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Unlocking a Janacek enigma: the harmonic origins of Kudrjas's 'Waiting' song.

THE ANALYSIS of Janacek's music has tended to focus on mode and other elements allegedly derived from folksong. Consequently, although the composer's use of the whole-tone collection has received some limited appraisal,(1) his substantial deployment of the octatonic collection has been ignored completely. This essay seeks to show, with reference to the opera Kat'a Kabanova (1919-21), that the octatonic is in fact a crucial element of Janacek's highly individual harmonic language.

The octatonic collection, which corresponds to the second of Messiaen's modes of limited transposition, was first described as such by Arthur Berger.(2) Pieter van den Toorn has evaluated its properties with reference to Stravinsky's music,(3) and recent writers have dealt with its occurrence in works by Liszt, Musorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Skryabin, Debussy and other composers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.(4) There are three forms of the collection, given in Ex. 1 along [Musical expression omitted] [Musical expression omitted] [Musical expression omitted] with van den Toorn's designations (now in common use) as 'Coll. I', 'Coll. II' and 'Coll. III'. The scale has two inversionally related orderings--'1-2' (semitone-tone) and '2-1' (tone-semitone)--labelled 'Model A' and 'Model B' by van den Toorn and often termed 'harmony scale' and 'melody scale'. The octatonic collection can be employed as a scale or partitioned into a series of 'conjunct' and/or 'gapped' subsets. In addition, as Allen Forte suggests, octatonically aware composers frequently seem to have regarded seven pitch classes of the collection as 'surrogate' for the full octad.(5) Forte justifies this tendency in terms of set theory, but for present purposes we need note only that, when placed in close position, all seven-element subsets of the collection delineate the first seven degrees of either a 'harmony' or a 'melody' scale and hence strongly imply completion by their missing eighth member. Finally, a passage combining two forms of the octatonic collection is usually termed an 'octatonic cycle'; a cycle not constructed entirely from complete collections is normally described as 'implied'.

The octatonic is a vital component of all Janacek's operas from Jenufa (1894-1903) onwards, and of many of his sacred, choral and programmatic works (for example the unfinished Mass of 1908-9, the choral ballad Kaspar Rucky (1916) and the symphonic poem The Fiddler's Child (1912-13)). Indeed, even his keyboard music draws on the collection: the eighth piece (entitled 'Such Infinite Anguish') of the piano cycle On an Overgrown Path (1901-8) incorporates a particularly sophisticated interplay of octatonic, whole-tone and diatonic harmonies, the octatonic assuming the role of core collection.(6) Throughout these works, the octatonic domain is mainly concerned with evil and the supernatural, and these associations are also particularly prominent in Kat'a. Here, the octatonic sphere manifests itself chiefly in highly exposed short bursts at key moments in the drama. It establishes associations with evil, night, foreboding, the inevitability of fate and the frustration of the individual will. Its most substantial role is, unsurprisingly, that of underlining the principal stages in the development of the doomed relationship between Kat'a and Boris. Thus it figures prominently in Act I scene 1, when Boris hears Kat'a's name mentioned for the first time by Feklusa: see page 25, bars 1-10, of the Universal Edition vocal score (UE 7103; henceforth VS). This event initiates a small-scale implied octatonic cycle involving Coll. I and Coll. III, which cedes in bars 11-14 to a passage referable to a whole-tone hexachord: D flat, E flat, F, G, A, B. (Such juxtapositions of the symmetrical octatonic and whole-tone collections are a salient characteristic of Janacek's compositional practice.(7)) The sudden changes of tempo, time-signature, dynamic, motivic content and texture at the start of the octatonic passage are noteworthy, as is the motivic material itself. The prevailing four-note ostinato (see Ex. 2) [Musical expression omitted] recalls at pitch the fourth bar of one of the opera's two principal (and interrelated) recurring motifs, the so-called 'departure' or 'journey' motif (the other is normally termed the 'fate' motif). This motif is first stated in the prelude (VS, p. 6, bb. 13-22), and it reappears at seminal moments, such as Tichon's departure for Moscow (VS, pp. 55-56, 62-63, 68) and the recovery of Kat'a's body after her suicide (VS, pp. 163-5).(8) Its intersection with the octatonic domain at the mention of Kat'a's name in Act I scene 1 sets up a potent connection between two of the opera's most important sonic hallmarks. But no less significant here is the association of the octatonic with Feklusa. Janacek was obliged for reasons of economy to reduce Feklusa's status essentially to that of a servant in the Kabanov household. However, in the Ostrovsky play on which the opera is based, her function is more sinister, as Cynthia Marsh observes:

She is a colourful representative of the ignorant, superstitious and narrow outlook of a Russia dominated by folk religion . . . She is described as a 'strannitsa', a wanderer, or pilgrim. Such religious devotees were dependent on the charity of orthodox believers . . . The 'wanderers' also exercised a formative influence on the minds of those who, like Katerina, had sufficient intensity of passion to effect change. But their emphasis on [superstition] and evil channelled this potential in the wrong direction, and in Katerina it becomes destructive.(9)

By aligning Feklusa with the opera's octatonic sphere, Janacek invokes by musical means her malign influence, despite the lack of obvious indications of that influence in the libretto.

Slightly later in Act I scene 1, Boris confesses to Kudrjas that he is in love with 'a married woman' (VS, p. 26, bb. 10-11), commenting, with reference to Coll. III, 'Aren't I an idiot' (B flat, D flat, E flat, F flat, G flat, G). The opening of Kat'a's parallel confession to Varvara in Act I scene 2--that she is unable to sleep at night because she cannot stop thinking about an unidentified man (Boris, naturally)--is highlighted by a particularly beautiful, octatonically inflected, authentic cadence in B major. (Cadential closure is a relatively rare phenomenon in the opera.) The enharmonic dominant seventh chord here circumscribes a Coll. III heptad, which imbues the chord with a deadly luminescence (see Ex. 3; VS, p. 49, bb. 14-21). As for the opera's dramatic crux--Kat'a's public confession of her infidelity in Act III scene 1--when she reaches the point of no return by uttering the words 'On the very first night' (VS, p. 134, b. 5), an instrumental motif previously heard in conjunction with distant thunder at the start of her confession (VS, p. 132, bb. 2, 4 etc.) erupts in an agitated variant that invokes a Coll. III heptad. The impact of this sudden incursion is maximized by the unfolding in the melodic line of a conjunct octatonic hexachord, which is supported by a 'diminished seventh' tetrachord. Once again, a whole-tone hexachord ensues (F, G, A, B, C#, D#), this time coinciding with the attempts of Varvara and Tichon to prevent Kat'a divulging any more information (VS, p. 134, bb. 6-8). But as Kat'a wilfully continues her confession--'and every one of the ten nights I dallied with him'--Coll. III returns yet more insistently, two heptads yielding the complete octad (VS, p. 135, bb. 1-2). Then, in Act III scene 2, Kat'a's solitary, fragmented suicidal speculations are repeatedly punctuated by octatonic interpolations, the most powerful of which occur when she protests 'I've [Musical expression omitted] [Musical expression omitted] had all the torment I can stand' (with reference to Coll. I; VS, p. 147, bb. 3-4) and when she declares despairingly, 'What is there [y.sup.e]t to live for? Well? I have no need of anything, nothing gives me pleasure' (various subsets exhaust Coll. III; VS, p. 147, bb. 12, 17, and p. 148, bb. 1-6).

Elsewhere in Kat'a, the octatonic impinges on the harmonic worlds of Dikoj and Kabanicha, described by John Tyrrell as the opera's 'two principal forces of evil'.(10) These two characters embody the 'tyranny and oppression' of the reactionary provincial society that stifles Kat'a's aspirations and eventually destroys her.(11) Many of their callous acts of victimization are underpinned by octatonic harmony. As early as Act I scene 1 (VS, p. 16, bb. 9-13), when Dikoj browbeats Boris about his alleged laziness, the complete octad of Coll. I appears as a descending harmony scale in the orchestral fabric. (This is the first occurrence of the octatonic in the opera, which may explain its straightforward scalar presentation.) In turn, Kabanicha's vicious condemnation of Kat'a in Act II scene 1 (VS, p. 72, bb. 4-6) for her supposedly faithless (but, as yet, actually blameless) behaviour since the departure of Tichon, her husband, is thrown into relief by a Coll. I heptad (F, G, G#, A#, B, C#, D). Kabanicha's further oppression of Kat'a is reported by Varvara to Kudrjas in Act III scene 1--'Mama's noticed something, she keeps eyeing her [Kat'a] like a snake, and that makes her feel even worse' (VS, p. 127, bb. 5-7)--and this passage, too, receives octatonic highlighting in the form of a Coll. III hexachord (B flat, C, D flat, F flat, G flat, G). In addition, the climax of Varvara's description to Kudrjas in Act III scene 2 of her own incarceration by Kabanicha--beginning 'she keeps locking me in my room and tormenting me' and peaking with her desperate plea 'Now teach me, what am I to do with my life?'--alludes to the full octad of Coll. I (VS, p. 140, bb. 1, 4-9).

But the most protracted octatonically-based passage in Kat'a occurs at the beginning of Act II scene 2. Kudrjas waits alone at nightfall by the river bank: he is there to meet Varvara. While he waits, he sings to his own guitar accompaniment a ditty about a young man bringing gifts to a girl who in fact loves another. Just as he is finishing his song, he is approached not by Varvara, as expected, but by Boris, arriving for an illicit (and ultimately disastrous) assignation with Kat'a at the same spot (VS, pp. 87-90). The words of Kudrja's 'waiting' song have occasioned much scholarly comment, but the music has received scant appraisal, despite its prominent position in the opera and its 'exotic' character.

In the play on which Janacek based his libretto, The Thunderstorm (1859) by the Russian dramatist Alexander Ostrovsky (1823-86), Kudrjas sings at this point (Act III scene 2) a macabre ditty about a Don Cossack who is thinking of killing his wife.(12) Ostrovsky may have collected the song on one of his ethnographic research trips to the Volga region; certainly, it had not previously appeared in print.(13) As John Tyrrell notes, 'its ominous theme is [y.sup.e]t another example of his [Ostrovsky's] carefully planned atmospheric imagery'.(14) Janacek set only its first four lines in his initial version of Kat'a:

A Don Cossack has come with his horse to the watering, A goodly young man is he. By the gate he stands, And as he stands by the gate he has thought a thought And the thought he has thought is of doing his wife to death.

At this stage of the opera's genesis, the song was placed slightly earlier, near the end of Act II scene 1 after Varvara gives Kat'a the key to the garden gate and just before Kat'a declares 'If only night would fall' as she resolves impetuously to meet Boris that very evening (VS, p. 80, bb. 18-20). Also, the song was initially intended to be heard off-stage, 'from afar'. Later on, Janacek modified Act II scene 1, inserting a short dialogue between Kabanicha and Dikoj and moving Kudrjas song, now delivered on the stage, to the start of Act II scene 2. He then made an additional, last-minute alteration, substituting for the original Ostrovsky text a Ukrainian version of a Russian folksong from a well-known collection.(15) The new words were apparently translated into Czech for Janacek by the poet Petr Bezruc:

Through the garden gate a young maid would stroll early in the morning, and see her face in the stream and gaze at it often.

After her comes, after her comes, a dashing swain; he has bought costly presents to bring to her every time.

Many a ducat, good red ducat, he has spent on his chosen gifts: petticoats here, and kerchiefs there, and shoes lined with sable . . .

'Now, I'm a young lass and I'll go on my own to look at the market, and whatever is to my liking I'll buy for myself.

'Now, I'm a young lass and I'll buy two sweet-smelling mint-plants. I'll plant both of them beside my house of wood.

'Don't trample on them, my dashing swain, beneath my window-sill, it is not for you that I planted them nor kept them watered well.'

Tyrrell remarks that 'the replacement song could be said to be more appropriate for Kudrjas to sing while he waits for the light-hearted, independent Varvara', but, as Wilfrid Mellers suggests, its 'cynical' tone still conveys menace, if not the outright doom of Ostrovsky's original.(16) Janacek seems to have insisted that the translator fit the new text to the existing music. Did the composer consider the evil portent of Ostrovsky's words to be embedded in the music itself?

Published commentaries on Kudrjas's song are brief and imprecise. Erik Chisholm's assessment is typically vague: 'It is a measured . . . conjunct tune with a steady patterned accompaniment and something of the Russian steppes about it, only becoming really animated at the climax of the song'.(17) Mellers is marginally more enlightening: 'To while away time he sings to the accompaniment of his guitar a Cossack song which is metrically simple and non-modulating . . . the key is a blackly modal minor of the love-key D flat . . . The self-rotating tune, like a stylus stuck in a record groove, irritatingly denies growth.'(18) Lyudmila Polyakova, while eschewing such a conventional tonal reading, is puzzled, concluding in exasperation that the song is based on a scale that does not occur in Russian folksong.(19) She further remarks in passing that the first eight bars of the vocal line allude [Musical expression omitted] to the scale consisting of alternate semitones and tones (i.e., the octatonic) used by Rimsky-Korsakov in the 'fantastic' scenes of Sadko (1897). But she does not follow this up, seeming more concerned with what she perceives as the song's inherent ethnographic 'chaos'. John Tyrrell refers to Polyakova's comments and observes: 'Some of Kat'a Kabanova may sound "Russian" but ethnographical purity was hardly Janacek's aim when for instance in Kudrjas's waiting song in Act 2 scene 2 he substituted a translation of a Ukrainian version of a well-known Russian folksong to fit the music he had originally written for Ostrovsky's song from the Volga region'.(20) These tantalizingly incomplete and partly conflicting descriptions invite detailed exploration.

Ex. 6 summarizes the pitch-class content of the song, along with its detached instrumental introduction, Kudrjas's interpolation between stanzas 3 and 4 ('What's she up to, why hasn't she come?') and the beginning of the ensuing dialogue between Kudrjas and Boris (equivalent to VS, p. 87, bb. 6-13, 19-34; pp. 88-9; and p. 90, bb. 1-15).(21) Round brackets identify pitch classes lying outside specified octatonic collections; square brackets contain members of the collections that are occluded. The song proper divides into two identical parts, separated by Kudrjas's impatient six-bar interpolation. Both parts subdivide into four blocks of music (labelled in Ex. 6): the first two blocks set a whole stanza each, and the remaining two are each allocated half a stanza. Every block is restricted essentially to a single controlling harmony. The melodic line is extremely repetitive, both within and between blocks. Even the intervallic structure of the basic four-bar melodic unit (marked 'x' in Ex. 5) is reduplicative: the unit comprises five distinct, adjacent pitches alternating tones and semitones. This sequence of intervals is a property of the ascending melodic minor scale, from the sixth degree up to the third. And since the fifth degree of this scale is reiterated in the accompaniment each time 'x' occurs, Mellers's straightforward tonal interpretation of the song appears thus far to be vindicated. However, a greater degree of flexibility than Mellers allows is required to produce a tonal reading of the whole song. Only blocks 1, 3, 5 and 7 are confined to notes of the ascending melodic minor scale on D flat: blocks 2 and 6 are accountable to a transpositionally equivalent six-note subset of the same scale on A flat; and blocks 4 and 8 project an eight-note collection with no conventional label, closing on a G flat major triad.

A tonally orientated interpretation might proceed as follows. The song, together with its introduction, defines three fifth-related tonal centres: A flat, D flat and G flat. Both parts of the song end by outlining a two-stage descent through the circle of fifths from A flat through D flat to G flat, each of the first two tonic minor triads appearing to act in retrospect as a minor dominant of the next tonal centre in the sequence. The note (D flat) occluded from the ascending melodic minor collection on A flat in the [Musical expression omitted] introduction and in blocks 2 and 6 becomes the tonic of the succeeding blocks (1, 3, 7), whose missing pitch class (G flat) in turn assumes centricity in blocks 4 and 8. Consequently, the G flat major triad that concludes each part seems to be the goal of a protracted V/v-v-I progression. This explanation appears to be supported by the lower boundary pitches of blocks 2-3 and 6-7, each pair of which delineates a dominant seventh chord of G flat.

[Musical expression omitted]

However, this tonal reading is problematic in many respects. For example, a closer examination of the introduction produces disquieting results. Apart from the obvious difficulty that the supposed ascending melodic minor scale on A flat is used within a line that descends overall, it is questionable whether pitch-class priority can be assigned to A flat. After all, this block is preceded not by a dominant seventh of A flat but by what seems to be a dominant major ninth of G flat (VS, p. 87, bb. 1-2) and a unison chromatic ascent from A flat to F flat (ibid., bb. 3-5), which privileges the E flat of the block's initial sonority. In addition, although bars 1-3 and 5-7 of the introduction appear to prolong the tonic triad of A flat minor in first inversion (G and B flat occur only as passing notes on weak beats), bars 4 and 8 end each four-bar unit with a tetrachord (C flat, E flat, F, A flat) that it would be tendentious in the extreme to classify as a first-inversion A flat minor triad with an added raised sixth. And there are further problems. The melodic line delineates the diminished triad F-A flat-C flat, and although the A flat is an axis of symmetry, the F is accorded most emphasis: it is employed as a final, and the C flat in the bass creates a larger symmetrical arrangement around it. As a result, the closing tetrachord of the introduction possesses multiple pitch-class priorities.

The song itself is similarly indeterminate. Blocks 1, 2, 5 and 6 reassemble the accompaniment's reiterated trichord in close position in a higher register, and blocks 3 and 7 add a drone bass; but in none of those passages does one pitch class assert superiority. (The concluding 'half diminished seventh' tetrachords of blocks 1, 2, 5 and 6 are particularly ambiguous if viewed in tonal terms. Any proposed functional relationship between adjacent blocks can only be elliptic or oblique, as, for example, [ii.sup.7]-[V]-I between blocks 1 and 2 and blocks 5 and 6. More awkward still is the total pitch-class content of blocks 4 and 8. Admittedly, these blocks finish on what appears to be the tonic triad of G flat major, but this 'triad' is not tonicized, and the leading note of G flat major is nowhere in evidence. Indeed, the eight-note collection defies conventional description. Removing the B flat would produce the 'Vachaspati' acoustic scale (with its sharpened fourth and flattened seventh) on G flat; and rearranging the collection on D flat would create a harmonic minor scale with an added raised sixth degree. But neither of these interpretations is tenable: the B flat is one of the most prominent pitch classes of the collection, and D flat minor is not tonicized. In fact, blocks 4 and 8, like all the others, embody a conflict between rival potential tonal centres: G flat is the goal of a reiterated quasi-dominant-tonic progression in the bass; B flat is the final of all four orchestral statements of 'x'; and D flat is highlighted by the vocal line, which ends each part of the song with a new unit culminating in an emphatic descent from a flat' to d flat'. Given these tensions within blocks 4 and 8, the apparent arpeggiation of [V.sup.7] of G flat by the bass boundary notes of blocks 2-3 and 6-7 ceases to have any clear large-scale tonal significance. Evidently, it is worth at least trying to find another way of interpreting Kudrjas's 'waiting' song.

To return to the basic melodic unit ('x'), its repeated 2-1 intervallic pattern is, of course, a property of the octatonic scale. And, viewed octatonically, the song is far less intractable. In the introduction, the melodic line unfolds a conjunct pentad referable to Coll. I (F, G, A flat, B flat, C flat). This is juxtaposed with a minor trichord containing two pitch classes (C flat and A flat) that are applicable to Coll. I, and one (E flat) that is not. The block as a whole sums up a non-octatonic hexachord (E flat, F, G, A flat, B flat, C flat). However, the diatonic tetrachord in bars 4 and 8 (C flat, E flat, F, A flat)--combining the block's four most prominent pitch classes--is also accountable to Coll. II. Hence the introduction incorporates an interaction of tonal and octatonic inferences. Remarkably, the structural pitches of Kudrjas's 'self-rotating tune'--F, A flat and C flat--are the only ones that the complete forms of Coll. I, Coll. II and the ascending melodic minor of A flat have in common. This intepretation of the introduction is surely more penetrating than the tonal reading given above.

Blocks 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7 of Kudrjas's song are similar in structure to the introduction: blocks 2 and 6 employ exactly the same octatonic subsets, whereas blocks 1, 3, 5 and 7--transposed by five semitones--use transpositionally related subsets of Coll. III and Coll. I. As a result, the song implies a complete octatonic cycle. An overall shape is imparted to each of its parts by the pitch-based modifications in blocks 4 and 8, including the introduction of a new melodic unit in the vocal line. The octad governing these blocks is not entirely octatonic, but it does incorporate an octatonic heptad applicable to Coll. III (B flat flat, B flat, C, D flat, E flat, F flat, G flat): this is the first octatonic heptad in the song. Furthermore, the pitch class (A flat) lying outside Coll. III occurs only three times in each block: twice as an unaccented passing note in an inner part, and once as an accented neighbour note in the voice. In sum, there is a progressive assertion of superiority by the octatonic over the tonal in the song's macro-structure. Indeed, even the '[V.sup.7] of G flat' chords underlying the bass boundary pitches in blocks 2, 3, 6 and 7 are referentially octatonic, as are the non-functional closing diatonic sonorities of the introduction and of blocks 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7.

[Musical expression omitted]

This is hardly a complete analysis, which is beyond the scope of this article, but the octatonic orientation of Kudrjas's 'waiting' song has now been revealed. Significantly, Kudrjas's interpolation between its two parts and the thirteen bars that follow the song inhabit the same harmonic domain. The orchestra's contribution to the interpolation is confined first to a Coll. III pentad (A, B flat, C#, E flat, E), then to a Coll. III hexachord (adding G): the vocal line brings in a lone extraneous pitch class (B), which occurs only once, as an accented passing note. Moreover, block 4 and the interpolation together contain the entire Coll. III octad, the G added in the last bar of the interpolation 'correcting' block 4's rogue A flat. The thirteen bars of dialogue between Kudrjas and Boris are related motivically to the interpolation and are to all intents and purposes purely octatonic. This passage begins with a pentad that is identical to the one used in the earlier interpolation, and it continues with two transpositionally related sets exhausting Coll. I. (The vocal lines here add one scarcely noticeable additional pitch class, C, which occurs merely as a passing note on the last quaver of a quintuplet.(22)) In short, this section of the opera culminates in a passage of 21 bars (block 8 and the dialogue) projecting a heptad applicable to Coll. III followed by the full Coll. I octad, which thus establishes itself as the principal octatonic collection of the entire episode.

Any lingering doubts about the octatonic provenance of Kudrjas's song are removed by an examination of the manuscript sources and of the relationship between this number and the opera as a whole. The earliest version of the song (reproduced in facsimile in Tyrrell's Cambridge Opera Handbook) comprises three blocks of music, setting the first stanza of the original Ostrovsky text.(23) According to Tyrrell, 'Kudrjas's song is given here in a primitive form (lacking the downward descent in bb. 3-4 etc.)'. This version may be 'primitive', but in its first two blocks reference to the octatonic collection is absolutely unimpaired. The transcription of the first block's pitch content in Ex. 9 (equivalent to blocks 1, 3, 5 and 7 of the final version) is entirely accountable to a heptadal subset of Coll. III, the voice unfolding a gapped tetrachord (A#, C# D#, E), the flutes delineating a conjunct hexachord (A, B flat, C, C#, E flat, F flat), and the bassoons and violas adding F#. (Janacek has even supplied letter-names in the flute parts in bars 1-2, preventing any misreading of his untidy handwriting.) Similarly, the second block (equivalent to the introduction and blocks 2 and 6 of the final version) is confined to a Coll. I heptad (F flat, F, G, A flat, B flat, C flat, D flat). It is only in the third block (the counterpart of blocks 4 and 8) that the music assumes a tonal orientation. In summary, the original version of the song incorporates two exposed octatonic passages, and while it is less sophisticated than the final version, the more routine manipulation of octatonic collections attests unequivocally to Janacek's octatonic awareness. Apparently, the composer intended from the start to mark the 'music-within-music' status of the 'waiting' song by placing it under the [Musical expression omitted] influence of the octatonic. Furthermore, the later alterations creating octatonic-diatonic interactions bring the episode into line with other extended octatonically orientated passages in Janacek's operas from The Excursions of Mr Broucek (1908-17) onwards.(24)

A consideration of Kudrjas's song in its original context is also instructive. As we have seen, it initially occurred towards the end of Act II scene 1, before Kat'a's words 'If only night would fall' (VS, p. 80, bb. 18-20). Kat'a's pronouncement is followed in both versions by an orchestral ostinato (bb. [20-24.sup.1]) referable to a Coll. I heptad. The ostinato is a triple diminution at exact pitch of the flute parts in the second block of the song's first version. (The 'prime' form of this motif is first stated in VS, p. 71, bar 1, where it appears in crotchets, after which it is reiterated many times in a series of wide-ranging variants.) When Janacek altered Act II scene 1, inserting the dialogue between Kabanicha and Dikoj (VS, p. 80, b. 26, to p. 85, b. 10), he added further statements of the octatonic ostinato to conclude the scene (VS, p. 85, bb. 11-19).(25) Thus in the original version of the opera there are immediate and explicit motivic and harmonic links between Kudrjas's gruesome song and Kat'a's departure for her night-time meeting with Boris. These links still essentially exist in the published version, but they are less obvious: Kudrjas's song is separated from the music that generates it by the orchestral introduction to Act II scene 2, and the song has less overtly ominous words.

[Musical expression omitted]

In 1927, Janacek added interludes between the two scenes of Act I and Act II to allow more time for scene changes.(26) The Act II interlude mainly contains music reminiscent of From the House of the Dead (1927-8), on which Janacek was working at the time.(27) However, the final two bars of this interlude return to the octatonic ostinato (Ex. 10), as seen in Ex. 11. There are many more resonances between Kudrjas's song and the rest of the opera in its final version. Most striking of all is a passage towards the end of Act II scene 2. After Boris and Kat'a have met, they retire off-stage while Kudrjas and Varvara discuss the practical problems of hiding the affair from Kat'a's mother-in-law (Kabanicha). The on-stage dialogue is punctuated by the passionate off-stage declarations of Boris and Kat'a, culminating (VS, p. 110, bb. 7-9) with Boris's registrally highlighted partial echo of their earlier mutual [Musical expression omitted] avowals: 'You are my life, to the ends of the earth I'd follow you'. At this point, Boris recalls an octave higher the exact pitch classes of the melodic line of the introduction and blocks 2 and 6 of Kudrjas's song (F, G, A flat, B flat, C flat), finally descending to c flat' (the introduction's bass note; see Ex. 6). The orchestra supports Boris's outburst with a 'diminished seventh' tetrachord (G#, B, D, F), with a repeated passing note (C#) expanding this configuration to a Coll. I pentad. In total, seven pitch classes of Coll. I are represented in these bars (E is occluded). As Kat'a and Boris commit themselves irrevocably and fatefully to one another, Kudrjas's portentous song is recalled, its octatonic-tonal interaction yielding to the purely octatonic.

[Musical expression omitted]

The seminal role of the octatonic collection in Kat'a prompts an obvious question: whence does the composer's utilization of this harmonic field originate? A detailed answer cannot be formulated here, but I can suggest a potentially decisive line of enquiry. All the evidence leads us to Russia, where, after all, Kat'a is set. As Richard Taruskin has demonstrated in convincing detail,(28) prominent nineteenth-century Russian composers--especially Rimsky-Korsakov--used the octatonic in connection with evil, magic, the fantastic and the supernatural: these associations persist in Janacek's output up to his final opera, From the House of the Dead. Another clue is that Janacek's deployment of the octatonic collection, especially in his post-1907 works, is in many respects characteristic of a Russian composer with whom he has much else in common, Musorgsky. Unlike Rimsky-Korsakov, whose manipulation of the collection (as both Taruskin and Forte note) is largely mechanical and adheres mainly to conjunct forms,(29) Musorgsky exploits the octatonic with great subtlety, employing the collection 'both as an ordered "scale" and as a reservoir of pitches from which to select his linear materials, with the latter being by far the most common practice'.(30) Forte observes about the Act II passage of Born Godunov in which Prince Shuisky informs the Tsar of the news concerning the Polish pretender:

In characteristic fashion, the composer has constructed each vertical as a major triad in fundamental position above its octatonic bass note, thus ensuring regularity of progression by giving equal weight to each chord and thus, in the process, creating a non-functional harmonic progression that is controlled by its outer-voice linear structure. From the aesthetic standpoint, the progression is completely determinate, just as is a harmonic sequence in tonal music, no doubt reflecting the inevitability of fate that pervades the drama and that is so tellingly evident at this moment in its development.(31)

It is intriguing that similarly constructed progressions are a salient feature of The Excursions of Mr Broucek, which is, quantitatively speaking, Janacek's most octatonic work. Moreover, Musorgsky's association of the octatonic with fate is strongly redolent of Janacek's use of the collection in Kat'a.

The evidence for Janacek's contacts with Musorgsky's music is far from straightforward, but it does appear that Janacek obtained before 1909 a copy of Rimsky-Korsakov's second (1908) redaction of the vocal score of Boris: in 1938, the Czech scholar Jan Racek claimed to have seen this copy.(32) Racek's claim is apparently corroborated by one of Janacek's pupils, Vaclav Kapral, whose precis of the composer's lectures at the Brno Organ School--from 1909, according to Kapral--incorporates a number of analytical comments about Boris.(33) If Janacek did obtain a score of Boris in 1908, the extensive octatonic explorations in his works from Broucek onwards would be accounted for. But this still leaves the rather more restrained experimentation with the collection in Jenufa (1894-1903) to be explained. Unfortunately, it is impossible to prove that Janacek encountered Boris before 1908, despite the unsubstantiated claims of several scholars that he was introduced to works by Musorgsky by 1900 at the latest.(34) But Abram Gozenpud does amass a large quantity of information concerning Janacek's possible experiences of Russian music in general in the 1890s and early 1900s, and he draws attention to several friends and acquaintances of Janacek who had Russian interests and connections and who may well have lent Janacek scores.(35) To these persuasive circumstantial speculations can be added some more concrete information linking Janacek with the octatonic collection as early as 1896. In that year, he reviewed the Brno premiere of Tchaikovsky's opera The Queen of Spades (1890), commenting mainly on the barracks scene (Act III scene 1), which deploys strikingly and effectively both the octatonic and the whole-tone collections.(36) Hence Janacek's octatonic awareness may have been awakened through contact with Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades, later developing considerably through his getting to know Musorgsky's Boris. Certainly as far as Kat'a is concerned, the Russian inspiration behind this work's octatonic components seems beyond reasonable doubt.

The probable Russian origins of Janacek's knowledge of the octatonic dispel the mystery surrounding Kudrjas's 'waiting' song. My earlier question--whether the composer considered the evil portent of Ostrovsky's words to be embedded in the music itself--can now be answered in the affirmative. In fact, irrespective of Janacek's conscious intentions, the song articulates a message of doom through its occupation of an octatonic domain that possessed at the time of the opera's composition an association with evil accrued over more than 50 years. The sheer resonance of this harmonic space obliterates the superficial gaiety of the song's replacement text, whose regional anomalies thereby pale into insignificance. In conclusion, it might be observed that scholars have hitherto been oblivious to the octatonic orientation of Kudrjas's 'waiting' song because of a blinkered preoccupation with peripheral ethnographic concerns. As Kat'a unlocks the garden gate and goes to her fateful tryst with Boris, Kudrjas and his guitar conjure up a mysterious and richly referential sound-world that owes its allegiance not to folksong but to the fertile mainstream of European music. Only now, more than 70 years after Kat'a Kabanova was composed, can this sound-world's significance be fully appreciated.

1 See, for example, Zdenek Sadecky, 'Celotonovy charakter hudebni reci v Janackove "Lisce Bystrousce"' [The Whole-Tone Character of the Musical Language of Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen], Ziva hudba, ii (1962), 95-163.

2 In 'Problems of Pitch Organisation in Stravinsky', Perspectives of New Music, ii (1963), 11-42.

3 Pieter van den Toorn, The Music of Igor Stravinsky, New Haven & London, 1983.

4 See, for example, James Baker, The Music of Alexander Scriabin, New Haven & London, 1986; Allen Forte, 'Liszt's Experimental Music and Music of the Early Twentieth Century', 19th Century Music, x (1986-7), 209-28; idem, 'Musorgsky as Modernist: the Phantasmic Episode in Boris Godunov', Music Analysis, ix (1990), 3-45; idem, 'Debussy and the Octatonic', Music Analysis, x (1991), 125-69; Richard S. Parks, The Music of Claude Debussy, New Haven & London, 1989; George Perle, 'Scriabin's Self-Analyses', Music Analysis, iii (1984), 101-24; Richard Taruskin, 'Chernomor to Kaschei: Harmonic Sorcery; or, Stravinsky's "Angle"', Journal of the American Musicological Society, xxxviii (1985), 72-142; and idem, 'Chez Pitrouchka: Harmony and Tonality chez Stravinsky', 19th Century Music, x (1986-7), 265-86.

5 Forte, 'Debussy and the Octatonic', p 127.

6 Further details are given in Paul Wingfield, 'Of a Ghostly Fiddler, a Fraudulent Alchemist and the Harmony of the Moon: Janacek's Early Octatonic Excursions' (forthcoming).

7 The interplay of the octatonic and whole-tone collections is also a hallmark of Debussy's compositional technique: see Forte, 'Debussy and the Octatonic', p. 136.

8 John Tyrrell lists the appearances of the 'departure'/'journey' and 'fate' motifs in his 'Introduction', Leos Janacek: 'Kat'a Kabanova', ed. idem ('Cambridge Opera Handbooks'), Cambridge, 1982, pp. 1-36, at pp. 22-23.

9 Cynthia Marsh, 'Ostrovsky's Play "The Thunderstorm"', Leos Janacek 'Kat'a Kabanova', ed. Tyrrell, pp. 38-47, at pp. 42-43.

10 Tyrrell, 'Introduction', p. 20.

11 Marsh, 'Ostrovsky's Play "The Thunderstorm"', pp. 39-41.

12 An English translation of Ostrovsky's play is printed (under the title Thunder) in Four Russian Plays, ed. & trans. Joshua Cooper, Harmondsworth, 1972, pp. 319-94. Tyrrell examines the relationship between the original and Janacek's libretto in 'The Libretto', Leos Fanacek: 'Kat'a Kabanova', ed. idem, pp. 48-69.

13 Four Russian Plays, ed. & trans. Cooper, p. 393.

14 Tyrrell, 'The Libretto', p. 58.

15 I. Prach [J. G. Pratsch], Sobraniye narodnykh russikikh pesen s ikh golosami [Collection of Russian Folksongs with Vocal Parts], 4th edn., St Petersburg, 1896, No. 56. For a fuller account of the song's genesis, see Tyrrell, 'The Libretto', pp. 58-60.

16 Tyrrell, 'The Libretto', p. 60; Wilfrid Mellers, 'Synopsis: Innocence and Guilt in "Kat'a Kabanova"', Leos Janacek: 'Kat'a Kabanova', ed. Tyrrell. pp. 70-90, at p. 80.

17 Erik Chisholm, The Operas of Leos Janacek, Oxford, 1971, p. 208.

18 Mellers, 'Synopsis', p. 80.

19 Lyudmila Polyakova, 'O "ruskych" operach Leose Janacka' [Janacek's 'Russian' Operas], Cesty rozvoje a vzajemne uztahy ruskeho a ceskoslovenskeho umeni, Prague, 1974, pp. 247-69, at pp. 268-9.

20 John Tyrrell, Czech Opera, Cambridge, 1988, p. 250.

21 VS does not show all the pitch classes actually employed in the 1971 full score (UE 7070; miniature score, UE 30532) rev. & ed. Charles Mackerras.

22 The C in VS, p. 90, bar 7--which appears in all published scores--may be an error. Certainly, the three-note rising motif in bars 5 and 9 consists each time of a tone followed by a semitone, and an exact transposition of this motif in bars 7-8 would yield three pitches (B, C#, D) accountable to Coll. I.

23 Tyrrell, 'The Libretto', p. 59. The drafts and autograph of the opera are held in the Janacek Archive--which forms part of the Music History Division of the Moravian Musuem in Brno--under the shelf-mark A 7441.

24 For a full account, see Wingfield, 'Of a Ghastly Fiddler, a Fraudulent Alchemist and the Harmony of the Moon'.

25 VS (but not the full score) contains three unfortunate printer's errors in p. 85, bar 11: there should be a natural sign in front of the f on the second demisemiquaver of each of the three sextuplets in this bar.

26 See Theodora Strakova, 'The Interludes', Leos Janacek: 'Kat'a Kabanova', ed. Tyrrell, pp. 134-43. The interludes are printed only in the UE full score of 1971.

27 John Tyrrell, Janacek's Operas: a Documentary Account, London, 1992, p. 279.

28 See Taruskin, 'Chernomor to Kaschei'.

29 Ibid., pp. 128-9; Forte, 'Debussy and the Octatonic', p. 157.

30 Forte, 'Musorgsky as Modernist', p. 40.

31 Ibid., pp. 11-12.

32 Jan Racek, Leos Janacek: posnamky k tvurcimu profilu [Observations towards a Profile of Janacek as a Creative Artist], Olomouc, 1938, pp. 72-73.

33 Vaclav Kapral, 'Janackuv pomer k opere' [Janacek's Attitude towards Opera], Hudebni rozhledy, i (1924-5), 63-66, at p. 65.

34 See, for example, Jan Racek, Leos Janacek: clovek a umelec [Leos Janacek: Man and Artist], Brno, 1963, p. 189; and Milos Stedron, 'Janacek, verismus a impresionismus', Casopis Moravskeho musea: vedy spolocenski, liii-liv (1968-9), 125-54, at p. 143.

35 Abram Gozenpud, 'Janacek a Musorgskij', Opus musicum, xii (1980), No. 4, pp. 101-9; No. 5, pp. i-iv, vii-viii.

36 For additional information, see Wingfield, 'Of a Ghostly Fiddler, a Fraudulent Alchemist and the Harmony of the Moon'.
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Author:Wingfield, Paul
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Date:Nov 1, 1994
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