These are the letters of a great love story. In 1917, the Czech composer Leos Janáçek met Kamila Stösslová while on holiday at Luhaçovice, a spa resort in Moravia. He was sixty-three and locked in a loveless marriage; she was twenty-six, the wife of an antique dealer frequently away from home. After the holiday, Janáçek began writing to Stösslová. Undeterred by her lack of interest in his work and her spasmodic replies, he continued to send her letters until his death eleven years later. An extraordinarily self-revealing portrait emerges of an isolated artist at the height of his creative powers and the beginning of his international fame. It is also a portrait of a lonely man who, as the years went by, came to fantasize about Stösslová as his true "wife"--the inspiration for many of the works of his old age.
Most of these letters were suppressed until changing conditions in Czechoslovakia allowed their full publication in 1990. John Tyrrell has edited and translated a comprehensive selection, concentrating on the almost daily letters of the final eighteen months. Supported by a diary of meetings between Janáçek and Stösslová, a decoding of the erotic references in the letters, and a selection of mostly unknown photographs, this remarkable book breathes life into the story one of the greatest of operatic composers and provides vital clues to the nature of his creative genius.
Originally published in 1994.
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Leo? Janácek to Kamila Stösslová
By John Tyrrell
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1994 John Tyrrell
All rights reserved.
1 Luhacovice, 16 July 1917
Accept these few roses as a token of my unbounded esteem for you. You are so lovely in character and appearance that in your company one's spirits are lifted; you breathe warm-heartedness, you look on the world with such kindness that one wants to do only good and pleasant things for you in return. You will not believe how glad I am that I have met you.
Happy you! All the more painfully I feel my own desolation and bitter fate.
Always think well of me – just as you will always stay in my memory.
Heartily devoted to you
According to Janácek's later reminiscences, his first meeting with Kamila Stösslová at Luhacovice in 1917 was somewhere above the Slovácká búda (a well-known wine bar), where she sat down on the grass 'like an exhausted little bird who doesn't yet know how to fly' (320). The meeting must have taken place shortly after Janácek arrived (on 3 July 1917) since by 8 July 1917 he had already jotted down – in his usual way – a fragment of her speech in his diary (see Facsimile, p.4). He had not quite got her name right, however. The speech fragment 'Dovolite prosim' ['Please allow me'] is attributed to 'pi. C' ['Mrs C.'] and indeed his first letter to her above was addressed to 'Mrs Camilla Stößlová'.
Almost every summer from 1903 onwards Janácek spent a few weeks in this Moravian spa town. He always came alone, chiefly for his health, taking the waters and many long walks in the surrounding countryside. Spa holidays were popular at the time, especially in the landlocked Czech regions of the Habsburg Empire. Although Janácek occasionally went to other spas such as Bohdanec and Teplice, he was particularly attached to Luhacovice because it was nearer Brno and because it attracted mostly Czechs (Germans patronized better-established spa resorts such as Karlsbad). In Janácek's recollection from 1925, he appears to have started up the conversation himself (320). This is corroborated by Stösslová's chance remark (20 January 1925, p.63) that she 'didn't want to speak to him', which is perhaps not surprising if the letter of 6 June 1925 is an accurate reflection of his opening conversational gambit. By the time of their meeting, a year after the successful Prague première of his opera Jenufa in 1916, Janácek was something more than a local celebrity and well on his way to becoming known internationally.
The Stössels seemed a happy young couple with two little boys, Rudolf (born 1913) and Otto (born 1916). Possibly David Stössel's army service meant he could be at Luhacovice only part of the time, leaving Kamila to her own devices, and giving Janácek the opportunity for walks and conversations with her alone over the following week. He mentions these in his next communication written on the back of a photograph taken of him at Luhacovice (see Plate 4):
2 Luhacovice, 24 July 1917
We used to walk together, people envied us – and yet you only talked about your family happiness – and I about my unhappiness.
In Janácek's recollections five years later, Mrs Stösslová talked about her sorrow too: 'Tears ran down your cheeks when you remembered your husband in those beautiful days in Luhacovice' (195). Janácek probably presented this inscribed photograph as a farewell token, leaving soon afterwards – he had been there for three weeks. On his return to Brno he wrote again:
3 Brno, 30 July 1917
I hope you have both got home safely!
When the train moved, I cried bitterly to myself, and then in a lonely mood was lost in thought – until my arrival in Brno.
But it was so pleasant in your company. You are both such good and happy people. The warmth of your happiness touched me. It was my nicest stay in Luhacovice.
We await you for certain on Saturday [4 August].
Give my greetings to your husband, I hope he brings you [in] as cheerful [a mood] as you used to be at Luhacovice. So reply with a few words: let me make a writer of you.
With sincere respects, yours devotedly
Perhaps surprising was the fact that Janácek had extended an invitation to the Stössels to meet his wife. Mrs Stösslová's reply, with a promptness altogether uncharacteristic, was on behalf of both herself and her husband David, known as 'Dori'; the use of their first names suggests the friendly terms which the relationship had reached, and also the discrepancy in ages: at sixty-three Janácek was a generation older than Mrs Stösslová (twenty-five) and her husband (twenty-seven).
Kamila Stösslová to Leo Janácek, Prerov, 31 July 1917
Thank you for your letter. We've arrived safely and I hope that we'll come on Saturday. Everybody's surprised how well I look and how dark I am. I have to go to Vienna tomorrow so I don't know I'm also quite missing Luhacovice but what's to be done since everyone has to return to his occupation.
I greet you both affectionately.
Kamila and Dori
4 [undated, postmarked Brno, 2 August 1917]
The apricots on the tree are waiting for you, as are the pickled gherkins – and antiques! No use talking. I'll wait at the station.
With regards to your husband, devotedly
It is, however, from Mrs Janácková that we know most about the beginnings of the friendship. Her memoirs, from 1935 (posthumously edited 1939) and thus some eighteen years after the event, need to be treated with caution, but there is no reason to doubt her generally positive impression of this period. Her relationship with her husband had never been easy, and in 1916 had been stretched to breaking point by his ostentatious affair with the Kostelnicka from the Prague Jenufa, Gabriela Horvátová (see Glossary). Mrs Janácková had feared that Mrs Horvátová would join Janácek in Luhacovice; Janácek's friendship instead with a pleasant young couple, seemingly devoted to one another, was evidently a great relief, though his invitation meant a postponement of Mrs Janácková's planned trip to Hukvaldy.
Zdenka Janácková: My Life (1935)
[...] We didn't write to one another. Just once he sent me a message through a former pupil not to worry about provisions, because he had made an 'acquaintance in flour' in Luhacovice. From the same messenger I also learnt that Mrs Horvátová was not in Luhacovice. That was news! My husband in Luhacovice alone and taking care of provisions for our household! [...]
As early as ten in the morning a carriage clattered up in front of the garden, Leo leapt out of it beaming, and at once began telling me merrily that he'd travelled first thing by the early morning express, and that in Luhacovice he'd met a young married couple.
'They really love one another.'
He pulled out a photograph and gave it to me. A young woman, brunette, evidently a second edition of Mrs Horvátová, except much younger, about twenty-five years old, in a dirndl or something peculiar – at that time [i.e. during the war] many women wore these sorts of fantasies on national costumes; they were meant to show the intensely patriotic feeling of the wearer. My instinct clearly told me:
'Mrs Horvátová has fallen off his shovel, now this one takes over.'
But my reason objected that I was wrong, that this lady was surely too young. And furthermore my husband continually related how much the couple loved one another, how delightful they were, until suddenly he blurted out:
'You know, I've invited them, they're coming on Saturday [4 August].'
I was surprised by Leo's liveliness, his kindliness to me, and because he was again inviting guests to visit us.
'But I'd wanted to go away.'
Oh no, you can't, you must be here, I've told her about you, she wants to meet you.'
How could I go when such things were happening? I thought hard how I would entertain these two: at this time there was everywhere a terrible shortage of provisions. I had my work cut out, but on Saturday, when my husband went to meet the guests at the station, I was decently prepared. I received them on the veranda. I was surprised to see two decidedly Jewish types. Especially Mr Stössel, although he was in soldier's uniform, looked very much like a red-haired Polish Jew. Of course I didn't let on at all myself, but I was most surprised at Leo. The wife apologized profusely that she was putting me out, but my husband apparently wouldn't have it otherwise and definitely wanted the two of us to get to know one another. I thought she was quite nice: young, cheerful, one could have a really good talk with her, she was always laughing. She was of medium height, dark, curly-haired like a Gypsy woman, with great black, seemingly bulging eyes, an 'ox-eyed Hera' like Mrs Horvátová – with heavy eyebrows, a sensuous mouth. The voice was unpleasant, shrill, strident. Her husband was sturdy, much taller than Leo, with reddish blonde hair, but with a pleasing appearance and very nice manners. She was called Kamila, he David. He dealt in antiques. My husband had suggested that I sell him my china, but I refused. Both promised the whole time that they would look out for provisions for us, Mr Stössel was in the army in Prerov and knew how to come by them. His wife lived there too, they rented a house there, they had one little son with them, the second was with the wife's parents in Písek. One thing was certain was that they brought action and laughter into our sad quietness. We had tea in the garden, Leo beamed, and busily waited on her, Mr Stössel was overjoyed at his wife's success. She began to pick apricots. She stood on the ladder, Leo looked at her enthusiastically from below, not caring that people from the opposite windows were looking on curiously to see what was going on at our place. They slept the night downstairs with me, in the morning they went to see friends and arrived back only at teatime. She again saw to it that there was lots of commotion and fuss until, late in the evening, someone from the military hospital next door told her off for carrying on like that at night. Only then did she quieten down. I had to show them that china of mine. Mr Stössel made it clear that it wasn't worth much until I said to him that it wasn't for sale since the pieces were family heirlooms. She, however, was always enthusiastic, she liked many things at our place and Leo would most gladly have given her the lot if they hadn't been mine. "When 1 saw that, and she was in ecstasies about one old folk plate, I gave it to her. Straightaway she promised me a morning jacket in return.
When in the evening my husband went upstairs to sleep, the three of us remained sitting around and chatting. She soon turned the conversation to Mrs Horvátová. She knew about everything; Leo, she said, had confided everything in her, and apparently also complained about my not having understood his friendship. In reply Mrs Stösslová had told him it was difficult for her to make a judgement when she didn't know me. That was the reason why he invited her to see me. So this was it, then: my husband made this young person, whom he'd just met, the judge in our affairs. Fine, I went along with that too. I told her how I saw it. She readily felt sorry for me, she showed friendly concern, she was full of understanding, so much so that Mára [Marie Stejskalová, the Janáceks' maid] and I later said to one another that it was probably good my husband brought her to us, because she understands me and could have a good effect on him. That she really did have a big influence on Leo was something I found out very soon. Her husband left for Prerov on Monday [6 August]; she, however, was persuaded by my husband to stay longer with us until I left for Hukvaldy because we'd be going the same way as far as Prerov. It wasn't pleasant for me, but I had to appear to welcome this proposal. And then on Monday morning when, out of boredom, Mrs Stösslová was looking over the photographs hanging in my husband's study and came across the unhappy picture of Mrs Horvátová that she herself had christened 'Angel of Peace', I said to her:
'You can see for yourself, I think, how I feel when I have to look at this here for days on end.'
'Wait a moment, I'll fix it.'
She went straight into the garden to my husband, spoke with him for a moment, rushed back and laughed:
'He gave me that picture because it's not important to him any more.'
Together we took down the picture of Mrs Horvátová and Mrs Stösslová took it back with her to Prerov. What I, our friends and lawyers couldn't manage was achieved in a trice by this clever, cheerful little Jewess. In this way she very much won me over. After that I rather liked her. When later I travelled with her in the train, we had quite a lot of time for chatting and so I got to know her well and her circumstances. She was a Czech Jew, her father1 had been first a butcher in Písek, then he traded in horses. Mr Stössel was domiciled in Lwów through his father, but his mother lived in Stráznice, so he spoke Czech, though worse than his wife. After the take-over [i.e. the creation of an independent Czechoslovakia in 1918] he was to have been deported from the Republic as a foreign subject, but my husband saw to it that he wasn't expelled. In the war they lived a 'Tschacherl' life, he lent money to officers, which is why he had good connections. Although clever, his wife was not particularly intelligent. She told me she didn't like going to school and didn't like learning. That was certainly true because her letters were full of spelling mistakes. In music she was totally ignorant, knowing almost nothing about composers. She called Leo's pieces 'those notes of yours', and hadn't heard of Wagner. In literature it wasn't any better. Once she wrote to Leo: 'Send me something to read that's not too long, a love story with a happy ending.' She gained my husband's favour through her cheerfulness, laughter, temperament, Gypsy-like appearance and buxom body, perhaps also because she reminded him of Mrs Horvátová, although she had none of that woman's demonic qualities or artfulness. She was natural, sometimes even uninhibited. One couldn't really say that she won my husband over, for she didn't try to. He himself had begun to send her bouquets and letters in Luhacovice: it seems that it was more Mr Stössel with his fine business flair who realized the value of this well-known composer's fondness. She herself was completely unimpressed by my husband's fame, and also by his person: sometimes she laid into him quite sharply and other times he was ridiculous in her eyes. On that journey we got very friendly. I felt I had no option when I saw how desperately Leo wanted this friendship. I said to myself that she could be a good support for me against Mrs Horvátová. In Prerov we warmly said goodbye to one another. Her husband came to meet her at the station, and brought me the promised morning jacket. I went on further to Hukvaldy. [...]
5 Brno, 7 August 1917
After your departure and that of my wife it is empty here.
You are a dear child who has already suffered but nevertheless does not know the world and its evils. You want to live only by goodness and love in the family. You are cheerful, just occasionally lonely. Stay like that: for your tender little soul it is quite enough. More – and your body would not take it. You must learn to control yourself, not give in so boundlessly to feeling.
Give vent to it also in a different direction; read prudently and observe life about you carefully.
So I've preached a sermon to you and that was because I would always like to see you healthy, beautiful and happy.
Greet your husband and write what your journey was like. I'll come on Sunday [12 August] then. [...]
The protective tone that Janácek adopted so soon in the correspondence was one that continued, and intensified, right through to the end. Janácek's next letter was the first in which he wrote about his compositions. The phrase 'that Gypsy love' suggests that he had already mentioned his plan to compose The Diary of One who Disappeared (this is his earliest reference anywhere to the work, based on poems which had appeared in Lidové noviny in May 1916); the 'Luhacoviee mood' hints at connections between the work and Mrs Stösslová.
6 Brno, 10 August 1917
Those postcards of yours! They're like speech without speaking, like a song without words.
Will you believe that I've not yet got out of the house? In the morning I potter around in the garden; regularly in the afternoon a few motifs occur to me for those beautiful little poems about that Gypsy love. Perhaps a nice little musical romance will come out of it – and a tiny bit of the Luhacovice mood would be in it. [...]
Excerpted from Intimate Letters by John Tyrrell. Copyright © 1994 John Tyrrell. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents
List of Plates
Preface and Acknowledgements
Map of Bohemia and Moravia in 1918
Map of Janacek's Railway Journeys
The Letters 1
Glossary of Names, Places, Works and Topics 345
Diary of Meetings 365
App. 1 The History of Janacek's Letters to Kamila Stosslova 371
App. 2 Civil Court in Brno: Janacek against Janackova 374
Note on Sources 378
General Index 384
Index of Janacek's Works 395