Why did Act 1 of From the House of the Dead end with the Skuratov theme?

Author: Tyrrell, John
Source document: Musicologica Brunensia. 2013, vol. 48, iss. 1, pp. [105]-114
Extent
[105]-114
  • ISSN
    1212-0391 (print)
    2336-436X (online)
Type: Article
Language
English
License: Not specified license
Abstract(s)
Skuratov is an important character in Janáček's final opera, one of the few who have something to do in each act. What is very odd is that at the end of the act when Luka ends his horrifying story with the words "Myslím, že umírám", the Skuratov theme is heard again. The Elderly Prisoner asks a naive question "A umřels?" and against Luka's "Hlupáku!" (the last words of Act 1), the Skuratov theme starts up and is heard in different variations in an extended orchestral epilogue to the act. There appears to be no reason for this. It is a theme that has been associated only with Skuratov and commentators have found this puzzling. In order to try and solve this puzzle this paper examines the evolution of this and the other main theme (the so-called "Motto" theme) of Act 1 during Janáček's sketching of the opera (both came very late in the compositions process). It may be that Janáček wrote used Skuratov music to introduce "a umřels?" rather as if he associated the Skuratov music with a simple-minded character – in this case the Elderly Prisoner rather than Skuratov. And then he brought the act to an end with this music. Alternatively it seems significant that the Skuratov theme was added at a stage of work where Janáček was concerned above all with thematic unity – a stage, for instance, when he added adding all the extra recurrences of the motto theme. But he abandoned a version ending logically with the motto theme and added a fresh ending based on the other main theme of the act. Although initially puzzling it does, musically and dramatically, provide a balanced and satisfying conclusion to the this act.
Document
References:
[1] JANÁČEK, Leoš. From the House of the Dead. Piano-vocal score, Vienna: Universal Edition, 1930.

[2] JANÁČEK, Leoš. From the House of the Dead. Versions: fair copy of the opera (BmJA, A 11.489); Versions I and II (BmJA, A 33.746); Version III (BmJA, A 7446).