Twines and Tangles: This Text Is a Response to the Review of J. Tyrrell's Monograph on Janacek from the Pen of Milos Stedron, Which Was Printed in CMQ 2/2008. Michael Beckerman Is a Professor at New York University and the Author of the Monograph Janacek as Theorist (Pendragon Press, 1994). (Ed. Note)

By Beckerman, Michael | Czech Music, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Twines and Tangles: This Text Is a Response to the Review of J. Tyrrell's Monograph on Janacek from the Pen of Milos Stedron, Which Was Printed in CMQ 2/2008. Michael Beckerman Is a Professor at New York University and the Author of the Monograph Janacek as Theorist (Pendragon Press, 1994). (Ed. Note)


Beckerman, Michael, Czech Music


After several breathless pages of unvarnished praise in his recent review of John Tyrrell's roughly 2000 page Janacek: Years of a Life, Milos Stedron pauses to state his primary objection to the 3.6 kg biography:

One aspect which I do not agree with and which I consider to be an inadequately thought out part of the monograph is the passage on Janacek as Theorist. Tyrrell generally takes over the internationally cited monograph by Michael Beckerman Janacek as Theorist. I personally think that despite its elegant form this book is only an attempt at identifying Janacek the theorist. Beckerman seems to have wanted to stake a claim to this lucrative theme, but his treatment ignores the results of Czech music theory (Blazek, Rehanek, Volek) and starts entirely from his own research.

On every level, Stedron's assessment is careless and incorrect. First he misreads Tyrrell who, after damning my 470gm volume (which he calls "slim") with faint praise, swiftly moves on to quote such scholars as Kulka, Chlubna, Kunc, Hanak, Volek and Blatny, completing a lean consideration of Janacek's theories in a mere 9 page (4gm) chapter. My book may be the starting point for his chapter, but it is hardly the core of it.

This would hardly be worth noticing had Stedron's reading of my own work not been so sloppy and misinformed, particularly when he claims that I have ignored specific Czech sources. Blazek's contributions are cited throughout my work, and I annotated his texts thoroughly as I prepared my book. I also studied the work of Rehanek, and have had a warm relationship with that author over the years. Finally, I had many long conversations with Jaroslav Volek about related issues, and always found his ideas fascinating, though sometimes idiosyncratic and occasionally opaque. He is prominently cited in my final chapter where his views are presented (see, for example, p. 99). Many other Czech scholars are mentioned, as even a cursory glance at the book will show. The reader of Stedron's review will not find out, however, why citing Czech scholars is so important, or which specific aspects of Czech thought might have been neglected in my work, since he devotes his entire discussion of Janacek's theory to me instead of trying to say something useful and original about Janacek.

Bizarrely, it is not enough for Stedron to criticize my work, he maligns my motives as well, with the unpleasant suggestion that I somehow capitalized on the subject of the theoretical works to "stake a claim" to its "lucrative" potential. The stature of Janacek and his theoretical works in American academic circles in the 1980's is neatly summarized by the following response to my application for a teaching position in 1982: "Why do we need someone working on a third-rate Czech composer when there are plenty of second-rate American composers around?" No, Janacek's international standing as a composer is a more recent phenomenon. Alas, the notion that Janacek's theory has been a lucrative endeavor for anyone anywhere, including the Maestro himself, could only be put forward by someone fantasizing wealth on the other side of the rainbow or the Atlantic Ocean.

Oddly, Stedron laments that mine is the main source for Janacek's theoretical works in English. We scholars have a remedy for such things; it is called publishing. If we do not like what a fellow scholar has written, we are free to make other interpretations and make sure that competing approaches are available to our peers. If these theoretical works are indeed as "lucrative" as Stedron claims, it is simply inexplicable that nothing has been made available to English readers in the fifteen years since the appearance of my book. I can hardly be blamed for work that others, including Stedron, have not done.

I believe that is somewhat surreal that I have come to occupy such choice real estate space in both the major Janacek biography of our time and its review in this journal. …

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Twines and Tangles: This Text Is a Response to the Review of J. Tyrrell's Monograph on Janacek from the Pen of Milos Stedron, Which Was Printed in CMQ 2/2008. Michael Beckerman Is a Professor at New York University and the Author of the Monograph Janacek as Theorist (Pendragon Press, 1994). (Ed. Note)
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