The Jacobin (Jakobín), Op. 84, B159, B200
Burghauser catalogue number
Date of composition
original version: 10 November 1887 - 18 November 1888
revised version: 17 February - 7 December 1897
Premiere - date and place
original version:12 February 1889, Prague
revised version: 19 June 1898, Prague
original version: Karel Cech - count Vilem, Bohumil Benoni - Bohus, Vaclav Viktorin - Adolf, Berta Foerstrova - Lautererova - Julie, Karel Vesely - Jiri, Adolf Krossing - Benda, Vilem Hes - burgrave, Hana Cavallarova - Terinka, Emma Maislerova - Lotinka, National Theatre Orchestra and Choir, conductor Adolf Cech, director: Josef Smaha
revised version: Vaclav Kliment - count Vilem, Frantisek Sir - Bohus, Vaclav Viktorin - Adolf, Robert Polak - burgrave, Karel Vesely - Jiri, Adolf Krossing - Benda, Julie Koldovska - Julie, Hana Cavallarova - Terinka, Ruzena Vykoukalova - Lotinka, National Theatre Orchestra and Choir, conductor Adolf Cech, director: Josef Smaha
Státní hudební vydavatelství, 1966, Prague
Author of the libretto
3 piccolos, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 1 English horn, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, 1 tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, harp, organ, violins, violas, cellos, double basses + small orchestra behind the stage (2 piccolos, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, strings) + mixed choir + children's choir + soloists
Parts / movements
1st act: Market Square in a Small Country Town
2nd act: Hall in Schoolmaster Benda's House
3rd act: Vaulted Hall at the Castle
Count Vilem of Harasov - bass
Bohus of Harasov, his son - baritone
Adolf of Harasov, his nephew - baritone
Julie, Bohus's wife - soprano
Filip, the Count's burgrave - bass
Jiri, a young game-keeper - tenor
Benda, the schoolmaster and choirmaster - tenor
Terinka, his daughter - soprano
Lotinka, keeper of the keys at the chateau - contralto
town-people, youths, girls, children, servants, musketeers, country folk
approx 2 hr. 35 min.
Only in a very few cases has an extended period of time elapsed between Dvorak’s initial decision to write a given work, and the date he actually embarked upon the score. In the case of The Jacobin, this was an interval of six years. Dvorak was encouraged to start a new comic opera after the success of the premiere of his earlier one-act opera The Stubborn Lovers which, after seven years of delays, was finally held at the New Czech Theatre on 2 October 1881. The composer initially requested a libretto for his new opera from the author of the text for The Stubborn Lovers, Josef Stolba, however, the latter was not satisfied with the low fees he was receiving and lost interest in writing librettos. Dvorak then turned with the same request to Marie Cervinkova-Riegrova, with whom he had already collaborated on the opera Dimitrij. Cervinkova was not sure whether she was a suitable choice for a comic libretto but she nevertheless decided to comply with the composer’s wishes. Dvorak’s work on the musical setting of the libretto was continually postponed, for several reasons:
→ The genesis of the libretto was protracted and complicated (see below).
→ There was little time for discussions concerning the new opera due to preparations for the premiere of Dvorak’s and Cervinkova’s previous joint endeavour – Dimitrij.
→ Dvorak had a series of time-consuming commitments abroad.
→ Dvorak was undecided about using a libretto with a Czech theme (see below).
Cervinkova finished writing Act One of the libretto in May 1882 and read it out to Dvorak. The composer was pleased with both the theme and the treatment, so the librettist resumed her work. The two didn’t meet up again until the latter half of October. However, on this occasion, Cervinkova became disenchanted. After a series of unsuccessful attempts to bring Dimitrij to audiences outside the country, Dvorak was now uncertain whether to write a new opera with a purely Czech theme, fearing further disappointment abroad. Despite this, Cervinkova finished the text and, in the spring of 1883, under a new title, Mother’s Song, she entered it for a competition announced by the National Theatre Founding Committee (the libretto received an honourable mention; no first prize was awarded). In June 1883 it did seem that Dvorak would, in fact, begin writing his musical setting of the libretto. In a letter to Cervinkova he writes: “I have read through the libretto very carefully and I must confess that I have become good friends with the text. I like it very much.” However, further delays were to follow, caused on the one hand by Dvorak’s commitments abroad, but also again the result of his indecision. This was a period when Dvorak’s music was becoming established on the international concert scene and the composer was unsure whether the choice of a specifically local theme was the best step for the next stage in his musical career. He was also considering consulting influential Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick about the libretto, but it is not known whether he actually did. The fate of the opera The Jacobin was evidently finally decided in a letter Cervinkova sent to Dvorak, dated 1 August 1887: “I wrote this libretto at your request. You approved both the scenario and the libretto, on many occasions you expressed your delight at my work, and you intended to set it to music. But then you changed your mind and said, in particular, that the music critics are trying to discourage you. I think that, in this matter, what is important is what you, yourself, like. If you do not have a true inclination to embark upon ‘The Jacobin’, the desire that is necessary for the success of a musical work such as this, I ask that you do not feel ill at ease about this and that you return the libretto to me forthwith.” Cervinkova’s resolute standpoint clearly made an impact on Dvorak and, without further delay – six years after his initial intention to write the opera – he finally began work in the autumn of 1887.
The genesis of the libretto for The Jacobin was lengthy and complex. Cervinkova progressively produced several versions of a scenario before working towards a definitive version, on which she based the libretto itself. Initially, the main reason for constantly re-shaping the text was her own dissatisfaction with the story and her attempts to avoid the usual operatic cliches; later on, Dvorak himself requested a series of changes to the text. The primary source of inspiration for the story was an article by Vaclav V. Zeleny in Osveta magazine, in which the author discussed the situation in contemporary Czech opera. Among other things, he wrote: “Cannot an entire opera, one that is immensely enjoyable and truly national, be created with the help of a well developed type of Czech schoolmaster, perhaps from the eighteenth century?” The second impulse – although the librettist never mentions this anywhere – might have been Alois Jirasek’s novel At the Ducal Court, which involves similar plot elements and character types (the conflict between the castle and the commoners down in the village, the important role played by music, the arrogant aristocrat, the village schoolmaster etc.).
The first version of the script bore the title “The Welcome” and probably differed considerably from the final version (e.g. for the time being it made no mention of Bohus’s alleged Jacobin sympathies). The names of certain characters were also different: Cermak (later Benda), Vratislav (later Bohus), and the clerk Hurka (later burgrave Filip). A number of attributes as portrayed here, however, were also incorporated into the final version (the schoolmaster’s love of music, for example). Cervinkova most often referred to the second version of the script as “The arrival of the gentry” while, in her sketches, other titles appear, such as “The arrival of the lords of the manor” or “The lord’s secretary”. The number of characters appearing in the story remained the same, but the librettist developed their character in more depth, she modified the dramaturgy of certain scenes, and added a key scene which also featured in the final version, Jiri’s derisory song in Act One. The third version of the libretto was now very similar to the definitive version, particularly with the rejection of the son by the old count, and his intention to leave the estate to his nephew Adolf. Act Three underwent an important transformation, where Cervinkova removed scenes which appeared too farcical, and replaced them with scenes featuring the abandoned count. She then added an important scene in which Julie sings a lullaby. The librettist also changed the title again, mainly using the heading “Transformation of the lords of the manor”, but also “The new lords of the manor” and “The arrival of the lords of the manor”. The final shape of the story was greatly influenced by the playwright Frantisek Venceslav Jerabek, to whom Cervinkova gave the script for appraisal. Apart from other changes, Jerabek’s main contribution was the idea to transfer the plot from the mid-18th century to the time of the French Revolution and to incorporate the motif of Jacobinism, of which Bohus is wrongly accused. With this new angle to the storyline, the work acquired its definitive title. Cervinkova made further revisions to the libretto in the summer of 1894 when, five years after the premiere, Dvorak decided to rework the opera. His alterations chiefly concerned Act Three: this is where he placed the dialogue between the schoolmaster and the count which originally featured in Act One; he also left out the allegorical choral scene and simplified the complex weave of intrigue.
The genesis of the libretto was also influenced considerably by the librettist’s father, a major politician of his day, Frantisek Ladislav Rieger. Beginning with the second version of the libretto, Cervinkova consulted him on a number of details and on the overall conception, and some of Rieger’s suggestions and comments on specific issues were taken into account. This is particularly true of the conflict of opinion between Bohus and Adolf, which was taken from a personal level to an ideological plane (Adolf as a defender of the old feudal order versus Bohus as a representative of Enlightenment ideals). Rieger was also responsible for the last textual revision of the work: when Dvorak was making corrections to the opera in 1897, Cervinkova was no longer living (she died prematurely in 1895 at the age of forty-one), and so the text for Terinka’s aria “In autumn’s hazel grove” was written for Dvorak by Rieger.
characteristics of the libretto
The story represents a well-balanced combination of lyrical, comic, serious and dramatic elements, with an underlying motif of patriotism threading its way through (but without a sense of vehemence). The tale conjures up the atmosphere of an idealised small Czech town during the time of the French Revolution, with a whole variety of typical Czech characters. The libretto would certainly also have appealed to the composer for the fact that a number of plot details surprisingly corresponded with circumstances in Dvorak’s youth. The environment in which the story is set finds parallels with the surroundings of Zlonice, where the composer spent part of his adolescence. The schoolmaster and musician Benda might be seen as a counterpart to Antonin Liehmann in Zlonice, who initiated the young Dvorak into the rudiments of music theory. Just like Benda in the opera, Liehmann also had a daughter named Terinka, with whom Dvorak (Jiri in the opera) sang in the choir during Mass. Earlier literature on Dvorak considers the possibility that Cervinkova may have introduced these parallels deliberately, yet we have no documentation to indicate this.
One of the chief characteristics of the libretto is the motif of music as a dramatic factor in itself. Music figures in The Jacobin on various levels: patriotic, religious, social, psychological and so on, thus it becomes not only one of the most distinctive ideological elements of the opera but, on many occasions, also the driving force of the plot. Right at the beginning in the introductory scene we hear a Marian song from the church on the square as Bohus and Julie arrive after their extended period abroad. Their return to their native country is thus closely connected in the libretto with an expression of typically Czech musicality, as Bohus observes in his first response: “Do you hear that? Czechs singing! Ah, that beautiful sound! Let it come to me! How sweet is your beguiling sound! This is our homeland come to welcome us!” Thus, in the very first scene, the audience is aware of a close association between the notions of (Czech) homeland and (Czech) music, which is reasserted in Act Two in the duet “We have roamed foreign lands”. Bohus and Julie here express their love for their country and for Czech music; these two concepts then blend into one:
BENDA: “Do you know what art is? The soaring imagery in music, and in song – do you know this?”
JULIE: “We are from the Czech Lands – and you ask if we know how to sing?”
BOHUS: “For so many years we have roamed foreign lands, we wept tears of longing for home, yearning burned in our hearts [...] from the depths of our souls we hummed a Czech song softly to ourselves, and the gloom disappeared from our souls, an oppressive weight was lifted from our hearts.”
The opera also examines the music phenomenon on a personal level: Bohus remembers a lullaby his mother sang to him as a child: “My little son, my flower, my joy, my world, my heaven!” This melody then plays a decisive role in Act Three when Julie sings it from her hiding place in order to evoke in the count memories of his deceased wife; her intention is to soften his heart and urge him to forgive his son. Another example is the derisory tune which Jiri composes himself and directs at his rival in love, the burgrave Filip (“You know this man!”). In this scene the music is, in fact, a means for rebellion, or perhaps a last refuge from the tyranny of the establishment. And music also plays a “main role” in one of the most charming and most appealing scenes in the history of Czech opera, namely the classroom scene, where schoolmaster Benda rehearses a cantata with the children which he has written himself in honour of the new gentry.
composition of the musical setting
Dvorak worked on the original version of The Jacobin for approximately one year, from 10 November 1887 to 18 November 1888. The premiere, held at the National Theatre on 12 February 1889, generated a fair amount of criticism, where the work was justifiably slated for its lack of narrative logic, and also for certain musical flaws. Dvorak himself was dissatisfied with the work as it stood, thus, in 1894, he asked the National Theatre management to halt the production temporarily (the theatre had already hosted 34 repeat performances of The Jacobin), and he decided to rework the opera. He proposed changes to Cervinkova, the librettist agreed to them and revised the libretto accordingly. Nevertheless, due to other commitments, it was only three years later that Dvorak embarked upon a new musical setting. He worked on it from February to December 1897. Apart from the passages of music which had to be written for the new text (a major part of Act Three and Terinka’s aria “In autumn’s hazel grove” from Act Two), Dvorak also rewrote certain other scenes (in particular, the duet “We have roamed foreign lands”). The entire work was greatly enhanced by these revisions and it soon became a permanent part of the Czech operatic repertoire.
characteristics of the musical setting
The Jacobin is one of the most cheerful and most idyllic operas in the Czech repertoire. It was largely written during a point in time sometimes referred to as the composer’s “second Slavic period”, given that the music returns to the roots of Slavonic folk music, and also manifests a certain inner equilibrium and positive expression. Even by Dvorak’s standards, the melodies in The Jacobin are unusually vibrant and eloquent, reflecting at the same time a whole range of moods, from shades of profound melancholy to joyful revelry. The ubiquitous music motif, the patriotic subtext of the libretto, and the associations of his own childhood were impulses which led Dvorak to turn out one of his most original works, creating an ideal blend of humour and fervour. Each character is portrayed in detail and with precision, each has his own particular qualities. This is most apparent in the character of Benda, the schoolmaster and musician. The way in which Dvorak conceived this exceptionally human individual is, from both a musical and psychological point of view, one of the composer’s true inspirations. The final version of the opera is practically free of recitatives, thus each act represents an almost uninterrupted flow of melody, from the first to the last scene.
The composition of both versions of the opera was separated by Dvorak’s two-and-a-half year sojourn in the United States. Apart from the direct influence this would have had on his work, given his new environment and the impulses it brought him, he would also have been influenced indirectly. After his experience of being far from home all this time, Dvorak would have been well able to understand his characters Bohus and Julie who, after many years spent abroad, were finally returning to their homeland: thus, one of the changes he made to the score of the new version of The Jacobin was the entirely new, highly convincing setting of the duet “We have roamed foreign lands”. It might also be of interest to note that the score of The Jacobin contains several musical witticisms – for example, the scene in which the burgrave boasts that he will be singing at the celebrations instead of Jiri, whom he intends to dispatch to the army. The schoolmaster tries to explain to the burgrave that this isn’t possible, since Jiri is a tenor, whereas the burgrave is a bass. Dvorak then has the burgrave replying “I’ll sing tenor then!” in the lowest possible register. A similar passage occurs at the beginning of Act Two, where Benda congratulates himself on his fine composition of the music for the celebrations. Dvorak set his words “I must confess, that serenade is particularly fine, Mozart would have been proud!” to a Mozartian melody.
premiere and subsequent performances
The premiere in Prague’s National Theatre in February 1889 was a triumph. In the remaining four months until the end of the season, The Jacobin was performed fourteen times, and the number of repeat performances in subsequent years far exceeded that of the composer’s previous stage works. The Jacobin established itself in Czech theatres immediately and permanently – Prague’s National Theatre, for example, performed the work more than a thousand times up until the year 2011. Unlike Dvorak’s previous operas, the work enjoyed a series of productions abroad (all took place after the composer’s death) – Ljubljana, Zagreb, Barcelona, Mannheim, Berlin, Dresden, Essen, Weimar, London, Wexford, Edinburgh and Washington. Czechoslovak Television recorded a production of an abridged version of the opera in 1974.
the story is set in a small Czech town in the year 1793.
Count Vilem of Harasov disowned his own son Bohus for the latter’s excessive liberalism and turned all his attention towards his nephew Adolf. In response, Bohus abandoned the family home and left for Paris. Since then, he has been known in the family as the Jacobin. Today he returns home incognito with his wife Julie when the town is celebrating a feast day; together they make their way to the castle where he was born, long since uninhabited after the departure of the old count. Bohus and Julie observe the locals on the main square: young people coming out of the church, and the schoolmaster Benda with his daughter Terinka who is being courted by the conceited burgrave Filip. Terinka, however, only has eyes for the young gamekeeper Jiri. Jealous of the burgrave’s attentions, Jiri directs a derisory song at Filip, who now thinks only of revenge. Meanwhile, Bohus and Julie are presumed to be foreigners and arouse suspicion. At that moment the old count arrives in the square with his nephew Adolf, whom he declares as his heir.
In the classroom, schoolmaster Benda is rehearsing a ceremonial cantata with the children in honour of the new lord of the castle. Bohus and Julie seek refuge at Benda’s house. Filip the burgrave arrives to court Terinka and threatens to force his rival Jiri into the army. Then Adolf suddenly appears, who promises the burgrave a noble title if he catches the suspicious foreigners. Bohus reveals who he is in order to prevent further intrigues on the part of Adolf, but he is arrested and led away to the castle prison.
Benda and Julie go to the castle to see the old count. While Julie hides, Benda tries to convince the count to forgive his son. The count won’t listen to his pleas, so Julie decides to take action herself and, from her hiding place, sings an old lullaby which the countess used to sing to her son. The count is overcome with emotion and agrees to hear Julie out. She manages to exonerate Bohus in the eyes of the count, and proves that it was Adolf’s scheming which alienated them both. The count has Bohus ceremonially released from prison, he makes his peace with both his son and Julie, and also gives Terinka and Jiri his blessing.