"I Would like to Write Two Letters Every Day": The First Complete Bedrich Smetana Correspondence Edition

By Kachlik, Jan | Czech Music, January 2017 | Go to article overview

"I Would like to Write Two Letters Every Day": The First Complete Bedrich Smetana Correspondence Edition


Kachlik, Jan, Czech Music


During his lifetime, Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884) did not gain the same degree of international renown as did his younger contemporary Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904). In the 1870s, however, he became the main representative of Czech national music, and later on he would enjoy general acclaim in his home country. When Smetana died, in 1884, his champions were well aware that his oeuvre, as well as the major circumstances pertaining to his life, was not sufficiently known.

That is why they strove to present a "faithful picture of the maestro's personality and artistry" (Hostinsky, 1885). And they duly plunged into gathering the relevant materials with the aim to put together an extensive biography. Besides focusing on Smetana's music itself, they also paid attention to his correspondence, collecting and continuously publishing his letters, first in magazines and soon in books too. The published correspondence was subsequently made use of by authors of Smetana studies and monographs, including those writing in German: at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, for instance, the qualities of Smetana's music were the subject of studies by the Vienna-based musicologist and critic Max Graf. And the author of the first Smetana monograph in German, Bronislav Wellek, furnished his 1895 book with a supplement containing Smetana's letters to Franz Liszt. By and large, further research would simply not prove to be possible without detailed knowledge of the composer's correspondence.

Hence, it comes as no surprise that the first deliberations about publishing the complete Smetana correspondence occurred way back in 1919. A number of scholars, museum employees, collectors and Smetana admirers have made several attempts at making the idea come to fruition, yet none of them was able to accomplish this challenging and complex task. One of the reasons for this failure at the time must have been the fact that publishers had to take into consideration several questions which are not so essential in the 21st century: How to do it while at the same time not besmirching the idealised image of the national giant? How to deal with the correspondence written in German? How to cope with Smetana's incorrect Czech spelling? How to negotiate the intimate content of some of the letters and diaries? And what to do with the incomprehensible entries the composer wrote towards the end of his life? Over the past few years, two musicologists from the Bedrich Smetana Museum - Olga Mojzisova and Milan Pospisil - have linked up to the work carried out by their predecessors. In an extensive introductory study, they have summed up all the current knowledge pertaining to the history of collection and publication of the composer's correspondence. From the very beginning, they have approached their project bearing in mind the aim to ensure that the complete edition entirely comes up to the standards of the current international requirements placed on critical editions of musicians' correspondence. The transcription principles in particular have been significantly modified as against the older, far freer practice, in the direction of the diplomatically authentic transcription of the original texts. Furthermore, new sources have been discovered and acquired. Part of the Smetana correspondence has not previously been published at all, and a large amount of the letters until recently merely available in copies or known from flawed editions have only been procured for the collections of the Bedrich Smetana Museum over the past few years.

"... seyen Sie nicht bose, da[szlig] ich Sie fort mit meinen Briefen quale; es ist jetzt meine liebste Beschaftigung. Durfte ich, ich mochte jeden Tag zwei Briefe schreiben, den einen Vormittag, den andern Nachmittag!"

["...J am sorry for having kept bombardingyou with my letters; it is now my favourite activity. If I could, I would like to write two letters exiery day, one in the morning, one in the afternoon! …

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