Zahrádka brings Janáček's operas of hope and disappointment closer

Jiří Zahrádka's new five hundred page volume, Fate & The Excursions of Mr Brouček, presents in detail the operas of Janáček's long search, hopes and personal disappointments. The musicologist and expert on the works of Leoš Janáček has compiled more than two and a half thousand sources, including correspondence, music manuscripts and notebooks. The book in Czech and English is the second volume of a five-volume series that will present Janáček's complete musical and dramatic work.

7 Jan 2024 Markéta Stulírová

The photographs of Měsíčanky (TN: the Moonwomen) predetermined the artistic concept of the book, which is in a blue shade. Photo: Fate & The Excursions of Mr Brouček

Twenty years ago, when Jiří Zahrádka defended his on the genesis of Janáček's opera The Excursions of Mr Brouček, he had no idea that it would become a great starting point for a comprehensive monograph. Fate was added to "Brouček", and the publication Fate & The Excursions of Mr Brouček was created. In Janáček's operas of hope and disappointment, the author presents two remarkable, hitherto neglected operas.

The doctoral thesis was only the basis for Zahrádka. "I had to go back to the beginning and process everything differently, to double-check and compare everything. Janáček collaborated on Brouček with many librettists - Maček, Janek, Gellner, Mahen, and Max Brod, but he did not accept everything from them. If I were to work on everything only now, it would take me much longer to prepare," Zahrádka explained.

Zahrádka spent less than half a year writing Fate & The Excursions of Mr Brouček. The author's approach to the preparation of the volume was, as with the first volume devoted to Jenůfa, atypical in that he started a priori from sources and only then confronted the text with literature. As a curator of the Janacek collections, he once again made the most of his insight into the composer's material, which he has been looking after for over twenty-five years in the Department of the History of Music at the Moravian Museum. "More than two and a half thousand sources for Fate and The Excursions of Mr Brouček operas have been preserved, including correspondence, notebooks, notes and many drafts and versions of librettos, and I have also drawn on court files and contracts," Zahrádka said. Let’s recall that he was responsible for the previous narrative book for whichZahrádka won the UK Presto Music Awards 2022 in the Book of the Year category.

“While for Janáček Masaryk was the highest moral authority, Masaryk did not care about Janáček, he had 'his' Bedřich Smetana.”

Jiří Zahrádka

The cover of Fate & The Excursions of Mr Brouček depicts a cutout of a photograph of Měsíčanky (TN: the Moonwomen). This is an archival image from the premiere of The Excursions of Mr Brouček, which took place in 1920 at the National Theatre in Prague. This shot complemented and partly predetermined the artistic concept of the book, which is set in a blue shade. Graphic elements and symbolic visual abbreviations in the book refer to the constellations and the night sky.

Among the most interesting images in the publication are photographs from glass negatives of the Atelier Langhans, as well as a photo taken on the occasion of the opening of the first exhibition of the Society of Moravian Artists. "The picture was taken on 15 May 1907 in the garden of the Besední dom in Hodonín. It shows a smiling Janáček in a hat and with him a very good company: the writer Alois Mrštík, the sculptor Franta Úprka, the painter Alois Kalvoda and others," Zahrádka mentioned. Another remarkable and not very well-known, photograph of T. G. Masaryk was taken in 1919 at the Atelier J. F. Langhans. "While for Janáček Masaryk was the highest moral authority, Masaryk was not interested in Janáček; he had 'his' Bedřich Smetana," Zahrádka pointed out. When it comes to editing and post-producing the images, Zahrádka collaborated with photographer Karel Poneš and the Fotografiks studio, which specialises in digital printing of photographs and digitisation of sources, to edit the images and post-produce them. Cooperation with graphic artist Barbara Zemčík was also important for the author. "Once again, she created an excellent graphic design for the entire book and handled the typesetting," Zahrádka added.

Also, in terms of content, the book brings previously unpublished findings. "Many things have been overlooked. For example, it surprised me when I found notes in Janáček's 1904 notebook about the speech-melodies, how a composer does or does not use them. Janáček claimed that he did not use speech-melodies, even though he claimed them as the default method of his compositional work. He was of the opinion that they could not be 'stolen' because to take someone else's speech-melody would be like 'not having one's own blood, emotion, physical and mental life'. So he uses his own speech-melodies in composition."

Along with Janáček's operas, Zahrádka also reveals in fragments the composer's personal life, in the case of Fate intertwined with the death of his daughter Olga and his subsequent infatuation with Camilla Urválková. "In Janáček's case, it cannot be separated; it is the essence of his work. Janáček's life is intertwined with his work. This is the case with Fate, Broučekand other works. In 1917, for example, when he was contemplating divorce, a period connected with his relationship with Gabriela Horvátová, he began composing an opera based on Tolstoy's drama The Living Corpse, dealing to a large extent with family relationships. His life's misfortunes are related to his work. Janáček never wrote anything in his life to order. He always created because he had an inner need to say something, because he felt that way - and that's why he searched for librettos for so long," the author added.

Jiří Zahrádka intends to publish a complete series of monographs on Janáček's musical-dramatic works by 2028, the year marking the 100th anniversary of his death. While Jenůfa was published in a separate volume two years ago, the other works will be published in two monographs. "Jenůfa was published separately because its history is very complex, and for Janáček, this opera represented a search for a new form. The other operas do not have such a rich history, Janáček's path to them was more straightforward, although in the case of Fate & The Excursions of Mr Brouček, the paths to their creation and performance are also quite complicated," Zahrádka noted.

The book also contains a not very well-known photograph of T. G. Masaryk from 1919, taken at the Atelier J. F. Langhans . Photo: Fate & The Excursions of Mr. Brouček

Zahrádka decided to continue writing his monographs thanks to the positive reception of Jenůfa. "I knew that I didn't want to address nine of Janáček's operas in nine separate books because while we have 1 700 letters to Brouček, for example, there are only twenty to the last opera From the House of the Dead. At the same time, I did not want to make a musical analysis of the operas; I am leaving that aside, focusing on the genesis, the circumstances of their creation and first performance in a broader context, and on the specific problems of each opera - compositional, instrumental, etc. simultaneously, I try to make the text accessible and readable. I spend a lot of time selecting the accompanying visual material," Zahrádka noted.

Currently, Jiří Zahrádka is working on another volume devoted to the operas Káťa Kabanová and The Cunning Little Vixen, which is planned for publication in 2025. "In 2027, The Makropulos Affair and From the House of the Dead will be published, and in 2028, we will return to the start, when Šárka and The Beginning of a Novel will be published," the author added.

Jiří Zahrádka: Fate & The Excursions of Mr Brouček. Janáček's Operas of hope and disappointment

Translation into English by Graeme Dibble, cover and graphic design by Barbara Zemčík, printing and binding by Helbich Printing House. The book was published in 2023 by Host Publishing House and the Moravian Museum in Brno. First edition, 504 pages.

book cover

Jiří Zahrádka works at the Department of Musicology of the Faculty of Arts MU and is also a curator of the Janáček collections at the Department of the History of Music at the Moravian Museum. He has been studying Janáček's life and work for over twenty-five years - he has presented it in a number of articles and has also contributed to John Tyrrell's two-volume monograph Years of a Life. In addition to more than one hundred studies, he is the author of Leoš Janáček in Photographs (2008) and the book Theatre Must Not Be Comedy for The People - Leoš Janáček and the National Theatre in Brno (2012), and also the editor of Janáček's musical works for Universal Edition, Editio Bärenreiter, Henle Verlag and Editio Janáček.

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