Wednesday 5 June 2019. 11:30AM-12:30PM, Room 116.
Chair: Claudio Vellutini, University of British Columbia
“Wandering through the shadows”: Modernism, Late Romanticism, and Dvořák’s Rusalka in the Contemporary Czech Press
Eva Branda, Wilfrid Laurier University
Geoffrey Chew draws attention to the ways in which Antonín Dvořák’’s Rusalka (1900) interacts with modernism (Chew, 2003). Detecting “modernist” elements primarily in the libretto, Chew suggests that the opera’s fairy-tale plot might be interpreted as “an allegory of the dangerous modern world.” Writing a century earlier than Chew, critic Zdeněk Nejedlý presents a very different perspective on Rusalka, calling the work insufficiently Wagnerian and ultimately regressive. Using Chew’s analysis as a starting point, this paper investigates the critical reception of Rusalka after its Prague premiere in 1901 and offers a close reading of Nejedlý’s controversial review in particular. I argue that these early critiques of Rusalka point to divergent opinions on the nature and direction of Czech opera. Composed on the verge of a new century, Rusalka straddles the border between late romanticism and modernism, and my paper explores how this tension played out in a uniquely Czech context.
My research examines what I term Wagner’s “associative orchestration”—the use of orchestral colour in Gesamtkunstwerk. During archival research at the Richard Wagner Nationalarchiv and Forschungsstätte, I uncovered pencil marginalia in the sketches for Tristan not discussed by previous scholars. In these marginalia, Wagner notes his intentions for the orchestration, indicating specific groups of instruments for particular moments well before he drafts the complete orchestral score. My paper considers these moments and their corresponding leitmotifs, studying where Wagner retained these orchestral colours in his final scores, how they evolve as the leitmotifs are repeated over the course of the drama, and how they function expressively. This analysis is part of my larger study wherein I propose that Wagner's orchestration uses instruments not only mimetically or topically, but also associatively—building association with dramatic events or themes over the course of the drama as a part of his theory of Gesamtkunstwerk.