The Skočná and other dances

Near the beginning of Act 3 of Smetana’s Bartered Bride the circus comes to town. And, after a lengthy and tongue-twisting preamble by the ringmaster featuring Esmeralda, an exotic Spanish dancer; a (fake) Red Indian and a very inebriate (and consequently also fake) dancing bear; the performers show off their acrobatic skills in the fast […]

A bad knight

When, early in 1847, the Schumanns returned home to Dresden from a concert tour, Robert found himself all fired up with the idea of writing an opera. He chose (surprise! surprise!) a romantic tale of crusades, knights and damsels in distress (with a bit of magic thrown in for good measure). The story centres on […]

Z mrtvého domu — From the House of the Dead

Z mrtvého domu (From the House of the Dead) is Janáček’s last opera, he died before he could finish editing the third/last act of the work. The libretto – written by the composer – is based on Dostoyevsky’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. More diary/reportage than novel, the Memoirs from the House of the Dead was based on Dostoyevsky’s own […]

To the woods!! To the woods!!

In contrast to the slightly less well-known stories of Mr. Brouček’s unfortunate entanglements with the moon and the 15th century, Janáček’s other comic opera is perhaps his most famous. The magical Příhody lišky Bystroušky (literally The Tales of Vixen Sharp-Ears) is better known in English as The Cunning Little Vixen. The story started its life as an illustrated […]

Loony tunes

Výlety pana Broučka na Měsíc – The Excursions of Mr. Brouček [English = Mr. (little) Beetle] to the Moon – is the first part of Leoš Janáček’s comic diptych Výlety páně Broučkovy [The Excursions of Mr. Brouček], the second half being set in the 15th century during the Hussite rebellion. Mr. Brouček, in addition to being a landlord and an […]

Ostrčil & Foerster

If – looking back to last week – Vítězslav Novák isn’t exactly a household name, his two contemporaries, Otakar Ostrčil and Josef Bohuslav Foester, are both most definitely in the same boat as him. All three were part of a generation overshadowed by Janáček and, to a lesser extent, Suk. And yet the Czech Music Information Centre […]


This rather dyspeptic looking young woman, dressed in all her Art Nouveau finery, is the princess/prophetess Libuše, mythic mother of the Czech nation and founder of Prague. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that Czech nationalism really got going. One of its prime movers was Bedřich Smetana; his opera Libuše and the six tone poems […]

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises, Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.

 The Tempest is the opposite of a disappointment; it is a masterpiece of airy beauty and eerie power. Alex Ross on Adès’s opera, The Tempest The New Yorker, March 1, 2004. This week we complete our trawl through 20th century English music with the work of Thomas Adès. I must admit to having to cheat (slightly), […]

A matter of life and death

From joyous birth (Finzi’s setting of Treharne, Dies Natalis) to mystic death (Herbert Howells’ Hymnus Paradisi) with the great bell of Winchester Cathedral ringing out over all to summon both the quick and the dead (Jonathan Harvey; Mortuos Plango, Vivos Voco). All this together with the procession, ritual and game of the music of Harrison […]