Dr. Leoš Janáček (1854-1928)
"Life Isn't All Fun"
Leoš Janáček was born on 3 July 1854, in Hukvaldy by Příbor, Moravia, a small village below the ruins of a castle of the same name. In addition to being the most famous Czech composer of the twentieth century, he was also a choirmaster, a teacher, and the founding director of the Brno Organ School. Though active and otherwise healthy at age 74, he developed pneumonia while on brief holiday in Hukvaldy and died on 12 August 1928.
At the age of 25, Janáček fell passionately in love with one of his pupils, Zdeňka Schulzová, who was only 14 years old at the time. Two years later, in July 1881, they married; shortly thereafter Janáček changed his mind. He treated his teenage bride with increasing coldness and took no interest at all in the birth of their first child. His relationship with his father-in-law, who was also the Director of the Brno Teachers' Training Institute where he taught, were no better, and often worse. The Director even complained to the authorities about what he perceived, possibly due to Janáček's interest in folk material, to be Janáček's nationalist fanaticism--a threat to the stability of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Divorce proceedings were prepared, but Zdeňka was persuaded to stay with Janáček. For most of the rest of her life she regretted this decision, as Janáček conducted passionate affairs, more or less openly, with other women. With Zdeňka he had a daughter who died at age ten, and a son who died at age two. Zdeňka even once attempted suicide; Janáček reacted by meeting his mistress out of town, and then suggesting Zdeňka invite her to stay with them in their home. In the summer of 1916, the couple obtained a legal seperation agreement which dissolved the duty of faithfulness and mutual help, the sharing of a common household (which they continued to do while sleeping in separate rooms), and the intimacies of marriage.
"My Dear Mrs Kamila"
Almost every summer after 1903, Janáček went alone to take the waters and enjoy the countryside in the Moravian spa town of Luhacovice. It was there, some time between 3 July and 7 July 1917, he met a 25-year old woman who would became the sole focus of all his passions and erotic feelings for the rest of his life.
Kamila Stösslová (née Neumannová) was born 12 September 1891 at Putim, Bohemia. At the age of twenty she married prominent antique dealer David Stössel in Strážnice, Moravia. In her memoirs, completed in 1935, Zdeňka Janáčková recorded some of her first impressions of Kamila: "I thought she was quite nice: young, cheerful, one could have a really great talk with her, she was always laughing. She was of mediuem height, dark, curly-haired like a Gypsy woman, with great black, seemingly bulging eyes […] with heavy eyebrows, a sensuous mouth. The voice was unpleasant, shrill, strident. […] She was a Czech Jew […] not particularly intelligent. She told me she didn't like going to school and didn't like learning. […] her letters were full of spelling mistakes. In music she was totally ignorant, knowing almost nothing about composers. […] She gained my husband's favour through her cheerfulness, laughter, temperament, Gypsy-like apearance and buxom body […]"(1)
"Let Me Make A Writer Of You"
The attention Janáček paid Kamila was mostly in writing. The initial flow of correspondence was heavy. Every year of their relationship after the first saw the number of letters decrease, until the final sixteen months from which comes nearly half the total of letters. Zdeňka recalled that early in the relationship Kamila corresponded "irreproachably" with Janáček.(2) Later, though, most of her letters were destroyed according to her wishes. Similarly, thirty-two envelopes remain empty of the letters Janáček sent to Kamila, their contents presumably too passionate for a married woman to possess.
Their early correspondence often centered on the ability of Kamila's husband to procure household supplies during the restrictions of war. Janáček also extended many invitations to the Stössels to attend performances of his works or to visit his home. These were continually declined, and the exchange of letters subsisted solely on Janáček's will. Finally Kamila accepted tickets to the German language premiere of Jenůfa in Vienna on 16 February 1918. When she did not send him any sort of response afterward, Janáček wrote of his disappointment. This began a pattern of letters in which the smitten composer wondered why Kamila maintained such silence.
After eighteen months, Kamila wrote, "I felt in your company as if I were your daughter."(3) But for Janáček there was plainly much more to their relationship than that. "[…] you are, my dear Mrs Kamila, everything in the world to me, my one and only quiet joy, that I know of no other desire than to think about you, to get drunk on your dear cheerful presence […]"(4) Following the second anniversary of their meeting, Janáček lost a ring during travel. He wrote to Kamila of his confidence that her "[…] conscience and pity will answer to my misfortune and that you'll get me a new little ring for 'luck'."(5) She responded within ten days: "I'm sending you here a little ring with my name […]"(6) For Kamila, this was simply a gesture of good will and friendship: "I also enjoy talking with you because I know that it's innocent friendship. You write about my beauty there you're terribly wrong. […] For I'm really quite an ordinary woman of which there are thousands. […] I love my husband so much that I'd perhaps want to lay down my own head for his life. Perhaps he doesn't even know himself how I long for him perhaps just as you for me. […] I sense that love of yours for me. […] For it's beautiful that you have these memories of me that's enough for you and the main thing is so innocent. I never thought I'd correspond with some man and I resisted even you […] But fate wanted otherwise so we'll now leave everything to fate. It's better that you're so old now if you were young my husband would never permit this."(7) It was clear, however, that for Janáček, his relationship with Kamila, and what the ring represented, was so much more than innocent friendship. The undeniable proof came four years later when he gave her a ring of his own, to seal their belonging to one another.(8)
Most of their meetings were either social visits involving their spouses, or in conjunction with performances of Janáček's works. For nearly three years from mid-1921 through mid-1924 there is no record of their meeting at all. Again Janáček kept the relationship alive on nothing more than his own fantasy and desire. "My life is sadder, more disordered, which is why I bind it with this 'art' of mine, I glue it together, I re-create it in my imagination more tolerably for myself. Who knows, if fate had united us closely, whether I would have needed this art, whether it would ever have made itself felt within me at all? Whether in your eyes which look on so sincerely there wouldn't have been the whole world for me?"(9)
"The Earth Trembled With Joy"
Janáček's visit to Kamila at Písek between 17 April and 21 April 1927 proved a turning point in their relationship. On his arrival in Prague after his visit he wrote:
Believe me, I cannot escape from our two walks. Like a heavy, beautiful dream; in which I am bewitched.
I know that I'd be consumed in that heat which cannot catch fire. On the paths I'd plant oaks which would endure for centuries; and into their trunks I'd carve the words which I shouted into the air. I don't want them to be lost, I want them to be known.
To no-one, ever, have I spoken these words with such compulsion, so recklessly: 'You, you, Kamila! Look back! Stop!' and I read in your eyes as well that something united us in that gale-force wind and heat of the sun. Perhaps something was fated to give us both unutterable pleasure? Never in my life have I experienced such an intermingling of myself with you. We walked along not even close to one another and yet there was no gap between us. I was just your shadow, for me to be there it needed you. I'd have wished that walk to be without an end; I waited without tiring for the words which you whispered; what would I have done were you my wife? Well, I think of you as if you were my wife. It's a small thing just to think like that, and yet it's as if the rays of a hundred suns were overwhelming me. I think this to myself and I won't stop thinking it.
Do with this letter, this confession of mine, what you will. Burn it, or don't burn it. It brings me alive. Even thoughts become flesh.(10)
Five days later he continued: "In the thought that I have you, that you're mine, lies all my joy of life. By it you give me the greatest happiness I've ever wished and which I never got and never really wanted from anyone before. […] I know that my compositions will be more passionate, more ravishing: you'll sit on every little note in them. […] Oh Kamila, it's hard to calm myself. But the fire that you've set alight in me is necessary. Let it burn, let it flame, the desire of having you, of having you!"(11)
Kamila had apparently begun to give in to Janáček's ten-year siege. Though her letters have been burned by Janáček as per her instructions, his responses reveal a lingering hesitancy in her. He wrote, "And why do you fear me? Would I ever do anything to you? I'd surely never do anything bad. And what would I do to you? I know, I know! I long for it unutterably! Is that why you're frightened? My Kamila!" He continued to remember their two walks and encourage her: "You know, Kamila, I imagine now that you're my wife […] one soul, one body! […] You're mine and I live in you. It's impossible to change anything in this. We have our world in which the sun doesn't set."(12) And Janáček didn't hesitate to imagine their next meeting: "We'll look at each other […] and in that glance there'll be just that thought: 'we belong to each other'!"(13)
Janáček's relationship with Kamila caused tension with his wife. When he wrote to Kamila of a typical day at home, he asked, "Can that be enough for me? Is that meant to be the happiness of life?"(14) Zdeňka often demanded to know what was happening, and Janáček never failed to bluntly explain his feelings for Kamila. He did not try to hide anything. He wrote that Zdeňka "[…] imagined more than was remotely possible. For surely between us there's just a beautiful world, but what's beautiful in it, these desires, wishes, the Tvá and all, all just made up! I told her this imaginary world is as necessary for me as air and water is for my life."(15) As time progressed, Janáček called Kamila his girlfriend, then his hoped-for wife, then his wife (in quotes), then his wife (without quotes), then referred to himself as her husband, then referred to her as Mrs Dr Janáčková. "An image stands before my eyes that you'll leave what has bound you till now and I'll break what binds me. I've got such a strange premonition that it must come to this. As if some sort of flood were rising which would sweep us both away. […] Tell me, how long can it go on like this?"(16)
In late August 1927, Janáček and Kamila again had a rendezvous at Luhačovice. This time he wrote afterward: "In my life I've not experienced more beautiful moments than those this afternoon! I'd say more exalted moments. […] How warming were your words, how warm was your little hand which, for the first time, did not draw away."(17) This day he continued to remember and celebrate as their "Friday-feast-day," a playful two-word rhyme in Czech.
Each year on the anniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia, the Ministry of Education awarded monetary prizes in recognition of artistic services. In September 1927 Janáček (with The Makropulos Affair) was again up for the award he had already won in 1924 for Taras Bulba. He wrote to Kamila that "I ought to have a claim on the basis of my works; but the silence in Prague doesn't augur well for me. They'll think to themselves: 'nothing for him, he's got enough!' Yes, I have the greatest treasure, the greatest riches, but they don't know that you're the treasure, you're my wealth."(18) "[…] my little soul, for me you're above everything, above all the notes that I write! You're my joy. It's only through you that I like the world. You're the holy calm in my soul, but you're also the little fire which gives warmth, which heats up desire. Everything for you. You're the source of tenderness in my compositions."(19)
In one of Janáček's letters, he quoted something Kamila had written: "When I read those letters of yours, I blush so!"(20) This lingering shyness had given way to an outright pledge of herself by the end of the year. Janáček replied, "And now I'll go to bed with your reassurances and my single life's wish, that you'll be wholly mine, and God grant that with new life in your sacred womb […]"(21) The fantasy of Kamila's pregnancy with their child would appear several times in different forms. Then, when they met in January 1928, Kamila evidently told him she would acknowledge her love for him publicly. Janáček called her "My only desire and my future wife!"(22)
From Janáček's letters, it seems Kamila often wavered between being completely committed to him and worrying about causing pain to their spouses, to her children, or actually breaking out of her life and into the dream Janáček continually presented to her. In one letter which has survived from March 1928, she seemed conquered and confident: "I read your letters many times, they're nice and even if I didn't want to I'd have to think of you all the time. […] Reading your letter today I thought so much of everything past of all I've lived through and I'm happy. You remind me of it when you write how your life was before and is now. And what about mine I've not known anything else I've not longed for anything else my life just went by without love and joy. But I always went along with the thought that that's the way it had to be. Now I think that God was testing you and me and when he saw that we've been good and that we deserve it he has granted us this joy in life. If you told anyone he wouldn't believe that I've perhaps waited for you that all my life I'd found no-one who would offer me his love. I steered clear of everything I didn't look for anything and you were the only one in all the years you've known me and that really is the truth. Someone would just smile and ask how it was possible, but yes it is possible you are much dearer to me than if you were young. I can assure you that my life is pleasant that I don't wish for any better. And for that only you are guilty. I thank you for it also."(23) Janáček blissfully quoted another of her letters: "I'm for ever only yours."(24)
Before going to the doctor in February 1928 to check on his health, Janáček wrote, "I'm going to be x-rayed now. What if your picture were suddenly to be found in my heart and were to leap out?! That would be fun!"(25) Afterward he reported, "Everything healthy"(26) The doctor had recommended he again take the waters at Luhačovice. Janáček wasted no time in devising the next plan to meet Kamila there.
From their first meeting, Janáček found inspiration in Kamila for his work. "You're as necessary to me as the air. I wouldn't be what I am. None of my compositions could grow from this desert at home."(27) "[…] in my compositions where pure feeling, sincerity, truth, and burning love exude warmth, you're the one through whom the touching melodies come […]"(28) Kamila was the gypsy in The Diary of One Who Disappeared; she was Elina Makropulos; she was Aljeje in From the House of the Dead. "And you know, when I became acquainted with you in Luhačovice during the war and saw for the first time how a woman can love her husband--I remember those tears of yours--that was the reason why I took up Káťa Kabanová and composed it."(29) It was the story of a neglected wife who takes a lover. "And I always placed your image on Káťa Kabanová when I was writing the opera."(30)
On 29 January 1928 Janáček wrote: "I've begun to work on a quartet; I'll give it the name Love Letters."(31) Two days later he added, "Now I've begun to write something nice. Our life will be in it. It will be called 'Love Letters'. I think that it will sound delightful. […] A special instrument will particularly hold the whole thing together. It's called the viola d'amore--the viola of love. Oh, how I'm looking forward to it! In that work I'll be always only with you! […] Full of that yearning as there at your place, in that heaven of ours!"(32) "So I'm working hard--it's as if I'm living through everything beautiful once again--working on these Love Letters."(33) When he wrote more later, the name of the quartet had changed: "And Kamila, it will be beautiful, strange, unrestrained, inspired, a composition beyond all the usual conventions! Together I think that we'll triumph! […] this piece, Intimate Letters, was written in fire. […] The composition will be dedicated to you; you're the reason for it […]"(34)
This final work was a musical record of their relationship. "The first movement I did already in Hukvaldy. The impression when I saw you for the first time! I'm now working on the second movement. I think that it will flare up in the Luhačovice heat."(35) And then: "I'm writing the third of the 'Love Letters'. For it to be very cheerful and then dissolve into a vision which would resemble your image, transparent, as if in the mist. In which there should be the suspicion of motherhood."(36)
He intended the first performance for Písek, the heaven where Kamila lived, but instead it occurred posthumously in Brno. "I'm curious how my Intimate Letters will work. It's my first composition whose notes glow with all the dear things that we've experienced together. You stand behind every note, you, living, forceful, loving. The fragrance of your body, the glow of your kisses […] the softness of your lips. Those notes of mine kiss all of you. They call for you passionately."(37) After hearing a rehearsal, Janáček described "Those cries of joy, but what a strange thing, also cries of terror after a lullaby. Exaltation, a warm declaration of love, imploring; untamed longing. Resolution, relentlessly to fight with the world over you. Moaning, confiding, fearing. Crushing everything beneath me if it resisted. Standing in wonder before you at our first meeting. Amazement at your appearance; as if it had fallen to the bottom of a well and from that very moment I drank the water of that well. Confusion and high-pitched song of victory: 'You've found a woman who was destined for you.' Just my speech and your amazed silence. Oh, it's a work as if carved out of living flesh. I think that I won't write a more profound and a truer one."(38)
"A Presentiment Of Evil"
John Tyrrell calls the insensitivity of Janáček "breath-taking." From the start of their relationship, Janáček often bemoaned the fact that Kamila did not write back to him, did not accept his invitations, etc. Near the end these lamentations returned, when Kamila's mother became seriously ill and died. Janáček would offer her a line or two of comfort, but his letters were mostly filled with complaints that she did not write to him, that he was all alone, that he couldn't live without hearing from her. He even wanted her to leave her sick mother and come to stay with him in Luhačovice as they had planned. He pleaded, "Don't leave me in uncertainty."(39) With her mother sick, her husband away, and her father threatening to kill himself if his wife died, Kamila felt lifeless, desperate, and could not sleep. Janáček grumbled, "And so all joy at Luhačovice disappeared for good. Must I walk around there like an orphan?"(40) More eventful to him was his trouble with copyists and with arranging for performance of his works. Even when he addressed Kamila's suffering, he did so in relation to himself: "You can't suspect yourself how your pain and that of your mother have upset my balance."(41) Kamila tried to console him: "Please don't be angry that I give you pain but I've got no-one else to complain to no-one to share my joys. You've got enough problems yourself and so few pleasures. I'd like to give you only pleasure if only that was possible." Janáček replied "And what can give me pleasure without you!"(42) As he still tried to persuade her not to put off their planned meeting, he wrote, "And today I had a bad dream. A steamroller ran over me on the road. […] It's the result of this continual agitation now."(43) "Act just like a daughter, but don't forget that you have children--and someone to whom you also belong, and who worries about you."(44) When she wrote to him of her plans to move her mother, to help her see different doctors and find her an appropriate sanatorium, and eventually consider preparations for an imminent burial, Janáček replied, "Just what will I do in Luhačovice without you? No-one will see me smile; I'll slink away where no-one goes. Sadness will walk beside me. I'll be there, but I'll be elsewhere in my thoughts. They'll say: that one must be ill--and I'll get ill."(45)
When he arrived alone in Luhačovice, he wondered "How to tempt you here!"(46) Three more letters to her were self-pitying and complaining. The fourth from Luhačovice wondered "Oh why don't you write? […] What should I think of it? That you've gone off? That they've brought your mother home? That she's in a very bad way? None of that would be a reason for not writing!"(47) In the raw emotion of caring for and worrying over her ill mother, Kamila finally let fly a stinging rebuttal: "I've read your letter of yesterday several times and was sorry how you grumble about the whole world. Is everything really so hopeless with you? Were you happier before? How well you too know how to embitter a person's life! Are you just a small child that can't do without a dummy? You write as if it was my fault. Who's suffering more than me but what can I do? I'm just doing my duty. There's a time for everything for joy and for sorrow. […] You've got peace you can devote yourself to treatment and all that you want, and I don't even speak about myself. Why do you take it so tragically possibly you'll still be with me so long that you'll grow tired of it. And how on earth did you live before you knew me? You're at home all year long without me so why carry on so?" Janáček flippantly replied: "But you know how to 'tell me off'!"(48)
Shortly after the death of Kamila's mother, she and Janáček met in Hukvaldy in the cottage he had enlarged to accommodate Kamila. During one of several walks through the woods, Janáček took ill with pneumonia. A few days later he was taken to hospital in Ostrava where he died.
"Witness Of Our Beautiful Days"
Late in their relationship Janáček gave to Kamila an album in which he wrote music and reminiscences of their times together. The first entry, from 2 October 1927: “So read how we have simply dreamt up our life.” Janáček left the album in Písek so that Kamila could read it and remember him in his absence. At one point Janáček threatened to burn it, but Kamila persuaded him not to. She brought the album to their last meeting in Hukvaldy. The last entry, from two days before he died, reads:
And I kissed you.
And you are sitting beside me and I am happy and at peace.
In such a way do the days pass for the angels.”(49)