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Music of Act I
analysis of the musical fabric of an exceptionally
complex texture-in the first act alone there
are around fifty different themes twining
and intertwining, throwing off new derivatives,
new variations, evolving all the time-is intended
to show not only Janáček’s leitmotif technique
but also the many subtle psychological points
of characterization: in short, to help the
students to understand and intelligently appreciate
the work to as high a degree as possible.
It would be
quite impossible, however, for anyone hearing
this opera for the first, second or third
time to follow or even notice such an abundance
and accumulation of detail. The listeners
should make themselves acquainted with a few
of the principal themes and then allow themselves
to be completely immersed in the surging sounds
of Janáček’s wonderful score with its immense
power, tremendous vitality, passion, excitement
and pathos. Now that The Makropulos Case is
available on record and the vocal score reprinted,
the opera can be studied seriously: it is
hoped that the following notes will prove
helpful in such an undertaking.
opera is a conversational piece for which
he has worked out a system whereby short,
pregnant musical fragments in the orchestra
act as a counterpoint to the dialogue which
is mainly speech realized in pitch, with carefully
calculated spacing in the conversation and
with very subtle rhythmical control.
that Janáček’s speech curves are seen at their
uttermost refinement in this work where the
language is that of a master of Czech literature
at the height of his power: where Janáček
has made cuts in the dialogue and added a
few connecting lines of his own, his native
dialect slips in occasionally, but not to
the extent of the mixed languages (including
Russian and Czech dialects) which are to be
found in The House of the Dead.
In The Makropulos
Case a high percentage of the dialogue is
either left entirely unaccompanied or declaimed
over quietly sustained chords. Although, generally
speaking, the music of the first act is restless
and "edgy" it is the melodic fragments
and rhythms that are forever changing rather
than the harmonies, which often remain static
for many bars. Look at p. 13 where from 
there are five bars of a B flat major chord,
eight bars of a C flat major chord and four
bars on a D flat major chord-all second inversions:
again on p. 23 (at  when Dr. Kolenatý
and Marty enter) there are six bars of a G
flat dominant harmony followed by six bars
of the tonic chord and eleven bars on a diminished
line is frequently explosive, tense and highly
nervous, very similar indeed to the composer’s
own literary style as seen in so many of his
letters, articles and reported conversations.
There are motifs which wonderfully define
character, mood and incident-beginning with
the rather dry old clerk, Vítek. In his opening
monologue (pp. 12-15) No.39
musical delineation of his character. The
"case" of Gregor versus Prus-in
the abstract-even has its own motif, commencing
as a fragment of enhanced speech
over to the orchestra. A tight little rousing
trumpet flourish, and a side-drum roll set
the mood for Vítek's quotation from an inflamed
speech by Danton. Gregor's impatience is reflected
in this phrase
bar of which is repeated and varied (bars
less than two seconds for Vítek to pick up
the telephone receiver, give the number to
the operator, make a connection and find the
person he wishes to speak to. Even if one
supposes that there exists a direct line between
the Courts and the lawyer's office, it would
surely take longer than two seconds to be
on speaking terms with the right person at
the other end! It is usual, therefore, to
pause for a few moments before the orchestra
gives out the telephone bell motif and to
repeat the figure quite a few times before
Vítek talks into the mouthpiece. .
adolescent daughter enters, the entire character
of the music changes: harmonized in block
harmonies, her motif has a charming childlike
simplicity about it, particularly so at -3
where she becomes almost speech-less in her
admiration for Marty.
enthusiasm for Marty’s singing and Marty’s
beauty is expressed in this
phrases of uplift, taken over from Kristina's
own speech curves such as "Emilia Marty!"
at  and "Boze, ta je kra’sna’!"
at . Everywhere there are masterly little
touches of characterization; for instance,
when Kristina lets enthusiasm overrule her
discretion and tells Gregor, the "wealthy"
client, that he would be a fool to go to the
opera to look at her and not Marty, there
is a saucy little clarinet and oboe figure
which ticks off the situation admirably. Vítek’s
persuasive motif intervenes rather strongly
when he says half-admiringly, half-reproachfully,
"Oh dear! What a tongue she has on her!"
As Kristina is prepared to argue it out with
her father the skips in the pert little clarinet
and oboe figure grow larger.
as a solo viola d’amore plays her rather mysterious
a special fondness for the viola d’amore,
attracted, it is said, more by its baroque,
quasi-antiquated appearance and associations
than by the actual sound of the instrument.
It disappears after  until  + 1 then
recurs at -1, and always on the questioning,
rather antique tone of the viola d’amore.
Of the many new themes which appear in this,
the longest scene of the act, the important
is Kolenatý’s theme:
on every page between pp. 22 and 33 (except
p. 31), again on pp. 36, 37 (prominently)
and 48. The theme built round the alias adopted
by Marty when she was associated with Baron
comprises practically the same notes as those
to which Kristina first ecstatically intoned
the name of Emilia Marty (at ), and from
which we later trace several derivative motifs.
One of these associated motifs can be seen
at  and-on and off (particularly prominently
at )-in its vocal form, whenever the name
of MacGregor is being discussed.
but significant, theme is first heard at [5)]
and, in an augmented variation, at -possibly
associated with the deceased Baron Prus.
At two bars
before  and then at , the first bars
of the sister theme to No. 36 in the Overture,
occurs and continues, quietly singing on strings,
in a variation form as Kolenatý gives an outline
of the Prus versus Gregor dispute, mainly
in an ad lib rhythm for the singer-combined
with the Kolenatý theme. Janáček knows full
well that the intricate details of this complicated
dry-as-dust speech will never get across to
As the boring
narrative continues he introduces a new and
more lively two-part motif-winds answered
by strings-see  to . The music is
as alive and full of interesting details as
Kolenatý’s story is intricate and tedious.
The viola d’amore Marty motif reappears as
Marty comes out with the astonishing news
that Ferdinand Gregor was, in fact, Baron
Prus’s son and also when she speaks of Gregor’s
mother, i.e. herself.
utter disbelief in her fantastic story is
expressed in a surprised halting octave downward
chromatic scale (with the Kolenatý motif jumping
about excitedly) then, as he scribbles irritably
on a writing-pad (graphically shown in a similar
descending scale passage embellished and in
falling three octaves, appears on lower strings
and horn in a deceptively quiet (augmented)
variation), expressing his controlled anger.
The music takes on a more personal and more
lyrical quality (at ), when Marty speaks
gently of her dead lover and how he preserved
in a drawer, all the love-letters written
to him by Ellian MacGregor. A solo clarinet
takes up the Ellian MacGregor motif and rhapsodizes
charged emotional figure at  serves also
to express Marty’s agitation and excitement
as she demands that Dr. Kolenatý must gain
entrance to Prus’s house  and likewise
(tune plopping about on trombones and double-basses)
the lawyer’s sarcastic rejoinder that he will,
of course, employ rope-ladder and skeleton
key! He adopts a more suave and professional
manner as the "worldly" two-bar motif
at -4 keeps repeating and developing.
From the point
where Marty claims to know the contents of
an envelope which has been sealed for a century,
Dr. Kolenatý’s anger is reflected in the orchestra
which screams and threatens, with Gregor passionately
declaring his belief in Marty and Marty shouting
her defiance at the Doctor’s scepticism.
of the two friends is vividly portrayed by
a repeated unison quintuplet figure (see )-quintuplet
time, by the way, is rather a feature of this
act-having been much in evidence since the
entrance of Marty. Dr. Kolenatý’s final shout
"To the Devil"
is taken over
forcefully by the orchestra as he storms out.
The long scene
between Gregor and Marty begins immediately:
for convenience of this analysis it may be
divided into several sequences. It is not
a duet in the operatic sense of that term:
in fact there is only one place in the whole
of Act I when Janáček allows his characters
to sing together and that-for two bars only-is
when Marty, Gregor and Dr. Kolenatý are shouting
at one another excitedly (see p. 44), where
they would normally speak together in a production
of the play.
Case is a musical setting of a play: all ensemble
numbers are strictly barred, bowing to the
canons of 1910-20 verismo realism.
Part I (pp.48-52).
This warm, ardent motif
variation, is another derivative of the Ellian
MacGregor theme and expresses orchestrally
Gregor’s passionate, glowing love for the
fascinating opera singer (see pp. 48-51),
while the infatuated Gregor himself soars
up to a top C. Gregor breaks off suddenly
to ask Marty why she is laughing at him (to
a twitching uncomfortable two-note figure)
The questioning rhythmic figure referred to
generates several new and interesting motifs
(see pp. 5258). Marty replies coolly "No,
why should she?" as the tired little
viola d’amore motif is sounded.
Part 2 (pp.
53-66) begins with this impatient and lively
variant of the Ellian MacGregor theme which
alternates with variants of No. 51.
asks Gregor his name, the "Gregor versus
Prus" theme No. 39 appears ( to
). As Gregor becomes increasingly fascinated
by the famous singer, a new theme beginning
at  soars up passionately (see p. 57,
3-4, etc.): a more insistent motif with a
typical break-off, appears at .
d’amore theme associated with Marty (No. 44)
reappears on p. 60, after which the rhythmic
scheme becomes complex (see pp. 62-63) as
Gregor’s senses grow confused: variations
on the rhythmic No. 51 build up in intensity
as Gregor gets more and more excited: then,
when Marty questions him about the Greek documents,
a very persistent little figure (see [ 12
7]) keeps repeating itself.
Part 3 (pp.
67-75). A forte rubato unison figure at 
expresses Marty’s anger.
and Prus enter at [ 135], this subtly chromatic
figure is heard
then in urgent
chords as the excited lawyer apologizes to
Marty, increasing to a prestissimo at .
There is a
sudden Andante at  (a sustained variation
of 52) and later at  this alternates
with 53 as Prus irritably declares that there
can be no proof of Ferdinand being his great-grandfather’s
theme of the last three pages of the vocal
score (74-76) is a further variation of the
"Ellian MacGregor" motif No. 46.
theme (No. 45) blares out on a trumpet as
the exasperated lawyer suggests to Gregor
that he should get himself another lawyer:
during the last dozen Prestissimo bars, while
the "Ellian MacGregor" motif rides
triumphantly on top, the counter rhythm of
37A on the timpani contributes a somewhat
Chapter 2: page
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