Jakub Hrůša's reflections #10

Dear friends,

This time, I am addressing you, entirely non-traditionally, with a whimsical New Year’s Eve idyll. I admit I am a light sleeper, immersed in a dumka, even a slight elegy, while looking back at last year’s Church Festival. It is New Year’s Eve, a beautiful winter night is approaching and here amidst Nature a nice, pleasant, neighbourly atmosphere (including some sousedská dancing), has given rise to reminiscences from childhood. I feel like humming something like the shepherd’s Sunday song (“In the morning, I chop corn”) or other Czech nursery rhymes or little songs for children (“I walk, walk among the hills”) ... yet there is no Chapbook around, all I can see is the snow covering the rolling fields outside. I have never lacked inventions when it comes to some four children’s songs and nursery rhymes. In this regard, the past merry Christmas gave a really good harvest: the mood was great, with all kinds of love carols being sung. We always say to ourselves during the festive season: “Let us rest, let us chant some Christmas arabesques, for Christmas Eve is indeed the day of good deeds, on which pastorals should be sung (the French would say bergerettes), nocturnes too, even pure laymen can revel in ariettes and vocalises, many a person touching an instrument with one finger, holding miracles, miniature suites, preluding easy etudes and serenades, if not directly a concerto, letting the hands dream their festive musical key to dreams.”

My wife and I, for instance, play my non-artful sketches and pieces without titles. I do not pretend they are sonatas, quartets or symphonies, not even sonatinas or sinfoniettas, they are simply songs, Christmas Miracles of Mary in notes. When playing them, we recall our promenades in the surrounding fields and woods, I know a simple nice little grove is not something that astounds anyone too easily, but we do not really take it seriously, do not perform any field masses of our own. They are simple songs on one page, occasionally on two pages, simple fantaisies non-symphoniques, lulling berceuses (we have frequently pursued little lullabies since our baby-girl was born), or a barcarolle, sometimes just a mere improvisation is played too. By and large, some three or four Christmas songs. How dear to me the hour, the magic nights, the half-time of a vanishing midnight drive off all the shadows, in the warmth of their homes people cease behaving like puppets, no more caring about who is the most powerful in the world, concerned about the shape of the moon and keeping vigils. My wife and I read also aloud at home passages from the Holy Writ, often lines on The Prophecy of Isaiah and The Burden of Moab, sing Ave Maria, hold a family offertorium to the Lord. Our family also compile the perennial wish for a mother, a tradition dating back to once upon a time, allegedly to the first of November 1912 and not otherwise was it this year. We played and sung about what men live by, three songs in the morning, three simple sacred songs at noon, among them The Virgin Mary Wandered the World, and the Hymn to Saint James (which I personally am really fond of), then, in more nostalgic moments, some adagio (memories), when we like looking out the window to the garden, observing the bird feast at a small box on a tree branch and watching how frost fell to the field and covered the flowerbeds, where in the summer roses blossom. And we delay our departure from home, so that those Czech and Slovak songs would not have to be replaced by Chinese songs, and folk dances and customs (from, for instance, the Slovácko region), by songs on Russian poetry, or Negro poetry, or “Nipponari”, and we would not have to say: “That’s all that remains just as a memory” ... We love songs in folk style. I am far from wanting to overestimate all that, since they are often mere bagatelles, bringing the necessary intermezzo amidst the chirrup of the whole year, but: is it not beautiful?

When it comes to “music-making”, I preferably play in a duo with my wife; she takes out her violin and I sit down by the piano, playing some overture, occasionally plunging into a scherzo, teasing her, and playing like a fiery man, not à la impromptu, as we have agreed, but as though performing brigand songs. My wife is angry and, for appearances sake, plays her revolt, which ultimately results in a comic film en miniature, an instructive duo for the nervous, a canny burlesque: my little Klára pretends to question the sense of our marriage, as though throwing away all our splendid experiences, the dream of the past vanishes, as do the reminiscences of the amazing flight somewhere or other, the fairy tales of our days together, many a romantic evening at the shore, for instance, on the fifth day of the fifth Moon in La Jolla, California, or on the quai Malaquais, or in Greek holiday resorts, of visiting art galleries, admiring together the frescos of Piero della Francesca and various estampes there, Böcklin’s picture “Villa by the Sea”, of prudent reading aloud of the Poems of Apollinaire, of feasting on the fruit of the sea, which in some countries is also eaten by simple workmen. Instead, all kinds of vicissitudes de la vie are evoked, as are the annual, unfulfilled three wishes, and if it happens that we touch the black-bottom of our long-term relationship, tears, and even a knife, crop up. The other day, we again carried out such a kitchen revue, we were like the soldier and the dancer the wrong way round, little Klára was like a beautiful butterfly that stamped. But I then surreptitiously declared: “On tourne!” and my wife awoke to the possibility of being recorded on video and so ceased to be a strangler of the atmosphere, and her speaking, almost roaring like a Thunderbolt P-47, ceased to remind one of a toccata of folk poetry, passing over instead to sweeter canzoni and madrigal stanzas. For an outside observer, it was a downright concerto da camera, sounding like a genuine sinfonietta giocosa.

At home, we often play such scherzos and divertimentos – once even eight preludes, one of them a prelude in the form of a scherzo, dances or at least a dance sketch. We particularly love tango, which, however, must not be too slow, not andante, but at least allegretto, as well as saltarello, habanera, valse (but like capriccio), foxtrot (for instance, our three favourites: One-step, for the Red Seven and Na růžku, the last piece born in the workshop of the Polička native), and as regards the Czech dances, we frequently play together polkas (which, in contrast, must whirl like genuine rhythmic etudes, only then is it a real bagarre), mazurkas, waltzes, furiants, which duly gives rise to a whole Czech Rhapsody. Moreover, sometimes we even march, in the proper military manner. In the course of time, I have convinced my hesitant family that something like a jazz suite is suitable for dance too. Now and then, they get excited and they themselves require that we perform le jazz, at least a few movements, blues in particular. A few give preference to film music though.

Furthermore, we play a game we call Six Characters in Search of an Author (a sextet made up of: my wife and I, and two sets of parents; sometimes I am absent and just a quintet gets together, yet at other times we expand and form a nonet). We put on a few short pieces and one trio competes with the other; they are actually enigmas relating to Czech (and other) music and film. The winner then holds a victory march, like an Oriental ruler or a god from an ancient epic, such as Gilgamesh or Istar, a sort of festival march accompanied by a guitar played by the loser. Subsequently, the latter has to carry out such absurd tasks as political greetings, veil dances, a salute to the Sokols and the Sokol Festival (in the fashion of the 1932 Sokol Festival, which my family knows very well), to imitate buquinistes, to present a plaint against the unknown, to pretend to be Mirandolina, Ariane, Mariken of Nimègue (yes, it’s the notorious Marijka the unfaithful) or Princess Libuše with a swan neck (once I sang Smetana’s overture) and so on, depending on that which the winner so requires.

Once upon a time, we pursued greater adventures, in nature, such as climbing at night a mount, using a mere three lights, seeking a primrose on a rock, opening of hatches of springs without using our hands, incantations of the smoke from potato fires (like in the well-known old legend), with a special romance for the defeated party drinking dandelion juice, acting out the scene from Mikeš, making a drawing of the drowned maiden, performing the etude of the death of Tintagiles or the fate of Oedipus, or the denouement of the ballade of Miss Vilma’s umbrella... By and large, there are no bounds to the imagination and fantasy. After all, those not knowing the difference between a score and partita, terming classical music compositions songs instead of pieces, saying “Paris’s trial” instead of the judgement of Paris, or talking about the spectre’s brides instead of the Spectre’s Bride, even claiming that it is a Goethe song, deserve no mercy. Oh yes, all this is part of our contests, the first of which we played in the city of quick water: Mariánské Lázně.

The mentioned activities mainly take place in the winter, but I also sincerely like the other seasons too, during which we carry out improvisation in spring in the garden, read aloud fables while strolling in a little summer, often, out of pleasure, dance suite, while observing butterflies, all kinds of song-birds (including, in fantasy, birds of paradise) in the Borová pinewoods, then after sunset on solstice night the procession of cats on the garden walls or, with lesser enthusiasm, the gnat’s wedding; then we hear two choruses, the chorus of the male and female felines. More than at any other time, at Christmas I am glad that we do not wish each other a “merry” or “happy birthday” in 1941 or 1942, but in an era of peace. I am pleased that our lives can at least occasionally be reminiscent of variations on a theme of Rossini and that our album leaves do not feature such events as the atrocity of Lidice. Although parables with similar tragedies, literally Passions, can be found at any time, we do have the privilege of living in an era when we can worry about how to checkmate the King, not having to think of how to get hold of food. For us, the whole year is a pleasant rondo of working and leisure habits, but, before you know, now and then we experience an unpleasant melodrama (this year, for instance, many a complicated thing was entered in my sister’s album), yet we do not attend any funeral marches for the deceased of our regions, we are not under the thumb of the angel of death, with a chanson triste constantly buzzing in our ears. Romances prevail over ballads. We can securely recite ritornellos and compose ricercari and concertos grossos, revel in song and music in crotchets and quavers, at night read with ease for little Evas or Beatas the fairy-tale of Goldilocks or from Andersen’s fairy tales, sing a song of kisses, while an amorous youth can address without words his first love, Lucie, Hanička or Juliette, delivering, more than bis, Jašek’s or Alexander’s song, or Kiss me, my love kiss me, Enough of happiness, and in a more old-wordly vein, Every night in dreams I see you, and she (unless she is an abandoned sweetheart) can happily live her girl’s dreams and look forward to her darling, with the words Let the day break, oh God, and he can get ready to say Marry me, old woman, or romantically put in his album mood pictures of blue eyes, enter “you write to me”, “life is over for me”, “dead love”, “ah, let me know, keep talking to me” or “the soul is dying”. Adolescent students can amuse themselves with French and Spanish (old Spanish even) texts, laugh at nonsensical nursery rhymes (such as In the garden at the castle) and profane tunes (I love old parkas, instead of the correct parks), play commedie dell’arte and ticklish comedies at theatres on three maidens on a bright night, both in front of and behind the gate of censorship, or twist bouquets from fragments of horror stories about a haunted train on the bridge and the dreadful voice of the forest. Yet we only really come to appreciate all these achievements when we are old... Therefore, before taking off the slipper of 2014, I would like to wish you, my dear readers, that your new year be hearty, “pastel”, and for you to be constantly accompanied by the indispensable three riders – faith, hope and love – and that you have permanently on your lips tepid spring songs or other joyful lyric pieces.

May Bohuslav Martinů’s work live on!

Hrušovany u Brna, 31 December 2014

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