The Jan·cek affair

Michael Downes [Times Literary Supplement, 25 March 2009]

With an instinct for dramatic timing worthy of his subject, John Tyrrell lifts the curtain on the second volume of his biography of Leos Jan·cek, Tsar of the Forests, just as the central event of the composer’s career is about to take place. JenufÂ, Jan·cek’s fourth opera, received its first Prague performance at the National Theatre on June 26, 1916, thirteen years after the company had rejected the work and twelve years after its successful premiere in Brno, the composer’s home town. The Prague unveiling began Jan·cek’s rapid transformation from respected provincial choirmaster and pedagogue to internationally renowned composer. But as Tyrrell brilliantly shows, the ripples spread still wider, setting processes in train that left no aspect of Jan·cek’s complex personal and professional life unaffected.