Speech melodies and “pinning down” the present in essays by Leoš Janáček and Milan Kundera


  • Professor PhD Leonard Dumitriu "George Enescu" National University of Arts Iași




Janáček, Kundera, essay, melody, speaking


I ask myself the question: can those who compose music be called interpreters? Not of their own work but of the sonorities they imagine while writing. When composers take over (note on staves or record with technical means) sonorities from the environment, which they then use in their works, are they or not interpreters, in the sense of translating what they hear? Should we only mention Vivaldi and Haydn or, closer to us, Messiaen and Stockhausen, composers of all times have used, translated, interpreted the sounds of nature in their works. That is what the Czech Leoš Janáček does also, only that, by registering ambiental sonorities, he has a further goal, unlike the others: pinning down the present time. This idea is revolutionary in music, so it has drawn many researchers’ attention. A privilege of music, interpretation wears in literature the coat of exegesis. A great contemporary thinker, Milan Kundera is the author of the essay Testaments betrayed, in which he compares literature with music, having as references, among other writers, Hemingway and Kafka, which he joins with the great composers Stravinsky and Janáček. Fascinated by his fellow citizen’s musical-ontological concept, he dedicates the fifth part of the study to him, entitled Á la recherche du présent perdu. The study presents the way in which Janáček pins down the past in an own essay, Smetanova dcera (Smetana’s daughter), where he uses his renowned nápěvky mluvy (speech melodies). The result is amazing: through the daughter’s voice, one seems to hear the father, the great Bedřich Smetana’s voice in a fragment of life resurrected after time has passed. Kundera asks questions and formulates answers, interpreting, translating Janáček’s concept. This work does not interpret, but brings to the knowledge of the interested musicians aspects which, although belonging to renowned Czech intellectuals, enrich and embellish the spirituality of the world.