- Perhaps there is also a nationalist dimsension to the discourse surrounding
Janáček. Compositions of Austrian and German composers are
often associated with words such as "controlled," "logical,"
and "masterful." According to this rubric, non-Germanic composers
by implication have had to rely on fits of obsession, seizures of creativity
that overtake them completely, making them vessels for inspiration from
divine or otherworldly sources. This notion has been deconstructed almost
as often as it has been asserted or implied. Yet we know that such a
portrayal can hardly be applied to Janáček, who had as rigorous
a training regime in harmony, counterpoint, and composition as any Teutonic
composer. He also had a keen sense of the dramatic, and coolly calculated
his musical gestures for maximum effect. Positing that Janáček
was obsessed has the effect of marginalizing the composer who, debilitated
by the disorder we have ascribed to him, cannot speak to us in the way
that we imagine Brahms or Mahler can—with the authority and force
of a masterful, creative genius. In music history and theory courses
taught in the West, the music of composers such as Skryabin and Janáček
is often mentioned only fleetingly, and almost never analyzed. This
omission implies that this "Oriental" music is not put together
in a way that analysis would help us understand, that rather than following
a logical progression, it spins its wheels in an obsessive rut.
- At a time when Janáček is becoming more known in the West,
it is important to scrutinize attitudes and assumptions about the man
and his work. His music is performed ever more frequently in concert
halls and opera houses and critics have been writing of his surprising
originality and his underrated status for some time now, yet Janáček
is still excluded from basic textbooks on music history and study anthologies
in music departments outside of the Czech Republic.20
If included at all in a music history text, Janáček usually
warrants passing mention under the heading "Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century
Music," despite the fact that his chief contributions to the history
of music have their origin chiefly in the following century (and again,
his compositions are almost never analyzed). Some composers, exterritorial
in at least one or another respect—such as Dvořák—have
been "rehabilitated" or "justified" by various Western
critics, like Eduard Hanslick, who aim to explain that they are somehow
honorary Germans or Austrians and thus worthy of inclusion in the canon.
- For some, Janáček's music does not convince through logical
argument like a Bach fugue or a Beethoven sonata---it seduces, is good
in spite of a certain "irrationality."21
Alfred Einstein, writing about three of nineteenth-century Czech Bedřich
Smetana's chamber works, asserts that while the compositions are "autobiographical"
and "full of original and vigorous invention," they are "formally
underdeveloped and rhapsodic" (Einstein 299; as quoted in Beckerman,
"Czechness," 61-73). The phrase "formally underdeveloped"
is clear enough: in Einstein's estimation, Smetana's music lacks rational
control that would elevate his works into the pantheon of Western music
inhabited by luminaries such as Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. The word
"rhapsodic" is code for the same thing. The word rhapsody
comes to us through Latin from Greek (rhapsoidia is a recitation
of epic poetry excerpts, and this term comes from the verb rhaptein,
meaning to stitch together, and aidein, meaning to sing). So
a rhapsody is something stitched together to be sung (or played), without
necessarily having any overarching unity governing it, similar to a
fantasy. "Rhapsodic" can certainly have a positive valence—a
rhapsodic poem—but in opposing the word here to his generally
favorable assessment of the pieces, Einstein uses the word as a pejorative,
as a foil to "original" and "vigorous invention."
- Foucault and other critics have shown that Western reflections of
the Orient are inextricably intertwined with constructions of power,
which derive from the domination of Eastern peoples by Westerners. The
Orient in this context can occupy areas east or southeast of Germany
and Austria and can include Eastern Europe, northern Africa, and essentially
all of Asia. With regard to music per se, this point of view is posited
in Edward Said's highly influential book Orientalism;22
Bart Moore-Gilbert has noted a dichotomy in perceptions of the East
as silent, sensual, feminine, tyrannical, irrational, and backward,
and the West, on the other hand, as dynamic, moral, masculine, democratic,
rational, and progressive (39). Of course, certain societies can fall
on both sides of this rubric: Eastern Europeans can see Asian or Arab
cultures in the same terms. This dichotomy is clearly apparent for instance
in Janáček's The Diary of One Who Disappeared,
between Western Janíček and Eastern Zefka. Sometimes the
implication is made more subtly: one author of an encyclopedia of twentieth-century
music writes of Janáček's works that "convey highly
charged feeling through ostinatos and vivid eccentricity"
[emphasis mine] (Griffiths 100).
- Standing on the shoulders of the previously mentioned criticism, as
well as other scholarship, some authors have called for a reassessment
of long-held prejudices. Derek Sayer's 1998 book The Coasts
of Bohemia: A Czech History is an attempt to explain to Western
audiences the often misunderstood place of the Czech lands in the history
of Europe and to re-situate Bohemia and Moravia in the heart of Europe
rather than at its fringes. Similar histories have recently been written
about other Eastern European countries.23
We are only just starting to question misleading representations and
negotiate new, illuminating histories of peoples and cultures that have
been thus far little understood in the West. As is often the case, musicology
in this regard lags behind other fields of inquiry, but is steadily
- Theodor Adorno had something to say about this topic, and over a century
ago. He distinguishes between what he calls "exterritorial music,"
in which tonal material can be used "without embarrassment,"
and traditional, nationalist, and conservative Blut- und Bodenmusik
(41-42). As an example of exterritorial music, Adorno mentions music
in agricultural regions of southern Europe and then proceeds to single
out Janáček and Bartók for praise as exterritorial
composers. He attributes a power of alienation to this music, which
he associates with the avant-garde, and holds that it is among the most
progressive art music in Europe.24
An exclusionary term like "exterritorial" serves to identify
the author with one group by stating its polar opposite. Although the
term "exterritorial" can be understood in numerous contexts,
it also has a specific geographical import, even if it is difficult
to delimit precisely which areas are exterritorial. Certainly composers
from Slavic or Finno-Ugric linguistic regions are included in the term,
although some composers, such as Tchaikovsky or Stravinsky, are often
seen as creators of a universal music that somehow transcends their
territorial origins. Indeed, Tchaikovsky met with the opprobrium of
the Mighty Handful for his close identification with the St. Petersburg
Conservatory and his "conservative formalism."
- Scholars in the West who do not specialize in the work of an "exterritorial"
composer at times confuse some composers east of the Danube with others.
A short anecdote should serve to illustrate my point. A colleague and
I recently received an acceptance to read a joint paper on Janáček's
theory of speech melody at an international interdisciplinary musicology
conference in Austria. The acceptance included comments from anonymous
referees regarding our abstract. One of the reports included the following
statement: "Interesting comparison between music transcription
and Kodály's own transcriptions of language. I am curious
to hear findings of intonational analysis."25
Zoltán Kodály's name appears twice more in the referee's
report. Although there was no mention anywhere in our proposal of Kodály,
the reader still coadunated two Eastern European composers.26
In the Western imagination, the East is a fantastical landscape, where
Hungarian equals Czech and Kodály can easily substitute for Janáček.
- Czech musicologists never write of Janáček as an obsessed
composer. Of course that would not necessarily mean that he did not
have such a disorder, merely that Czechs were reluctant to admit the
eventuality. Czech musicology is of a decidedly conservative cast and
it would be truly surprising if Janáček were labeled "obsessed"
by one of his own countrymen; on the contrary, many Czechs have objected
strenuously whenever it has been suggested that one of their pantheon
of composers may have suffered from a mental disorder. 27Nevertheless,
as no evidence has been yet advanced that Janáček was actually
in any meaningful way obsessed, there must be other reasons why the
composer is associated with the disorder, presumably dependent on the
agendas of individual writers.
- Although much has been made of the psychological import of Janáček's
operas (and even instrumental works with ostensible programs such as
his string quartets), so far there have been no studies of Janáček's
state of mental health (either contemporary to the composer or based
on recent analysis of extant information) that would provide support
for contentions about obsession. Loose references to obsession obscure
our perception of the man and his work, and maybe it is time to re-evaluate
these assumptions. Labeling Janáček as "obsessed"
needlessly marginalizes the composer and distorts our understanding
of his position both in his milieu and in current Rezeptionsgeschichte.
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do not discuss in detail, let alone analyze, Janáček's music
include history texts such as Kamien. Kerman, Racice, and Grout et al,
as well as anthologies and analysis texts such as Morgan, Burkhart, and
Lester. This omission seems particularly glaring in books on twentieth-century
music analysis. A notable exception is Arnold Whittall's recent Exploring
Twentieth-Century Music: Tradition and Innovation, where Janáček's
music is analyzed and discussed on a level with other great composers
of the twentieth-century such as Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern,
and Bartók. I do not mean to suggest that neglect of his music
in these anthologies, histories, and theory texts is directly attributable
to Janáček's exterritoriality, I am merely searching for an
explanation for the lacunae. It is indeed curious that one of the most
original voices of twentieth-century Western art music is virtually silent
in instructive texts on music. There need not be any causal or correlative
relationship between the two circumstances, but neither are they mutually
For a stimulating
discussion of irrationality and akrasia, see Nele.
Said has elaborated
and refined this position over the years; see his Culture and Imperialism.
The Hungarians: A Thousand Years of Victory in Defeat and Lucian
Boia's Romania: Borderland of Europe are examples.
In a recent article,
a Czech scholar also considers the term in relation to another 20th-century
composer; see Spurn´y.
to which I allude to was the Conference on Interdisciplinary Musicology
2004, sponsored by the European Society for the Cognitive Sciences of
Music and the Dept. of Musicology, University of Graz in April 2004. My
collaborator on this paper was Jonathan Pearl.
conducted ethnographic research in the late nineteenth century, although
this still does not completely explain the referee's confusion.
This happened for
instance at a conference in the Czech Republic in 1997 when Michael Beckerman
presented the research on Dvořák and anxiety mentioned above.
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