Jiří Zahrádka

Janáček’s Jenůfa as Realistic Opera

pp. 84–94 (Czech), summary p. 94 (English)

Leoš Janáček composed the opera Jenůfa in 1895-1903 based on the text ofGabriela Preissová's realistic drama, using a non-verse form (as the first or one ofthe first ones). In Jenůfa, Janáček approached reality of the acting characters witha specific singing style, which was based intonationally and rhythmically on humanspeech - not, however, through a straightforward use of tunes. These motifs, basedon human speech, were then also given a fundamental place in the concept of theentire score. The realistic nature of the work was also supported by songs and dancescomposed by Janáček, which typologically corresponded to the given region, byusing imitations of real sounds (a mill, evening bells, altar bells, etc.), even directlyon stage (xylophone at the mill wheel, evening bells behind the stage, etc.). He alsoworked extensively with acoustics (singing behind the stage, approaching singingof arriving recruits, etc.). In the stage performance, he consistently demandedan ethnographically correct rendition of dances, a realistic image of a mountainmill with an upper millrace and a wooden bridge, ethnographically correct use ofcostumes, etc. When composing Jenůfa, Janáček had no knowledge of similar effortsby French composers Alfred Bruneau and Gustave Charpentier. It was only afterseeing Charpentier's opera Louise in May 1903 that he fully realised the importanceof his new approach to music drama and was able to formulate its close connectionwith the concept of realism.In Czech musicology and criticism, the term realism was hardly used in connectionwith music, and when it was, it was understood differently. This stems from the more general question of whether realism can be applied at all to such an immaterial, non-conceptual area as music, and even more so to such a stylised form as opera. In the field of music, the term naturalism has rather taken hold in this country, not only in relation to the Italian verismo, but also to refer to Janáček's operas. Janáček thus used the term "realism" in relation to music for the first time in this country and defined the term "realistic opera" more precisely.

Keywords: Realism - naturalism - Leoš Janáček - Gustav Charpentier


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