1. Let us return to the question of Janáček and obsession. Was Janáček obsessive in a clinical sense? The most frequent variations on this theme involve Kamila Stösslová. There are some 700 letters extant that Janáček wrote to Kamila Stösslová, some of which she wholly or partially destroyed.10 Janáček's correspondence with Stösslová occupied his attention usually about once a day, although in rare instances as much as several times in a day. We can speculate that he often thought about Kamila, but there is no reason to think that he saw these thoughts as "senseless" or "repugnant" or in any way tried to avoid them—as a person with obsessive thoughts does—nor does he seem to have been driven to write the letters against his will by an irresistible compulsion.11 Moreover, Janáček was quite productive in other areas of his life and this fact adduces support for the conclusion that such thoughts did not in fact constitute an obsession that dominated his life.

  2. Janáček did indeed enjoy the company of Kamila Urválková, whose voice was like a "viola d'amore" and who sent him the red roses that began their acquaintance, but his infatuation with her never had the same character or intensity of his relationship to the "other" Kamila. If Janáček was obsessed with Kamila Stösslová, did he identify himself with Janiček in the song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared? It is certainly possible, as he wrote to Kamila that he considered her to be the Gypsy girl of Diary, Zefka.12 It is an attractive poetic conceit that Janáček would be seduced by dark, mysterious Kamila, risking serious societal disapprobation, just as his near-namesake did in Diary. Of course reality was quite different, as Kamila did not return his feelings, at least not quite in the way he seems to have hoped.

  3. Likewise, Janáček did not seem to see his notation of nápěvky mluvy (speech melodies) as bothersome invasions on his time and attention. On the contrary, he felt that that act of recording speech contours honed his sense of melody and rhythm of the language and that this allowed him to compose vocal lines that more precisely approximated actual intonational and prosodic patterns. There can be no doubt that he was quite interested in, even passionate about, the recording and study of speech melody, and in particular its implications for dramatic power in his music, but his interest was most probably not an obsession or compulsion per se.13 There are seventy-five folders of the composer's notebooks at the Moravian Museum's Janáček Archive, containing thousands of nápěvky. When one considers all the letters Janáček wrote, books he read and copiously annotated, not to mention his prolific compositional output and numerous revisions, this is indeed a considerable number.

  4. Other explanations exist for Janáček's prolific notation and collection of speech melodies. Changes in the limbic system and temporal lobes of the brain can cause a condition called hypergraphia, which is the term for a compelling and near-irresistible desire to write.14 It is unclear to what extent this condition is the force behind creative activities of artists, writers, and composers; it has been associated with other, more serious conditions.15 However, hypergraphia is not considered a medical disorder which requires no treatment and in any case, there is no conclusive evidence that Janáček had this condition. Another possibility is a condition known as Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD), which in common usage is frequently mistaken for OCD. People with OCPD typically do not feel compelled to perform senseless tasks such as those with obsessive-compulsive disorder; rather, they tend to be relentless perfectionists and exhibit signs of anxiety when "things aren't right." They prize perfectionism and order above all other things. For instance, an OCPD sufferer may incessantly adjust the knot in his tie, never feeling satisfied with the result. A composer with this disorder might spend inordinate amounts of time making sure that the note stems in her handwritten score are all straight, perpendicular to the staff, and of the same length. Most people, when speaking of someone as being "obsessive-compulsive," usually have in mind OCPD rather than the anxiety disorder OCD (which is a more serious condition, one often necessitating treatment). There is no evidence to suggest that Janáček had OCPD, either.

  5. If Janáček was not obsessive in a clinical sense, why have such accustations persisted? Obsession is perceived as something unnatural, strange, or uncanny. In 1973 David Rosenhan published a seminal article in the journal Science on the stigmatization of labeling in a mental institution. In the article, Rosenhan presents the results of an experiment in which twelve people with no recorded history of mental illness volunteered to submit to evaluation by psychiatrists and were subsequently diagnosed by hospital staff to have psychiatric disorders (eleven were diagnosed with schizophrenia; one with manic-depressive psychosis) and were admitted to twelve mental hospitals (258). Rosenhan concludes that even extensively trained and experienced mental health professionals often misdiagnose patients and these mistakes are commonly perpetuated and reinforced in subsequent encounters with the patients. The depersonalization by hospital staff of patients labeled with a mental disorder that Rosenhan observed is specific to the particular environment of a psychiatric facility. However, his observations about the stigma and ostracism that stubbornly follow a person being labeled with a mental disorder can have implications for our perception of Janáček as obsessed. As noted earlier, despite certain positive characteristics imputed to obsession, the usual connotations of the word are decidedly negative and imply unhealthy mental imbalance. In calling Janáček obsessed, it is as though we were affixing a scarlet letter O to his coat that colors all our perceptions of him.

  6. One composer who we know to have suffered from OCD, in addition to having a predisposition toward occasional mind-crushing depression, was Anton Bruckner (Bourke). His condition compounded his feelings of low self-esteem, which prompted him to seek outside confirmation of his talents as an artist, in one case, by writing to various universities in pursuit of an honorary doctorate (which he finally received much later in life, from the University of Vienna). Inexplicably, the article on Bruckner in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians makes no mention of the disorder and speaks only briefly to the composer's mental condition: "That Bruckner's mental stability was suspect on at least one occasion is verified by his period of confinement in the sanatorium at Bad Kreuzen in 1867. Throughout his life ample confidence in his musical abilities was counterbalanced by a nervous, introverted and often obsequious disposition" (Hawkshaw and Jackson).

  7. We generally think of obsession as a personality defect, like a ruthless tyrant who controls the brain. These are people who deserve our compassion rather than our admiration. On the other hand, is there such a thing as a healthy obsession? Can an obsession be a boon, especially for an artist? Perhaps in some cases, a more appropriate metaphor for obsessions and compulsions is that of a coaxing coxswain, endlessly prodding a person to achieve; indeed, obsession has long been associated with creativity and artistic endeavor. Many books have been written about the connection between obsession, irrationality, madness, and genius. Recently, at the Mills Gallery of the Boston Center for the Arts, there was an exhibition of art created by patients with OCD; curator Matthew Nash, also a contributor, said that the purpose of the exhibition is to show how obsessions and compulsions can fuel creativity.16 The exhibition drew a wide and diverse crowd. Whether obsessive-compulsive behavior directly and positively contributes to creative endeavor, it appears that in many cases it does not significantly inhibit creative impulses.

  8. Many people with OCD have been able to be productive in society, with varying degrees of success, in spite of their affliction, including paranoid recluse Howard Hughes, actor Harrison Ford, soccer player David Beckham, baseball player Nomer Garciaparra, pianist and composer Oscar Levant, lexicographer, writer, and critic Samuel Johnson (who also suffered from Tourette's Syndrome), and Nikola Tesla, inventor of the induction motor. Some studies seem to show a correlation between mental disorders and successful creative activity. One such study showed that in a sampling of forty-seven of the most successful British authors and artists, approximately thirty-eight percent had sought professional help for mood disorders—roughly thirty times the percentage of those in the general population being treated—and one third of them admitted to having strong mood swings.17 (One presumes that the numbers would increase somewhat if all artists and writers who suffer from these symptoms actually sought treatment.)

  9. From studies like this one we can point to a correlation between mild mood dysfunction or disorders and creativity. Another well-worn trope, Romantic at its core, is that of the artist who suffers for his art. Recent studies have investigated a possible connection between creativity and suffering or self-abuse.18 Mental problems have long been the curse of composers. Ludwig van Beethoven and Robert Schumann, for instance, had a bipolar disorder. Antonín Dvořák may have suffered from a severe panic anxiety disorder; Michael Beckerman argues that for Dvořák, composition may have been a respite from irrational fears and anxious feelings (190). For composers, writers, or other artists who have had obsessions or compulsions, the creative act is sometimes inseparable from the disorder itself.

  10. So it is conceivable that, to some, Janáček's "disability," if he had one, may be no handicap at all.19 On the contrary, it might be perceived as some type of badge of honor, the source of the composer's inspiration and invention. The question as to whether he actually had such an affliction might be beside the point. He may be seen by those who attribute obsession to him as having overcome adversity on the way to artistic success, or, on the other hand, as the bearer of a double-edged sword, which tortures him even as it endows him with uncommon abilities. (Recall Claude Monet's characterization of his obsession with color as his "joy and torment.") Either assumption casts a sympathetic light on the composer. We all have to deal with adversity in our lives and in a certain sense the obsessed label humanizes Janáček—his alterity lends him a certain appealing true-to-life dimension.

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10 They are contained in Tyrrell.

11 In Janáček's native language, the word obsession is posedlost. The root of the word is sed-, which forms the basis for the verb sedět (sednout – perfective form), meaning "to sit." The word for saddle, sedlo, has the same root. Of the word posedlost, one has the mental image of a person saddled with (and ridden by?) the object of his obsession. This metaphor can be understood as a poetic representation of the medical definition of obsession discussed above.

12 Janáček, in a letter to Kamila dated 24 July 1924 (Pribanova).

13 However, recording the speech melodies of his daughter as she lay dying might strike some as evidence of the composer's obsession. For a discussion of this incident and its significance, see Christiansen 2004.

14 Neurologist Alice Weaver Flaherty addresses the issue in a thoughtful article for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

15 A 1974 article showed a connection between temporal lobe epilepsy and hypergraphia: See Waxman and Geschwind.

16 For the related story, see Payne.

17 See Jamison 1989. Writers were the most stricken group, with poets suffering most. Jamison, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, herself suffers from manic depression and has written a memoir of living with the disorder entitled An Unquiet Mind.

18 See Holkeboer. Another study in the same vein include Richards and Kinney. Attempting to draw a connection between creativity and severe psychological disorders is Prentky.

19 Joseph N. Straus has considered the topic of disability in relation to music in his "Normalizing the Abnormal: Disability in Music and Music Theory."

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