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Leoš Janáček: The Adventures of Vixen Sharp Ears; The Cunning Little Vixen

(Arranger: Jonathan Dove)

  • Opera in 3 acts (1922-1923)
  • reduced version
  • 1 1 1 1 - 2 1 1 0 - perc, hp, acc, str.quin
  • Duration: 110’
  • Instrumentation details:
    flute (+picc)
    oboe (+cor anglais)
    clarinet in Bb (+bass cl(Bb))
    bassoon (+cbsn)
    1st horn in F
    2nd horn in F
    trumpet in Bb
    accordion (+cel
    1st violin
    2nd violin
    viola (+vln)
  • Choir: gemischter Chor - SATB Kinderchor - SA
  • Roles: Forester, baritone Forester's wife, alto Schoolmaster, tenor Parson (Badger), bass Haraschta (vagabond), bass Vixen, soprano Fox, soprano The young vixen, children's soprano a couple of smaller parts (ballet)
  • Composer: Leoš Janáček
  • Librettist: Leoš Janáček
  • Arranger: Jonathan Dove
  • Text author: Rudolf Tesnohlidek
  • Original language: Czech
  • Translator: Norman Tucker

Work introduction

The tale of the free-thinking and crafty vixen Bystrouška goes back to the 1890s. In the beginning were the tiny sketches of the painter and forester Stanislav Lolek (1873–1936), a distinguished landscape artist. The story of Bystrouška was serialized in Lidové noviny from 7 April to 23 June 1920 and had a huge success. The merry and immediately accessible drawings with a witty and topical text found a readership throughout the entire social spectrum. It is certainly true that Janá?ek began considering composing an opera on this theme since he acquired cuttings of all the episodes in Lidové noviny. And in fact, as soon as Janá?ek completed the work on Katja Kabanowa he immediately started on Das schlaue Füchslein. The dates on the autograph show that he began composition as early as January 1922. The author of the literary model T?snohlídek got the news only indirectly that Janá?ek wanted to compose an opera on his text. The composer himself invited him to come and see him at the time when he was already working on the opera.

Meanwhile Janá?ek composed, and started out on his study of nature to a whole series of bird notations – of thrushes, sparrows, finches and blackbirds. He wrote down notations for doves, a little toad, and a frog with the instrumental comment ‘like a xylophone’. He also noticed animals and took down in his notebook his impressions of walks in the game reserve, where the forester even tracked down a vixen’s den with young so that the composer could observe and study them. No wonder that several of Janá?ek’s newspaper reviews in Lidové noviny in the years 1921– 1922 had animal motifs.

Meanwhile frantic negotiations broke out over who would publish the composer’s latest work. As in the case of Jen?fa, Die Ausflüge des Herrn Brou?ek and Katja Kabanowa, interest was shown essentially by two publishers: Hudební matice in Prague and Universal Edition in Vienna. The first to approach the composer was Hudební matice, but, as before, Janá?ek used this offer rather as a tactic to firm up his dealings with Universal Edition. The contract with Universal Edition was signed between March and April 1924.

The celebrated world premiere of the opera P?íhody lišky Bystroušky (Die Abenteuer des Füchsleins Schlaukopf) took place in the Brno theatre Na Hradbách on 6 November 1924. The reception was tremendous and the composer himself was happy with the staging by Ota Zítek and the set design by Eduard Milén (who also designed the cover of the piano vocal score).

The composer himself characterized the opera as a forest idyll, one that would awaken the notion of the unity of life – both human and animal.

The complete perusal score (PDF-preview)

World première

Birmingham (GB)
Simon Halsey

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