Pavel Haas's Music for the Stage

By Drlik, Vojen | Czech Music, September-October 2003 | Go to article overview

Pavel Haas's Music for the Stage


Drlik, Vojen, Czech Music


Interest in the Brno composer Pavel Haas (1899-1944) is scanty today, to say the least. Only very occasionally do his works appear in concert programmes, and although his one opera The Charlatan [Sarlatan] has been restaged by the State Opera in Prague (1997), it has yet to be produced again in his native Brno. Such interest as has been shown in the composer has tended to stimulated from abroad, where he is known as one of the "Terezin composers"

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Perception of the work of Pavel Haas is in many respects similar to the kind of attention enjoyed by his otherwise much more popular younger brother, the actor Hugo Haas, who lives on in the consciousness of the Czech public simply as the hero of a number of prewar films, while his much longer and more prolific film career in America falls outside our angle of vision. The music of Pavel Haas figures more in music guides than in the minds of listeners, despite the fact that the output of the composer has found an enthusiastic and devoted publicist in Lubomir Peduzzi (Pavel Haas, Brno 1993).

Pavel Haas is known chiefly as a composer of songs, operas and orchestral music. As far as work not designed for concert performance is concerned, there has been most attention to his film music. Although the Barrandov Studio gave the composer only three commissions, all of them turned out to be for unusually successful film. Much of the credit for the success must go to Hugo Haas, as the actor in the lead roles but also as the person who got his brother the work.

Haas's film music was written in the Thirties and still lives on, in its way, in screenings of old films. His music for the stage, however, with the exception of his opera The Charlatan, was a child of the Twenties and has been forgotten, some of it lost entirely. It was clearly not regarded as an independent body of work and the composer paid no great attention to its subsequent late, especially since it was written without pretensions to later representation as concert music. Nevertheless, we cannot write off Pavel Haas's work for the stage as entirely marginal. Surviving materials (some of them newly discovered) testify to the immediate reactions of the composer to the stimuli of his time and are also evidence of his personal contacts.

Lubomir Peduzzi, Pavel Haas's biographer, mentions seven works for the stage in his list of the composer's output. Six were written for the National Theatre in Brno, and one for the Vinohrady Theatre in Prague shortly after Hugo Haas had been engaged there as an actor. Pavel Haas had the good fortune to be embark on stage work with a play that is today still regarded as a modern classic. His first project was to work with the Brno National Theatre on the production of Capek's play R. U. R., which had its Brno premiere on the 9th of April 1924 in the Na hradbach Theatre, directed by Bohumil Stejskal. The Brno company (still under the repertoire direction of Jiri Mahen), was therefore only three months behind the Prague premiere of the play in the National Theatre (25th of January 1991). In the cast list, besides such leading company actors as Karel Urbanek (Domin), Ladislav Pech (Alquist) and Zdenka Grafova (Helena), we also find Hugo Haas as "Third Robot". It was Hugo Haas's first theatre season, the composer's younger brother just starting on what was to be a dazzling career in Czech theatre and film. In Brno, Capek's drama was presented with the secondary itle "A Utopian Play" and the composer of the music was concealed under the pseudonym A. Pavlas. In fact, in the newly discovered score (L. Peduzzi believes it to be lost) the pseudonym is given as H. Parlas, making the composer's identity even more obvious. The "A" probably crept in by mistake and was then actually retained in the subsequent production (premiered on the 2nd of December 1927 at the Na hradbach Theatre), directed by Vladimir Simacek (conductor Kurt Glas), again with Zdenka Grafova, but with Ladislav Pesek as the robot Primus (in 1922 this role had been taken by the director B. …

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