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Pavel Haas's music for the stage.

Interest in the Brno composer Pavel Haas (1899-1944) is scanty today, to say the least. Only very occasionally do his works appear in concert programmes, and although his one opera The Charlatan [Sarlatan] has been restaged by the State Opera in Prague (1997), it has yet to be produced again in his native Brno. Such interest as has been shown in the composer has tended to stimulated from abroad, where he is known as one of the "Terezin composers"


Perception of the work of Pavel Haas is in many respects similar to the kind of attention enjoyed by his otherwise much more popular younger brother, the actor Hugo Haas, who lives on in the consciousness of the Czech public simply as the hero of a number of prewar films, while his much longer and more prolific film career in America falls outside our angle of vision. The music of Pavel Haas figures more in music guides than in the minds of listeners, despite the fact that the output of the composer has found an enthusiastic and devoted publicist in Lubomir Peduzzi (Pavel Haas, Brno 1993).

Pavel Haas is known chiefly as a composer of songs, operas and orchestral music. As far as work not designed for concert performance is concerned, there has been most attention to his film music. Although the Barrandov Studio gave the composer only three commissions, all of them turned out to be for unusually successful film. Much of the credit for the success must go to Hugo Haas, as the actor in the lead roles but also as the person who got his brother the work.

Haas's film music was written in the Thirties and still lives on, in its way, in screenings of old films. His music for the stage, however, with the exception of his opera The Charlatan, was a child of the Twenties and has been forgotten, some of it lost entirely. It was clearly not regarded as an independent body of work and the composer paid no great attention to its subsequent late, especially since it was written without pretensions to later representation as concert music. Nevertheless, we cannot write off Pavel Haas's work for the stage as entirely marginal. Surviving materials (some of them newly discovered) testify to the immediate reactions of the composer to the stimuli of his time and are also evidence of his personal contacts.

Lubomir Peduzzi, Pavel Haas's biographer, mentions seven works for the stage in his list of the composer's output. Six were written for the National Theatre in Brno, and one for the Vinohrady Theatre in Prague shortly after Hugo Haas had been engaged there as an actor. Pavel Haas had the good fortune to be embark on stage work with a play that is today still regarded as a modern classic. His first project was to work with the Brno National Theatre on the production of Capek's play R. U. R., which had its Brno premiere on the 9th of April 1924 in the Na hradbach Theatre, directed by Bohumil Stejskal. The Brno company (still under the repertoire direction of Jiri Mahen), was therefore only three months behind the Prague premiere of the play in the National Theatre (25th of January 1991). In the cast list, besides such leading company actors as Karel Urbanek (Domin), Ladislav Pech (Alquist) and Zdenka Grafova (Helena), we also find Hugo Haas as "Third Robot". It was Hugo Haas's first theatre season, the composer's younger brother just starting on what was to be a dazzling career in Czech theatre and film. In Brno, Capek's drama was presented with the secondary itle "A Utopian Play" and the composer of the music was concealed under the pseudonym A. Pavlas. In fact, in the newly discovered score (L. Peduzzi believes it to be lost) the pseudonym is given as H. Parlas, making the composer's identity even more obvious. The "A" probably crept in by mistake and was then actually retained in the subsequent production (premiered on the 2nd of December 1927 at the Na hradbach Theatre), directed by Vladimir Simacek (conductor Kurt Glas), again with Zdenka Grafova, but with Ladislav Pesek as the robot Primus (in 1922 this role had been taken by the director B. Stejskal). Naturally we do not find Hugo Haas in the latter production, since by this time he was already becoming a star of the Prague theatre scene.

R. U. R. is in many ways a typical conversation piece, and so offers relatively little space for music. The surviving score together with comments in the original director's record show that Haas's role was quite limited, but surprisingly less limited in length than in terms of dramatic use. The seven-member orchestra, made up of flute, horn, 1st and 2nd violin, cello, harp and harmonium-celesta, only "took the floor" as it were in the last act and always in the form of a melodrama. The title page of the score reads: Music Backstage and 2 places in the 3rd Act, with the 2 corrected to 3 in pencil. In fact Haas wrote two fully-fledged numbers--the first for the dialogue between Helena and Prius, and the second for the closing dialogue between Alquist and the robots who are turning into human beings. The added third part survives only in the part for keyboard instrument (played by B. Bakal), and it is quite likely that it was written just for this instrument and as an extra touch in response to a specific staging need. Although occasional music was not at the time an automatic feature of the Brno company's productions, none of the reviews of its R. U. R, include any mention of Pavel Haas's contribution. On the other hand, the very fact that a twenty-two year old composer, just starting out on his career, should get such a commission is in itself telling. After all, we find no other composer involved with any other stage production in the same Brno season (although we can assume that there was some music in some form for the production of Moliere's Le Malade Imaginaire, since a choreographer is mentioned). It may be rash to speculate that Pavel's younger brother helped him get the commission but it is certainly possible, even though Hugo at the time was very much a "greenhorn".

The theory is strengthened by the fact that Pavel Haas obtained his next stage commission in a another production where his brother was playing, this time in one of the central roles. The production was itself rather problematic. It had been written for a competition organised by the National Theatre co-operative in Brno and was one of four plays recommended for staging but not actually awarded a prize, since the jury did not consider any of them quite worth the award. The addition of music may well have been part of an attempt to "improve" the play (the director also added a prologue with the same aim). Quido Marie Vyskocil's romantic bandit entertainment, Brigands from the Bohemian Forests or the End of the petrovsti was a far less powerful piece than Capek's R.U.R. and certainly had no great pretensions. The author was known as skilful and prolific, but hardly as intellectually profound of artistically refined. The End of the petrovsti even less than an anecdote. The whole comedy is just a sequel to the punishment of the brigands as described in a well-known Czech fairytale. After their humiliating defeat by animals, Vyskocil's bandits, have lost their dignity and make a living by small-scale thieving. In complete desperation they try to seize a farm managed by three energetic young women. The result is predictable--the women win and the brigands are forced to work for them on the farm. Tender feelings soon develop, and everyone ends in an embrace, with only one of the men going back into the forests, into the lap of nature...

This undemanding trifle, directed by Rudolf Walter, had its premiere on the 31st of January 1923 in the na Veveri Theatre, and Hugo Haas, as has been said, had a major role. The production text book (with the censor's stamp of permission) and Haas's score have both been preserved in the archives of the National Theatre in Brno. The data in the text book do not, however, entirely correspond to the form of the score. The book records an introductory melodrama, then a little song for the three sisters (Waltrova, Balounova, Urbankova), with the comment unaccompanied, as light as possible, then backstage music for the end of the 1st Act, Vera's song in the 2nd Act, a song for the sisters and brigands (Hornak, Haas, Walter), likewise with the comment unaccompanied--short, and finally the closing melodrama turning into a finale. The score, dated 25th of January 1923 is briefer and purely orchestral, It contains an introduction, clearly used in the form of a melodrama before the play actually commenced, then the melodrama Matuska, the close of the 1st Act and the close of the 3rd Act. It is quite possible that Haas did not include the simple ditties for the actors in the score, although these must have been parts of the stage music, since the length of their texts makes it impossible to believe that they were recited or just somehow improvised. In any case, comments in the text testify to the need for musical treatment. The simple sung parts did not become part of the musical material (according to the comments the singing was a capella) and have obviously just disappeared for good.

For his second venture in stage music Haas used the same instrumental line-up that had proved its worth in R. U. R. The score for the End of the Petrovsti is written for flute, horn, harp, 1st and 2nd violin, cello and harmonium. Stage music was once again an infrequent feature of the rest of the company's season, a fact which highlights Haas's position. Only in two other cases did directors use stage music: Suk's music was already virtually obligatory for Tyl's Strakonice Bagpipe Player (music by Karel Kovarovic) and Zeyer's Raduz and Mahulena. Unfortunately, there was scarcely more response from the critics than there had been over R. U. R. Only a critic calling himself E. S. in the national daily Lidove Noviny remarked at the end of a crushing review that "Mr. Pavel Haas composed music to create the mood behind the scenes..."

The situation proved to be the same shortly afterwards, when Haas worked with the Longen husband and wife team who from February to June 1923 were guests at the Brno Reduta theatre and were trying to build on their repertoire from their period at the Revolutionary Stage in Prague. In Prague their ensemble had boasted a number of actors with major reputations (Ferenc Futurista, Vlasta Burian, Eman Fiala, Karel Noll, Sasa Rasilov, Josef Rovensky. Xena Longenova), but in Brno the actors to hand were inexperienced. After the actors of the Brno National Theatre refused to work with them and the directors forbade members of the company to do so, the Longens relied on the help of amateurs until the police authorities prohibited amateur involvement in professional performances. This complicated and still not entirely illuminated chapter in Brno theatre history was certainly one of the first signs of striving for another Brno theatre company and venue independent of the conservatively minded National Theatre. A group of young Brno artist (including Krapa and Chalupa) formed around the Longens. We cannot say with any certainty whether Pavel Haas was one of them, but his contribution to the production of Woyzeck is certainly evidence of contact. The intermediary may well have been the playright and later repertory director of the Brno Theatre Lev Blatny, whose play Kokoko-dak had been presented by the Revolutionary Stage in 1922.

Following his production of Tonka Sibenice with Xena Longenova in the leading role, a success with audiences, on the 5th of March 1923 Longen presented Georg Buchner's Woyzek. Since its modern premiere in Vienna in 1914 in Vienna, Woyzeck had attracted the attention of all avantgarde artists. The quality of the Prague production at the Revolutionary Stage in 1920 was said to have been better in quality than the version at the Prague German Theatre. In Brno the production was given stage music by Pavel Haas. The surviving musical material shows that the composer had been offered a relatively major opportunity both in terms of the size of the orchestra and the number of musical pieces (numbers). For the production in the Reduta, Haas used an orchestra consisting of flute, oboe, clarinet, two trumpets, trombone and percussion (triangle, piati, tambourine and largo drum). He thus entirely excluded strings and keyboard instruments. The score contains six parts (March, Polka, Lively, Adagio, Freely, Pain-Murder--Adagio), and the surviving material also includes a sketch of the polka for piano. Artistically important though they were, the guest appearances of the avantgarde ensemble found almost no response in the Brno public, but the press conceded the seriousness and sincerity of Longen's production. Criticism was directed at faults in stage design, to some extent at Longen's performance and above all at technical shortcomings of the staging. Here the Lidove Noviny critic "it would not have disappointed ... if the stage machinery had not been so excessively visible, with only the music employed to cover it ..." agreed with J. B. Svrcek from Rovnost" ... but the primitive character of the stage structure this time broke up the unity of the flow of action and the stage music, although very appropriate, did not have the power to over-arch the gaps and bind the whole thing together." J. B. Svrcek nonetheless favoured the composer of the music with a specific mention "...the composer Mr. Pavel Haas wrote stage music for the play in the spirit of simple folk music, and it went well with the mood of the action ..." At this point nobody could have guessed that soon the same drama in the treatment of Alban Berg would be provoking a storm of outrage from part of the public.

In September 1922 Jiri Mahen resigned his post as repertory director. Pavel Haas left for an engagement in Ostrava for the 1923/24 season. Under the repertory directorship of Vilem Skoch he was to get no chance of a stage music commission, and in fact there is no mention of any composer of stage music for the 1923/24 season at all, while for the 1924/25 season there is evidence only for minimal dance accompaniment to the dances in Sache Guitry's play The Illusionist. It was only when Ley Blatny took control of repertory (from the 1925/26 season), that stage music returned to the scene in greater measure. Various young composers took a hand, Osvald Chlubna, J. Kubina, Karel Hilsza, and once again Pavel Haas.

The Russian dramatist Nicolai Yevreyin's brief one-act play Merry Death, quite often performed at the period, was subtitled a Harlequinade and deliberately based on elements of the commedia dell arte. The surviving score shows that Haas made full use of the opportunity, composing a total of seven musical numbers for a one-acter (Prelude, Harlequin begins to play, Docter's song, Columbine's song, Dance of love, Harlequin's song, Death dances--ballet). Merry Death had its premiere on the 6th of November 1925 in a double-bill with Achard's play Do You Want to Play with Me?. Once again the director was Rudolf Waltr, who also played the role of Harlequin, with Zdenka Grafova as Coumbine, Antonin Turek as Pierot, Otto Cermak as the Doctor and Marie Walrova as Death. As so often before, there was no word of reaction to the musical element from the critics.

Pulcinello's Victory, by a member of the Brno opera company Bedrich Zavadil, was similar in inspiration. Zavadil had come to Brno in 1906 and remained faithful to the Brno theatre with a few short interruptions up to his death in 1942. In the opera he was usually cast in buffo-roles, and later he directed as well. He translated a series of opera and operetta librettos, and Pulcinello's Victory was the first and last stage play of his that the Brno theatre presented. Although a comedy in verse, and definitely influenced by poeticism, it gave the composer surprisingly little scope, since to judge by the text book only one song of Harlequin was designed for musical arrangement. The musical material has so far proved impossible to track down, and so we have the least information about this particular piece of Haas's work for stage. It was premiered on the 21st of January 1926, directed by Ladislav Pech in the Veveri Theatre, and provoked mixed reviews. The Lidove noviny critic was generally favourable about the play and the production. J. B. Svrcek in Rovnost wrote that "... Pulcinello's Victory only got to be staged because Mr Zavadil is a theatre inspector ..." But he didn't forget the composer "... The stage music, sweet and nostalgic, was composed for the play by Pavel Haas."

We are in a similar situation with music for a play that had its premiere shortly before, but at the Vinohrady Theatre, on the 25th of November 1925. It is no surprise to find that Hugo Haas was acting in the play, Primus, the first drama from already well-known writer Zdenek Nemecek. Fraternal help is almost certain to have been behind the elder Haas's commission in this case, but we cannot judge the nature of the musical contribution to this comedy set in the world of diplomacy because the musical material has completely disappeared. On the other hand, the fact that Pavel Haas did not work with the Vinohrady Theatre in subsequent years suggests that this time his music was too "avant-garde" and complicated for the specific needs of the production.

Haas' final venture in stage music was the now newly discovered stage score for a play that was a response (if a superficial response) to the rise of new musical movements and American culture in general. Raphael Samuelson's The Black Troubadour uses the setting of music-hall and jazz, but his theme is basically the classic clash between two generations, a father and son, and the power of family tradition. The specific conflict is built on the contrast of different musical and social traditions. On the one hand there is orthodox Jewish culture with ts distinctive musical idiom, whose bearer is the synagogue cantor, and on the other there is the religiously neutral liberal society with the modern musical idiom of jazz. This was a theme for which Pavel Haas may have felt a close personal affinity, since he himself came from a family that kept up the Jewish tradition, while he was also a composer striving for a contemporary musical idiom. Directed by Vladimir Simacek, The Black Troubadour had its premiere on the 18th of August 1928 with Ladislav Pesek in the leading role. The small orchestra consisting of saxophone, trumpet, violin, harmonium and piano was conducted by Frantisek Lukas. The surviving score for the stage music contains Jack's song about Mother in the Distance, short revue music and an offstage foxtrot. In the material there is also a voice part for the Jewish song Kol nidre. Comments in the director's book show that there were actually more musical numbers. In the introduction there was supposed to be an old Jewish song, then Jack's song, Funny Mummy, variations on the Jewish song Eju kelohenu Nothing in the World Puts Me Out, then the song Friends, Friends it Was a Hard Day, the finale to the 2nd Act with foxtrot melody offstage, then the song Mother in the Distance, and the finale to the 3rd Act Kol Nidre. The play itself did get beyond the conventional, even though it was put in modern garb and verbally it brought audiences he most recent musical fashion, American jazz. Haas's music actually had nothing in common with it, and put the emphasis on the opposite pole associated with traditional Jewish ritual music. The radical J. B. Svrcek was unsparing ... "The religious songs were unending and you felt you were in a synagogue rather than a theatre." Further evidence that the musical element was richer than would be suggested just by the surviving material is provided by the more diplomatically worded reactions of the Lidove noviny critic, who commented that ... "The musical inserts by Pavel Haas, which could only be judged by a musician as far as their internal content is concerned, were a little long in an action-packed play."

This quote incidentally explains why we often hear so little about stage music in reviews. Critics specialising in spoken drama did not feel competent enough to judge what were anyway quite rare pieces of stage music while music critics did not usually concern themselves with plays. This practice gradually changed as music became a more frequent part of stage productions. Indeed, the Brno theatre itself was now beginning to make more use of its own, domestic forces for the purpose, for example in the 1926/27 season there were musical contributions from Antonin Kincl, Ota Zitek and Vilibald Rubinek, in the 1927/28 season from Ota Zitek and Vilibald Rubinek and in the 1928/29 season Ora Zitek and Pavel Haas. But the latter was also the season when Haas's work with the Brno theatre ended. The appointment of Jindrich Honzl as Brno repertory director meant a shift of focus, but the theme of America and jazz lived on in the Brno theatre, as shown by productions like Broadway(1928), Jazz (1929) and ultimately even the Beggar's Opera (1930), Bar Chic (1930) and the Jazz Five (1931). As has been said, the composer himself--once again with the help of his younger brother--obtained three commissions for film music (Zivot je pos [Life is a Dog], Mazlicek [The Pet] and Kvocna [The Hen]), and he returned to the stage only once, as an opera composer (The Charlatan, premiered on the 2nd of April 1938 in the Na hradbach Theatre).

Petr Haas's did not write a great deal of stage music, and in many ways this part of his output was occasional in character. Nevertheless, it had a certain importance for the composer's understanding of the principles and mechanisms of drama and to this day it is redolent of the unique atmosphere of the nineteen-twenties.

The author is the repertory director of the National Theatre in Brno. He is also a journalist and translator.
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Author:Drlik, Vojen
Publication:Czech Music
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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