evening. The young Mussulman, Aljeja, has proved an apt pupil
of Petrovič for in only a few weeks he has mastered parts of a Russian
translation of the New Testament-one of the few books permitted in prison.
He can also write. Petrovič asks Aljeja what passages he liked best
in the "Sermon on the Mount" they had been reading together.
"The part where it says one should love even oneís enemies",
the feverish Aljeja replies with enthusiasm: "Jesus was a prophet
of God and he worked great miracles. He made a bird out of clay, breathed
on it and it flew away."
Another patient named Čekunov brings
in tea for the two friends. In one of the beds Luka is lying; although
he is dangerously ill the sight of Čekunov "toadying" to Petrovič
and his friend is too much for him and he watches the scene indignantly.
"Ugh, a flunky! Heís found a master!" he gasps out, his voice
broken with emotion. Čekunov makes a contemptuous rejoinder. "Listen,
you good people "continues Luka addressing the ward at large, "he
cannot see that heís nothing but a serf!" "What business is
it of yours anyway?" replies Čekunov heatedly, "canít you
understand that these gentlemen are used to having servants, so why
shouldnít I help them, you shaggy-faced fool? "The slanging match
continues in the tough and noisy manner we have now learned to expect
as almost normal conversation between some of the convicts. The dying
Luka keeps on nagging until a terrible fit of coughing puts a stop to
him. This coughing distresses the old convict who is sitting on the
stove, and he finds comfort by muttering a few words of prayer. Several
of the convict-patients sit down on a bed at back-stage. Šapkin remarks
that there are more painful things than a cough- "Having your ears pulled
for a long time, for instance." "Is that why your ears stand out
so?" he is asked jestingly: "Who pulled them?" "Why,
the Chief of Police, of course."
Šapkinís is a droll tale about himself
and other ĎSoldiers in General Cuckooís serviceí (by which he means
they lived in the woods, that is, they were all tramps). Together they
planned a housebreaking job but, alas, all five of them were caught
and taken to a police station. "Such is life! Such is life! "Šapkin
sighs philosophically. But, he assures us, tramps are cagey birds. They
experience convenient lapses of memory which not even chopping wood
on their heads will rectify. "Who are you?" the Captain barks out
at Šapkin. "I donít really know, your honour, I have forgotten",
Šapkin replies. The Captain looks more closely at him: he seems to have
seen this face before. Passing on to the other tramps he demands to
have their names. "Grab-it-and-run-away, your honour", replies
one rascal; "I-follow-him, your honour", says another: "Hatchet,
your honour": "Quick-Sharpener". The Captain laughs and hustles
them off to jail, all of them, that is, except Šapkin. It appears that
the police are looking for a clerk who absconded with government money.
The circulated description of the man states that his ears stuck out.
So the Captain, suspicious of Šapkin, brings him pen and paper and commands
him to write. "Have mercy, your honour", cries Šapkin, who
can neither read nor write. "Write as best you can", commands
the Captain, taking hold of the luckless Šapkinís ears and pulling and
twisting them. The best that the tramp can do is to move the pen meaninglessly
over the surface of the paper. "Was he crazy or something?"
some convicts ask, rising from the camp bed at the back. "He jolly
well nearly pulled my ears off", concludes Šapkin amid general
laughter. This light-hearted divertimento throws into high relief the
grim tragedy of Akulka which we are shortly to hear.
It appears that the convict who did
the mad song-and-dance act towards the beginning of the opera, later
telling us the pathetic tale of his love for Lujza and his murder of
the German watch-repairer, has now really gone mad. Skuratov rises from
his bed dancing about, shouting "Lujza, oh, Lujza! "at the
top of his voice and reliving the terrible moment when he shot his rival.
The convicts tell him angrily to shut up. When he keeps on, they catch
him and hold him down on his bed. It grows dark in the hospital ward,
the convicts quieten down and gradually fall asleep. The old man on
the stove has lit a candle. "My darling little children, I shall
never see you again", he wails, and calls on God to have mercy
Cerevin and a young convict named Šiškov
sit up in their beds. Dostoevsky speaks of Sigkov as being short and
thin, a cowardly, mawkish fellow, very quarrelsome with restless eyes
who, while telling his story, gesticulates wildly with his hands.
A rich landowner, Ankudim, has a wife,
two young sons and a daughter, Akulka, who is 18. He is a highly respectable
member of his community and very religious. His business partner has
just died and the son of this partner, Filka Morozov, as thoroughgoing
a scoundrel as one can imagine, is forthright in demanding 400 roubles
as his share of his fatherís property. "I wonít be your slave,
old man, never fear ", he shouts angrily at Ankudim. "I mean
to have a good time, get drunk, spend every bean I have got and when
itís gone, join the army and you will see in 10 years I return as a
field-marshal." The old man pays up but cannot resist telling him
that he is a lost soul. "Whether I am lost or not, you old greybeard,
I donít need you to teach me how to drink milk with an awl", retorts
the incensed Filka Morozov. "Donít think I will ever marry your
daughter, Akulka, now! Why should I? I have slept with her often enough
as it is. "Ankudim is appalled at this insult to the honest daughter
of an honest father. He trembles with rage and angrily demands to know
more. "I will take good care your daughter wonít easily find a
husband", Filka Morozov continues. "No one is likely to want
her when he knows I have been carrying on with her for years." This
is a terrible blow to the religious old man, who breaks down.
When Šiškov first mentions the name
of Akulka, Cerevin eagerly asks him if she was his wife. Šiškov tells
him not to interrupt him. There are several such interruptions by Cerevin
and always he is told to hold his tongue and not rush the speaker. Lukaís
dying coughs also punctuate the tale at appropriate places, but whereas
the anxious interruptions of Cerevin are of a humorous nature, Lukaís
terrible coughing is later proved to be of the highest dramatic significance.
So, Filka Morozov paints the town red.
Šiškov and he are buddies and at Filka Morozovís suggestion they get
a pot of tar and smear it on Akulkaís gate. Her parents turn harshly
on their unfortunate daughter: they beat her from morning till night-neighbours
hear her screaming: her mother says she will kill her for bringing this
terrible disgrace on their family.
The troubled snoring of the sleeping
convicts is heard in gentle three-part choral harmony. Šiškov continues
his story: the two vicious and spiteful louts shout insults at Akulka
when they see her in the street. Even while tormenting her, Šiškov does
not fail to notice that she has remarkably fine eyes. Akulkaís mother
happens to see the incident but imagines that her daughter is flirting
with the two raw youths and she makes the girl suffer for it. Šiškovís
mother - who works for Ankudimís family-gets an idea. Why shouldnít
her son marry Akulka, lazy dog that he is, and get a dowry of 300 roubles?
They would be glad to marry her off to almost anybody now! The idea
appeals to Šiškov. Filka Morozov, on the other hand, is mad and threatens
that if he does go ahead with the plan and marries Akulka, he, Filka
Morozov, will beat him up and sleep with his wife any time he likes.
But the wedding comes off although the bridegroom has been drunk for
weeks past. "In our part of the country", explains Šiškov,
"they take us straight to the bridal chamber immediately after
the ceremony while the guests drink outside." The bride sat quietly
on the bed with not a drop of blood in her cheeks, frightened and miserable:
the bridegroom had brought a whip with him to show her, right at the
start, who was to be master. Then it turned out that the bride was pure
and innocent. Why had his friend slandered her with his filthy lies?
He kneels down and humbly begs his wifeís forgiveness. Her parents are
filled with remorse and pity for the innocent daughter they had so wronged
and Šiškov goes off fighting-mad to find Filka Morozov and kill the
slanderer. But Filka Morozov says to him contemptuously: "You fool,
you were dead drunk when you got married. You were in no state to know
about this one way or the other." So, things turn out worse than
ever for Akulka: her enraged, humiliated husband beats her continually;
even when he feels sorry for her he continues to beat her and he blames
his mother for promoting the match, telling her that her ears were stopped
Meanwhile, Filka Morozov has been enjoying
himself hugely. He has hired himself out to a storekeeper to replace
his eldest son as a soldier. In such cases, it is customary to allow
complete freedom to their benefactor. The roisterer, Filka Morozov,
takes full advantage of his opportunities; sleeping with the daughter,
pulling the fatherís beard, having a daily bath in vodka and generally
behaving like the unspeakable blackguard he is. At last they managed
to sober him up and he is taken off to be a soldier. Just then, he sees
Akulka, bows humbly to her, and says: "Forgive me, honest daughter
of an honest father, for I have been a scoundrel to you and everything
is my fault. You are my soul. I have loved you for two years and now
they are taking me away to be a soldier. "Akulka listened to him
in silence, then she also made a low curtsey, replying: "Forgive
me also, my dear lad, I have already forgotten any evil you have done
Šiškov followed her into the house.
"What was that you said to him, you bitch?" he demanded, bursting
with anger. Quite calmly she answered back- "Why, I love him now more
than anything else in the world." Next morning Šiškov told his
wife to get up and come with him to the harvesting.
At the point in the story where the
loutish husband is telling how he cruelly beat his newly wedded wife,
some of the convicts tell him to shut up not because they object to
a husband beating his wife but because they cannot sleep for his ranting.
The tender-hearted Aljeja, however, is moved at the pitiful story. The
terrible coughing of Luka suddenly stops: he has just died. The old
convict notices this and goes slowly over to the corpse. Šiškov concludes
his story. He tells how he harnessed the horses, drove some miles into
the wood, told Akulka to say her prayers as he was going to kill her,
then grabbed her by the hair, took out a knife and cut her throat. The
old convict tells the others that Luka is dead. They hurry over to the
corpse and crowd round it as the guards and a doctor come in. One convict
closes Lukaís eyes, another puts a rough wooden cross on his breast:
the guards remove the fetters from his feet. Šiškov, who has been gazing
intently at the dead Luka, suddenly recognizes him to be the Filka Morozov
of his story-the man who so utterly ruined his life. "Filthy swine!
Filthy swine!" he shouts at the dead man in a terrible outburst of anger.
The officer of the guard salutes the
body and the old convict says gently, "He too had a mother",
words which, Dostoevsky recounts, stabbed him to the heart.
A guard turns to Petrovič telling him
he must follow him. The Commandant wants him. Aljeja embraces his friend.
The convicts speculate as to what this unexpected summons can mean.
The curtain falls: during the orchestral
interlude which follows we hear the characteristic "Hou! Hou!"
of the convicts, the clanking of their chains and the sounds of their
The curtain rises on the same scene
as Act I: it is a bright sunny morning and the convicts are preparing
to go off to work. The hospital can be seen in the background. Petrovič
is brought in by the guards. The Commandant of the camp enters: he is
half drunk. He tells Petrovič that he is sorry for what he did to him
when he first entered the prison. He had him flogged for nothing, nothing
at all and regrets having done this. Petrovič answers that he understands.
"Do you understand that I, I, your Commanding Officer ask you for
forgiveness?", continues the maudlingly magnanimous officer. "Do
you know what that means? To me you are less than a worm . . . infinitely
less . . . you are a convict! And I, by the grace of God, am a major.
Can you understand that?" Petrovič again assures him that he fully
understands. The Major now comes to the point of the business and asks
Petrovič if he, by any chance, had any dream last night. The latter
replies that in his dream he received a letter from his mother. "It
is something much better than that", continues the governor: "You
are free! Your mother has petitioned in your favour and her appeal has
been granted." He hands Petrovič his discharge and the fetters
are removed from his feet. The astonished Petrovič is congratulated
by the convicts. Aljeja alone is in despair at the thought of losing
his wonderful friend. Will they ever meet again, is the thought foremost
in the minds of both. In a moment of ecstatic emotion Petrovič kisses
the chains which now no longer bind his feet-they have taught him the
meaning of freedom. The big convict who kept the eagle in the cage suddenly
decides to release it. As the eagle soars up into the sky, the convicts
enviously watch its flight and they sing a short paean to the Freedom
which most of them are never destined to know.
This effective end to the opera was
arranged by Osvald Chlubna and břetislav Bakala (who conducted the first
performance of the opera) at the request of Ota Zítek (Director of the
Brno Opera Theatre).
Janáček cut short the Hymn to Freedom
and concluded his opera with the guards harassing the wretched prisoners
back to another dayís toil.
Novel-its Relation to the Opera: Act III
Dostoevsky devotes the first three chapters
in the second part of his novel to his experiences in the prison hospital.
He relates that although the beds were never free from bugs, that his
filthy dressing-gown was full of lice, that the sanitary arrangements
in the ward were utterly disgusting, that even the most diseased prisoner
had still to wear his fetters, and so on, nevertheless, hospital life
was infinitely more tolerable than life in the prison barracks. He speaks
with enthusiasm of the kindness and the humanity of the doctors.
It has already been pointed out that
the touching little scene between Aljeja and Petrovič at the beginning
of this act was taken from an earlier part of the book (pp. 59-60).
In the composerís stage adaptation we have seen how he gave an unexpected
dramatic twist to the conclusion of Act II when the pugnacious little
convict assaulted Ayeja. This leads, naturally enough, to the injured
boy being next seen in the prison hospital, although no reason is given
for Petrovičís appearance there. Anyway, it shows Janáčekís skill as
a dramatist in making the deep and sincere friendship between the innocent
young Tartar and the mature and cultured political prisoner a major
motif in his opera. It may seem ironic that in the company of murderers,
robbers, beggars and thugs, any incident so trivial as drinking a cup
of tea could inflame tempers and rouse passions to such an extraordinary
pitch. It has already been mentioned that most of the convicts had a
highly inflamed sense of class consciousness, the tramps and peasants
never failing to taunt the "gentlemen "in the camp at any
display -real or imaginary-of their "wealth "and "superiority".
It does, however, seem a little repetitive
that Janáček has made tea-drinking the subject of two consecutive quarrels
in his opera when there are plenty of other causes for dispute among
the convicts mentioned in the book.
The scene immediately following the
tender passage between the two friends-continuing Janáčekís plan of
contrasting consecutive scenes-is to be found in the first hospital
chapter (pp. 156-7). The dying convict there is a soldier called Ustyantsev
who, from fear of corporal punishment, drank a jug of vodka heavily
loaded with snuff, which has brought on consumption. We now know that
Janáček is going to identify Luka with the primitive Filka Morozov thus
making Luka a very composite character. This compression of several
characters into one is not only fully justified, but is, in fact, a
necessity in making a stage play from this rambling autobiographical
novel with its 200-odd characters. The pious old convict sitting on
the stove can be identified on p. 152 and his lament over the children
he will never see again on p. 36.
Šiškovís explanation of why his ears
stick out is on pp. 191-4. The operatic version takes over the entire
humorous dialogue very slightly shortened. Janáček links Šapkinís story
to the quarrel of Cerevin and the dying Luka, with Šapkin saying that
there are more painful things than coughing-getting your ears pulled,
The interruptions of Šapkinís recital
by other convicts in the ward-later from the guards and Doctor-break
up what otherwise would be an accompanied recitative, and are further
evidence of Janáčekís sense of "theatre ".
heart-rending cries of "Oh, Lujza! Oh,
Lujza! "are made even more so when accompanied
by his grotesque mad little dance. This scene,
which continues with the convicts pouncing
on Skuratov, is Janáčekís own invention although
rough-house incidents of this type are common
enough in the novel.
We now arrive at the centre-piece of
the opera and a very important part of the book, for it is the only
convictís story to which Dostoevsky allocates an entire chapter-the
long and terrible tale of Akulkaís husband. The convicts falling asleep,
the heavy breathing of the dying convict, the dim light of the night-lamp,
the two convicts whispering together in the dark, all is described in
the opening paragraphs of the chapter referred to (p. 195), which inspired
the short orchestral interlude Janáček has inserted between the two
Dostoevsky described Šiškov as being
under 30, an unlikeable, shallow, sullen, gawky, rude fellow, cowardly
and mawkish. He stands in violent contrast to his wife Akulka, with
her simple-hearted innocence in love, and almost childlike humility,
and entire submission uncomplainingly to a cruel and harsh destiny.
In the chapter discussing Kátja Kabanová we shall find that the heroine
of that opera has much in common with the gentle and longsuffering Akulka,
as the spoilt, possessive, bullying mother-in-law has with Akulkaís
Janáčekís condensation of Šiškovís story
is a first-rate bit of craftsmanship: his idea of making the dying Luka
the evil genius of the tale in disguise is a dramatic stroke of genius,
particularly when he follows this up with the action of Akulkaís husband
carrying his insane hate of the man who ruined his life so far as to
assault the corpse of his enemy with curses on his lips. No such dramatic
twist, of course, occurs in the book for the tale ends with the recipient
of the story, the phlegmatic Cerevin, casually observing that when he
found his wife with a lover, he beat her into submission till finally
she cried "I will wash your feet and drink the water".
Dostoevsky calls Cerevin a sullen pedant,
a cold formalist and a conceited fool, which is borne out by his comments
when Šiškov-at the height of his passion-cuts his wifeís throat: "There
is a vein, you know; if you donít cut through that vein straight away,
a man will go on struggling and wonít die, however much blood is lost!"
A guard tells Petrovič that he is wanted
by the Commandant-a necessary link added by Janáček leading up to Petrovičís
release. On p. 274 of the book the writer states that he entered the
prison in winter and also left it in winter: so the usual manner of
staging Act II in summer, in between two acts set in winter, is most
likely the intention of the composer. Vogel has pointed out that Janáček
was sometimes extremely careless in such details.
The confession of the Major that he
had wrongfully ordered Petrovič a beating occurs on p. 259, but it concerns
a prisoner named "Z". It seems that, as time went on, the
Major had completely reversed his views on political prisoners and,
indeed, began to show a bias favourable towards them. "So even
this drunken, vicious man had some humane feeling", comments Dostoevsky,
though he adds cautiously that probably his drunken condition had a
good deal to do with his magnanimity.
The reason for Petrovičís release is
to be found on a page earlier in the novel, but again about a different
prisoner "M". The freeing of the eagle, which in its flight
has not looked round once, completes Chapter 6, and one notes that,
after the release of the eagle, the guards shout at the convicts and
drive them off to work, which is how Janáček wished his opera to end.
In spite of this, it is probably better
to use the alternative end of the printed score and the chorus in praise
of "Freedom, New Life, Resurrection from the Dead!" which
is how Dostoevsky concludes his novel.
The Music of
Orchestral Prelude (p. 120 to )
After some rumbles in the bass, we hear
a kinder, gentler, more humane variation of the Destiny motif which
we remember from Act I, but which made no appearance in Act II. Here
is the theme as heard at rise of curtain-on violas with celli and bass-clarinet
two octaves lower-
More timpani rumblings and a caressing,
delicate motif with a touch of the Orient about it makes its appearance,
a motif associated with the charming young Tartar, Aljeja, in the opening
This quickly works up to a climax where
brass triumphantly declaim the Freedom motif which we hear with such
welcoming relief at the end of the opera-
SCENE 1. ALJEJA AND Petrovič DISCUSS
THE TEACHING OF JESUS ( to )
The orchestra plays No. 28 widely spaced
as Aljeja speaks with enthusiasm of the teachings of Jesus: the music
becomes warm, serene, exalted when, with feverish enthusiasm, he recounts
the legend of the clay bird which flew away.
SCENE 2. QUARREL BETWEEN Čekunov AND
LUKA ( TO P. 126, BAR 11)
Midway through this bickering scene
seems to characterise the unctuous servility
of the opportunist, Čekunov. Note that the rising and falling contours
of the Fate motif are again present here in skeleton. When the two convicts
make unpleasant comments on the physical appearance of the other, it
appears forte in notes three times shorter as a kind of "Snarl"
motif (see ).
The last three
notes are declaimed with mock dignity in the
top and bottom scoring so characteristic of
this opera (trumpets and violins on top; muted
trombones and doublebass at bottom) when Luka
says proudly that he wouldnít bow the knee
to anyone (p. 126, bars 6-7).
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