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Intimate Letters: Leos Janacek to Kamila…

Intimate Letters: Leos Janacek to Kamila Stosslova

by John Tyrrell

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0571225101, Paperback)

Leos Janácek met Kamila Stösslová in 1917, when he was 63 and she was 25. She--not his wife of nearly 50 years--was the Czech composer's great love. Janácek's passion for Stösslová coincided with the astonishing artistic flowering of his last decade, and he considered her the inspiration for several works, especially Kát'a Kabanová and the String Quartet No. 2 ("Intimate Letters"). Since both were married to others and lived in different cities, they interacted largely through their correspondence, which provides an incomparable view of one of the 20th century's quirkiest and most rewarding composers.

Janácek's letters are filled with an ebullient poetry; he invented fanciful metaphors--to describe Kamila's breasts, his loneliness--and wove variations on them in letter after letter. (Selections from Stösslová's few surviving letters are interspersed; Janácek burned most, at her request.) After the relationship became more intimate in 1927, he wrote almost daily and his language grew rapturous. He refers to her as his wife or imagines that she's pregnant (though they evidently never consummated the "marriage").

While holding to the busy schedule of an increasingly famous composer, he was more and more obsessed with Stösslová. Janácek's late music jumps with restless invention from one theme to another; it's not hard to observe a similar habit of mind here, as he shifts from Wagnerian flights of ecstasy to fussy advice about Kamila's health. Janácek scholar John Tyrrell, who edited the memoirs of the composer's wife, My Life with Janácek, provides illuminating editorial guidance. --David Olivenbaum

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:20 -0400)

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