OP0579. ABRAMO ED ISACCO (Myslivecek) (in Czech), recorded 1991, w.Ivan Parik Cond. Prague Sinfonietta; Vladimir Dolezal, Tatiana Korovina, Hye Jin Kim, Ivana Czakova, etc. (Czech Republic) 2-Supraphon 3209 2 232, w.Elaborate 42pp.Libretto-Brochure in Italian. Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 099925320928
“A few brush strokes have come to define the otherwise obscure 18th-century composer later known as 'Il Divino Boemo', or the Divine Bohemian: Josef Myslivecek. He was a close friend of Mozart and a musical influence on him. He was one of the most celebrated opera composers in Italy in the 1770s.
Myslivecek’s music has its own merits. It is sprightly, modestly inventive, melodically pleasing. Just as much, it provides a slice of context for the works of Mozart, a composer of truly divine spark whose friendship with Myslivecek is one of the more touching stories in classical music. ‘He was unquestionably one of the greatest models for the young Mozart in composition, and he had a close personal relationship with Mozart that was unique’, said Daniel E. Freeman, a lecturer in music at the University of Minnesota [who wrote the] biography of Myslivecek . ‘There is no other composer in his entire life’, Mr. Freeman said, for whom Mozart ‘expressed such affection’. The Mozart family mentioned Myslivecek about 40 times in correspondence, which is the source of most of the personal information about him. Yet he has been given short shrift, Mr. Freeman contends, because relatively few scholars read Czech and because of German and Austrian ‘snobbery’ toward Bohemian musical subjects. ‘Mozart scholarship simply buried him for these reasons’, Mr. Freeman wrote in an e-mail message. Myslivecek went to Venice to learn opera composing. It was where the big money and fame lay.
Sometime late in the 1770s things soured for Myslivecek. Two of his operas were failures, and his health declined. Some musicologists suggest that his popularity dipped because he clung to the somber, formulaic opera seria style, which was coming to seem old fashioned.
In 1770, while Myslivecek was in his prime, he took up lodging at an inn in Bologna to prepare an opera there. A 14-year-old musical prodigy and his father checked in during their travels around Italy. The boy was Mozart, and he and Myslivecek struck up a friendship, which was cemented that summer when Mozart returned to the city. The Mozarts and Myslivecek visited each other daily. Their paths crossed again in Verona in 1771. Mozart once used some of Myslivecek’s discarded music paper as a blotter while writing to his mother. Myslivecek supplied the Mozarts with contacts and even promised to secure an opera commission for Mozart in Naples. In return, Mr. Freeman said, Leopold Mozart felt obliged to procure Myslivecek commissions from the archbishop of Salzburg. When Myslivecek failed to deliver on the Naples commission, Leopold was stung. ‘It destroyed the friendship, and deservedly so’, Mr. Freeman said. ‘He actually bamboozled Leopold. He kept them strung along for months with this promise of a commission’. But the young Mozart remained a true friend. He showed his affection in a 1777 letter to his father, describing a visit to Myslivecek at a hospital in Munich after a doctor had done severe damage to Myslivecek’s nose in trying to remove disfiguring growths resulting from tertiary syphilis. Mozart’s father had urged him to stay away, probably because of the moral taint of the disease. ‘Was I to know that Myslivecek, so good a friend of mine, was in a town, even in a corner of the world where I was, and was I not to see him, to speak to him?’ Mozart wrote. ‘Impossible’. So he went, and they met in the hospital garden. ‘When he came up to me’, Mozart wrote, ‘I took him by his hand and he took mine, in friendship. Just look, he said, how unfortunate I am! His words and his appearance, which Papa knows already from earlier descriptions, touched me so deeply that I couldn’t say anything, except, half crying: ‘My dear friend, I feel for you with all my heart’. Mozart added, ‘If it were not for his face, he would be the same old Myslivecek, full of fire, spirit and life, a little thin, of course, but otherwise the same excellent cheerful fellow’. Mozart admired Myslivecek’s music as well as his spirit.
Extracting contemporary influences on Mozart has been a major subject of scholarship for more than a century, with varying degrees of significance placed on his assimilation of the music of others as he constantly traveled around Europe in the years before he settled in Vienna, in 1781. ‘Mozart was indeed a master imitator, capable of working in a large variety of styles’, Maynard Solomon writes in his biography MOZART: A LIFE. It was a skill Mozart was proud of. In Myslivecek, Mozart found a model of the Italianate style and its graceful melodies and elegant rhythms. He borrowed ideas from Myslivecek’s works for his first opera seria, MITRIDATE, and themes for early symphonies of his own. He arranged a Myslivecek aria, which became the popular ‘Ridente la calma’, and was for a time considered the composer of Myslivecek’s oratorio ABRAMO ED ISACCO.”
- Daniel J. Wakin, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 4 March, 2007