Jiri Zahradka: "Theatre Must Not Be Comedy for the People" Leos Janacek and the National Theatre in Brno

By Janackova, Libuse | Czech Music, January 2013 | Go to article overview

Jiri Zahradka: "Theatre Must Not Be Comedy for the People" Leos Janacek and the National Theatre in Brno


Janackova, Libuse, Czech Music


Moravian Museum and Editio Janacek, o.p.s. Brno 2012 146 pp. Text: Czech and English. Translation: Graeme and Suzanne Dibble

The latest book by the Czech musicologist Jiri Zahradka, the curator of the Janacek collections at the History of Music Department of the Moravian Museum and a world-renowned author of critical editions of Janacek's works, combines two seemingly contradictory qualities--erudition and a highly readable style. As is known, specialist publications more Frequently serve for retrieving the necessary information than providing a good read. When, however, you immerse yourself in Zahradka's book on Leos Janacek (1854-1928) and the National Theatre in Brno, you find that it's simply unputdownable. Yet before plunging into the book, I highly recommend that you leaf through it and have a look at the pictorial supplements, whose uniqueness, copiousness and, in many cases, sheer novelty make them truly exceptional. You will also be pleasantly surprised by the quantity of source materials and the publication's overall visual aspect, including the imaginative jacket. Foreign readers will undoubtedly be pleased by the fact that the book provides both Czech and English texts.

The book focuses on the relationship between Leos Janacek and the National Theatre in Brno (NDB), Moravia's most significant cultural institution. As Jiri Zahradka writes in his preface, this relationship was "multilayered, reflecting artistic, social, as well as political aspects". And this approach is similarly applied by the author too--in seven chapters, he presents the NDB's history connected with Leos Janacek from the composer's very first experience with opera through the establishment of the Society of the Czech National Theatre in Brno and the composer's diverse activity within it, the problems related to performing his works on this stage, to the theatre's final bidding farewell to the famous artist. The importance of Zahradka's work primarily rests in the breadth and coherence of his coverage of the subject, in the originality of some of the chapters and subchapters, and the integration of the previously fractionalised, often only partially explored minor themes, as the current Janacek research requires.

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The first chapter, titled Janacek and Brno opera productions before the opening of the theatre in Veveri ulice in 1884, familiarises the reader with Janacek's initial experience with opera and his relationship to musical drama. The main attention is paid to the history of operatic productions in Brno before 1884 (the year that saw the opening in Brno of the Czech provisional theatre) in relation to Janacek. In addition, the author elucidates the history of theatre in Brno in general--including drama and operetta productions.

The next chapter, Janacek as a reviewer of the Czech National Theatre, in Brno, again manifests Zahradka's skill at concisely setting his topic into a more general historical framework--besides the relationship between Janacek and the NDB, he gives a brief yet comprehensive account of the theatre's history. The author maps Janacek's contributing to the journals Hudebni listy and, later on, Moravske listy. This subject has previously been treated in part, therefore Zahradka mainly concentrates on the content of Janacek's reviews. Praiseworthy too is the list of works about which Janacek wrote (or didn't write) in his articles, and the highlighting of his ongoing critical approach by means of which the composer strove to conduce to improving the general level of Czech opera theatre.

The third chapter, the second most extensive, focuses on Janacek as a member and representative of the Druzstoo of the Czech National Theatre in Brno. The names of the chronologically sequenced subchapters indicate their content--Janacek's first election to the committee; The search for a leader of the orchestra; Controversy over the new Czech National Theatre building--Janacek voted onto the committee a second time; In the new republic--Janacek voted onto the committee a third time; The search for a new head of the National Theatre-Janacek's championing of Neumann; The City Theatre for the Czechs! …

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