Fibich: Romance Scored, Sealed, & Delivered
A composer who enjoys writing letters can express himself twice. Such was the case with Czech composer Zdeněk Fibich (1850-1900), as a recent performance at The Atrium gorgeously demonstrated.
Fibich’s music, played by pianist Miroslav Sekera, violinist Markéta Janoušková, and sung by soprano Lucie Silkenová, combined with Fibich’s romantic correspondence read by actor Ondřej Kepka.
Their performance inspired a meditation on the similarities between musical score and letter — and how each medium provides different tools for the same gestures of expression.
Fibich’s featured correspondents included Eliška Krásnohorská, the Czech poet and librettist. But the bulk of the letters were addressed to Anežka Schulzová, Fibich’s student and lover.
The performance was above all passionate, in words and music. The intimacy of the texts felt appropriate for The Atrium, a reconstructed chapel, gallery, and performance space in the shadow of Žižkov Tower.
Fibich’s Famous Contemporaries
The composer’s letters in Czech also added historical interest to the rich musical programme provided by Fibich’s own compositions and those from some of his most remarkable contemporaries, including Smetana and Dvořák.
If Fibich is less known today than these contemporaries, this is due perhaps to politics more than music.
Born of a Viennese mother and a Czech father, Fibich felt ambivalent about the widening divide between Czech and German speakers in the late decades of the 19th century, when the Czech cultural revival was reaching its peak. The nurturing and proclamation of Czech culture was played out across all the arts, including in the poetry of Jan Neruda and the music of Smetana and his student Dvořák, securing these artists’ reputations as patriots and creators.
Fibich’s compositions were inspired more by Wagner than Czech peasant melodies, but his works include a Czech-influenced tone poem that supposedly helped inspire Smetana’s Má Vlast. The pieces performed at The Atrium included dreamily atmospheric shorter works for solo piano, and a sonatina for violin and piano.
The lushly melancholic Poem in verse for singer, violin, and piano was the climax of the afternoon, as the trio of Silkenová, Janoušková, and Sekera in such close acoustical quarters was beautifully bracing.
– Stephan Delbos, Opus Osm writer