Josef Mysliveček, "Il Boemo": The Man and His Music by Daniel E. Freeman
Of all the prominent musicians born in Bohemia in the eighteenth century, none is surrounded with as much mystery and mystique as Josef Myslivecek (1737–1781), known as “Il Boemo” (“The Bohemian”) in Italy among music lovers unable to grapple with his unpronounceable Czech name. Scion of a wealthy family of millers from Prague (and himself a master miller), he acquired training as a composer only in his twenties; nonetheless he quickly became one of the most talented composers active in late eighteenth-century Europe. Despite a composing career of only eighteen years, Myslivecek produced a large and diverse body of work: twenty-seven operas, eight oratorios, many shorter vocal compositions, about fifty symphonies, twenty-nine overtures, sixteen concertos, and one hundred thirty-four instrumental chamber works. Prodigious, successful, and resourceful, he lived most of his adult life as an itinerant composer in Italy, uninterested in employment at any aristocratic or ecclesiastical musical establishment. A friend of both Wolfgang and Leopold Mozart for eight years between 1770 and 1778, his dynamic personality (“full of fire, spirit, and life” according to Wolfgang) is vividly brought to life in the Mozart correspondence—and not only the praiseworthy aspects, but also the air of scandal that often followed him.
Complete and accurate information about Myslivecek’s biography and works has remained elusive for many years. The present study narrates his life in light of all available biographical documentation, offers analytical discussions of all the genres in which he composed, and for the first time presents catalogs of all his music fully detailing its sources, editions, and recordings.
During much of the last century Myslivecek’s contributions to music literature were largely forgotten outside the Czech lands, in part, it is argued, because of national biases. In this book Myslivecek’s particular style of composition is approached more systematically, and his participation in the creation of what is now recognized as an era of “high classicism” in European art music evaluated more comprehensively than in any previous study. There is also a critical re-appraisal of Myslivecek’s relationship with the Mozart family and of his place in Wolfgang’s musical development. Some twenty-eight letters in the surviving Mozart family correspondence mention Myslivecek, and for no other composer did Wolfgang express such a degree of affection. Indeed, the full implications of their strong personal rapport invite revision of older assumptions about their standing with each other: through scrutiny of specific works by both composers, the author makes the case that Myslivecek was a distinctive compositional model for the young Mozart.
About the Author
Daniel E. Freeman gives lectures on music at the University of Minnesota and at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where he is a regular Resident Associate. He is the author of The Opera Theater of Count Franz Anton von Sporck in Prague (Pendragon Press, 1992) and of many articles about music and culture in the eighteenth century.
DMM/SM 54 / 443p / 0-89990-148-4 / Paperback / 2009 / $37.50
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Josef Mysliveček (1737–1781)…is one of the most vital and compelling characters in the history of eighteenth century music but one who has been largely ignored by the international scholarly community. Daniel Freeman’s excellent book goes a long way toward rectifying this.
Freeman’s book presents important new research on the composer but also allows the non-Czech reader to gain a better appreciation of the body of older research that lies behind the study by drawing on material not previously published in English or German.
This is the most up-to-date and complete study of the life and works of Mysliveček and for that reason it would have been desirable to include incipits for each of the works… In spite of this minor cavil, the catalogue is excellent and it is pleasing to see the inclusion of modern editions and recordings.”
Fontis Artis Musicae
“Daniel Freeman’s welcome new monograph is the most exhaustive, important and thorough work on the composer published to date…. The details of Mysliveček’s career are greatly enhanced in Freeman’s book by the inclusion of a substantial amount of written correspondence, revealing fascinating details about the composer, and exploring the exciting opera scene in Italy in the second half of the eighteenth century.... The latter part of the book consists of a complete catalogue of Mysliveček’s music, though (no doubt for reasons of space) thematic incipits are not given…. One has to nit-pick in order to mention any shortcomings of note….
The ample space given to analysis is also to be welcomed, highlighting Mysliveček’s influential role in the development of the late eighteenth-century style…. Beyond the music itself, the greatest attraction for many readers is likely to be in the relationship between Mysliveček and Mozart…. Freeman devotes the entirety of chapter 11 to unpacking aspects of their personal and musical relationships. Through these analyses it becomes quite clear that the young Mozart was indebted to his older Czech friend in aspects of orchestration and form, among other areas, as well as for a certain melodic and rhythmic freshness….
Freeman has produced an outstanding work of scholarship that should go some distance towards restoring Mysliveček’s reputation as an excellent opera composer, a pioneering (and fine) symphonist and a gifted composer of concertos and chamber music. I enthusiastically recommend this book to anyone interested in the music of the second half of the eighteenth century. For anyone teaching a course that deals in any detail with opera seria during this period, or with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, it should be on the essential reading list.
Robert Rawson, Eighteenth-Century Music
“Daniel E. Freeman provides a crucial resource towards increasing the visibility of an important opera composer…[Despite] a scarcity of primary source information, … the author has assembled a coherent and plausible explanation of Mysliveček’s life and works in an entirely readable fashion… In the extended section on Mysliveček and Mozart’s relationship, Freeman makes a compelling case for the former’s direct influence on the compositions of the latter, especially in the wake of Mozart’s 1770–73 Italian travels. He provides a surprising number of convincing thematic borrowings…The book’s second half is a complete catalog of Mysliveček’s oeuvre… Included throughout…are notes on factual discrepancies, library holdings, and discography. The documentary appendices include all of Freeman’s major primary sources in both their original language and translation. Very little that has been written on Mysliveček prior to Freeman’s book can be trusted without cross-referencing this text. Having consolidated and advanced our knowledge of this composer significantly, and having unearthed even more questions relating to his music, Freeman’s work simultaneously challenges the field of musicology to fill in the all-too-apparent holes in our knowledge of the non-canonic contemporaries of C. P. E. Bach, Haydn, and Mozart.”