The Cantata of the Last Things of Man by Ladislav Vycpálek

Pavel Kordík

Thursday, November 23, 2023

The following guest post is by Pavel Kordík (Répertoire International de Littérature Musicale (RILM), National Library Prague):

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the establishment of its Music Department (1923–2023), the National Library of the Czech Republic exhibits a printed edition of an important work by its founder, composer Ladislav Vycpálek (1882–1969).

Ladislav Vycpálek: Cantata of the Last Things of Man for Soloist, Chorus and Orchestra to the Words of Two Moravian Folk Songs, Op. 16 (1920–1922)
First edition of the orchestral score: copyright 1926 Hudební Matice Praha (engraved and printed by Průmyslová tiskárna v Praze in January 1927) and the performing score of the Paris performance in 1930. National Library Prague, 59 A 8908

The genesis of the Cantata of the Last Things of Man almost coincides with the foundation of the Music Department. Until the first performance of the Cantata in December 1922, Ladislav Vycpálek was mainly known as a composer of choruses and chamber vocal pieces. Following a more than two-year break, on this occasion he presented himself to the audience as a mature master of monumental form. In 1925, the Cantata was performed as part of the International Festival of Contemporary Music (ISCM), held that year in Prague. Other performances followed in Mainz, Liverpool, Magdeburg, Ljubljana, Paris, London, Belgrade, and Rotterdam. The Cantata is still the best known among Vycpálek’s cantatas and forms the backbone, so to speak, of Czech cantata production along with the composer’s other works, such as Blessed is this Man (1933) and the Czech Requiem (1940).

According to the original plan, the Cantata’s Paris performance in February 1930 should have been given in French – however, the literal translation by Stanislav Hanuš that had been included in the introductory notes of previous editions, proved insufficient for this purpose. One needed a poetic translation brought into harmony with the musical composition. The first printed edition of the Cantata’s orchestral score offered Czech and German texts, similarly to the vocal score published as early as 1922. Vycpálek, who did not believe the work could have any success abroad, had to be persuaded to sanction a bilingual publication. The 1930 second edition of the vocal score included both Czech and English texts, but Miloš Šafránek, the Czech cultural attaché in Paris, managed to procure a French version. He successfully approached Daniel Muller, a French translator with whom he had collaborated on a similar project in 1928, when a translation was needed for the Paris premiere of Bedřich Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, given in celebration of the independent state of Czechs and Slovaks.

Letter from Daniel Muller to Ladislav Vycpálek (National Library Prague, 59 L 160)

The exemplar of the orchestral score’s first edition exhibited here (National Library Prague, 59 A 8909), is really unique. Not only is it the exemplar from which the French conductor Albert Wolff rehearsed Vycpálek’s Cantata and conducted both performances on 15 and 16 February 1930, but it is also the only one known to us that contains Muller’s French translation, written in the score probably in his own hand. Also on display are a letter written by Daniel Muller to Ladislav Vycpálek regarding the translation (National Library Prague, 59 L 160), and a transcript of Vycpálek’s autograph score, which Jaromír Herle used during the rehearsals for the Cantata’s first performance in Prague on 9 December 1922 (National Library Prague, 59 R 521).

Page 21 (fol. 11r) of the transcript of the autograph score (National Library Prague, R 521)

Link to the library’s exhibitions page.

Translated by Hana Vajnerová and Annini Tsioutis

Image (above): Ladislav Vycpálek, Cantata of the Last Things of Man, Title page of the first edition of the full score (National Library Prague, 59 A 8908)

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