Mysliveček, Rediscovered (full article)

'Josef Mysliveček, Il Boemo' compares the Czech composer's music with his student's -- Mozart.


Book: Josef Mysliveček, ‘Il Boemo’
The Man and His Music

By Daniel E. Freeman

2009, Harmonie Park Press, Sterling Heights, Michigan, USA
In English; a Czech translation is currently in production.

You may have noticed works by Josef Mysliveček (1737-1781) gradually appearing in more repertoires both here in the Czech Republic and abroad. The importance of this old Czech composer’s modern “discovery” is clearly explained in this carefully researched and very interesting book by Dr Daniel Freeman.

Up to now, Mysliveček has largely been ignored. Baroque music has only recently regained a serious place in today’s concert halls; and recent music history has rather more often reserved the spotlight for Mysliveček’s contemporaries, Mozart, Haydn, JC Bach. Ironically, research even in the 20th century has sometimes given credit to Mozart for works actually written by Mysliveček.

book coverBut, as the author explains, new evidence further shows that it was from his friend and teacher Josef Mysliveček that Mozart learned some of his compositional techniques. Among Mysliveček’s signature contributions are more finely developed, creative variations in syncopation, adoption of a new sonata form, handing off the melody line back and forth among instruments, and writing phrases fitted precisely to Italian rhythms of speech.

Mysliveček, ‘The Bohemian’
The first part of Dr Freeman’s book details Mysliveček’s life in Prague as a miller’s son, who was expected to take over the family business. Josef and his twin Jáchym did prepare for this life, but it wasn’t enough for Josef. He studied music privately in Prague and eventually headed for Italy, earned an unsteady income as a freelance teacher and composer, and by age 30 earned his first commission for an opera in the 1767 carnival season in Naples. Another two dozen operas, nearly 50 symphonies, 30 overtures, concertos, and especially arias, recitatives, oratorios, and cantatas followed.

Coming Soon: Mysliveček Film, DVD, Symposium
A feature film, Il Boemo, will begin production next year, for release in 2016, producer Jan Macola of the Czech, Mimesis Film company tells Opus Osm. The script, adapted from Dr Freeman’s book, is by Petr Václav. Mimesis has also produced a DVD of Mysliveček’s Olimpiade,the State Opera’s recent performance at The Theatre of the Estates, set for release this October.In addition, the film company, with Mr Václav, has shot an accompanying documentary about the details of preparation and performance of an opera. It also serves as a “portrait of the composer,” Mr Macola says.

In March 2014 in Prague, Mimesis Film and the ensemble Collegium 1704 will sponsor a two-day symposium on Mysliveček.

The Italians and other music-business figures of the time had a difficult time with pronouncing Mysliveček’s name, but not with his reputation. In correspondence of the time, amply quoted in the book, letter writers typically referred to him such as “the famous Bohemian composer Wickelseck (or whatever his name is).” So they spelled it half-a-dozen different ways, and finally nicknamed him something they could pronounce: “Il Boemo” — the Bohemian.

It was Mysliveček’s other reputation – the social one – which got him into trouble with the Mozarts. Famously, “Il Boemo” suffered painfully from syphillis, eventually losing his nose; he told his impressionable and sympathetic young friend Wolfgang Amadeus that this was the result of a carriage accident.

Leopold, however, was not so sympathetic, especially when Mysliveček’s promise of an opera commission for the young composer never came through. Mysliveček ultimately turned out to be a seemingly-wealthy, charming socialite composer, who was in reality one step ahead of the bill collector and constantly cash-poor.

Mysliveček, Explained
But his financial situation did not deter him from his music. In the second part of Josef Mysliveček, ‘Il Boemo,’ the author analyzes several of Mysliveček’s compositions and includes excerpts from the musical scores to illustrate the examples. He also provides a chronological analysis and history of Mysliveček’s various types of compositions, from the operas to “musical morsels.”

The author also details Mysliveček’s musical influence on Mozart. Dr Freeman cites and reproduces several examples to suggest the specific works which show similarities between the two composers, always being careful not to repeat mistakes of past biographers who gave too much or too little credit to the Bohemian’s influence.

Where to Hear Mysliveček
Nearest Prague concerts
Oct 22:Trio La Musica, 7:30 pm, Church of Sts Simon & Jude;
Oct 29:Collegium 1704, 7:30 pm, The Rudolfinum

The analysis section should be most helpful for musicians; but even the general public with at least a basic ability to read music will find the book enlightening. Readers will also learn, among other things, why Mysliveček first headed to Italy, not Germany, to find a musical home; why the composer specialized in opera seria, and the “pecking order” of acceptable musical forms; and how his own development as a composer was both a signal of and an influence upon the change in direction that music would take.

The book concludes with back matter that should be an invaluable aid for students and researchers everywhere. It includes a catalog of Mysliveček’s instrumental as well as his vocal music; select bibliography, and detailed index. — oo

Mary Matz, editor of Opus Osm

About the Author
Dr Daniel E Freeman’s latest book is Mozart in Prague (2013); he is also the author of The Opera Theater of Count Franz Anton von Sporck in Prague (1992), and of published research on 18th-century music in Bohemia, keyboard music, and Baroque opera; and on Vivaldi, JS Bach, and Mozart. He lectures on music at the University of Minnesota and at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Where to Find the Book:The book should be available in Prague soon; in the meantime, it can be ordered. From the US: price approx USD 37.50 + shipping (ordered from publisher); from Amazon, France: approx €112; from Amazon, UK: approx ₤40.

Photo Credits: All images from 'Josef Mysliveček, Il Boemo'

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