Leoš Janáček: The Cunning Little Vixen

  • Opera in 3 acts (1924)
  • revised version by Jirí Zahrádka
  • 4 3 3 3 - 4 3 3 1 - timp, perc(2), hp, cel, str
  • Duration: 110’
  • Instrumentation details:
    1st flute
    2nd flute
    3rd flute (+2nd picc)
    4th flute (+1st picc)
    1st oboe
    2nd oboe
    cor anglais
    1st clarinet in Bb
    2nd clarinet in Bb
    bass clarinet in Bb
    1st bassoon
    2nd bassoon
    3rd bassoon (+cbsn)
    1st horn in F
    2nd horn in F
    3rd horn in F
    4th horn in F
    1st trumpet in F (+tpt(C))
    2nd trumpet in F (+tpt(C))
    3rd trumpet in F (+tpt(C))
    1st trombone
    2nd trombone
    3rd trombone
    violin I
    violin II
  • Choir: Hennen, Waldgetier, Frauenchor (SA) Stimmen des Waldes, gemischer Chor (SAATTBB) Fuchskinder, (Kinder)chor Blaue Libelle, Fliegen, Füchslein Schlau
  • Roles: Gamekeeper, baritone Gamekeeper's wife, alto Schoolmaster, tenor Parson, bass Harašta, a poultry dealer, bass Pásek, an innkeeper, chorus tenor Mrs Pásek, his wife, chorus soprano Pepík, the Gamekeeper's grandson, chorus soprano Frantík, his friend, chorus soprano Young Vixen Bystouška, child soprano Vixen Bystouška, soprano Fox, soprano Cricket, Grasshopper, Young Frog, children's voices (soprano) Mosquito, tenor Lapák, dog, mezzo-soprano Cock, soprano Chocholka, a hen, soprano Badger, bass Woodpecker, alto Owl, alto Jay, soprano Squirrels, Hedgehog, a Young Vixen, Forest Creatures
  • Composer: Leoš Janáček
  • Librettist: Leoš Janáček
  • Writer of pre-existing text: Rudolf Tesnohlidek
  • Interpretatory hints: Sir Charles Mackerras
  • Piano reduction: Bretislav Bakala
  • Editor: Jiří Zahrádka
  • Original language: Czech
  • Translator: Max BrodNorman Tucker
  • Table of contents:
    Uvod / Vorwort / Preface
    Jednàni I / Akt I / Act I
    Promena / Verwandlung / Scene change
    Jednàni II / Akt II / Act II
    Promena / Verwandlung / Scene change
    Promena / Verwandlung / Scene change
    Promena / Verwandlung / Scene change
    Jednàni II / Akt II / Act II
    Promena / Verwandlung / Scene change
    Promena / Verwandlung / Scene change

Work introduction

This edition of Das schlaue Füchslein (The Cunning Little Vixen) has been made by comparing all the relevant surviving sources and establishing a version of the work that comes nearest to the composer’s intention.

The new edition, which was edited by Ji?í Zahrádka, is thus based above all on of the version given at the premiere in Brno in 1924, including František Neumann’s (the conductor) fully elaborated, detailed dynamics. In cases where several minor changes in the Prague version appear to be justified, they were considered in the new edition. The New Critical Edition of the opera includes the full score, the complete orchestra material, as well as the piano vocal score and choir score. 

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.

Sample pages

World première

Nationaltheater, Brno (CZ)
Orchester des Nationaltheaters Brünn
Tomáš Hanus

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