General information
Title CZStín [auth.]
Subtitle CZbalet o jednom dějství
Title ENThe Shadow
Subtitle ENballet in one act
Title DEDer Schatten
Subtitle DEBallett in einem Aufzug
CategoryStage Works and Film Music
Halbreich number102
Solo voiceS (za scénou/behind the scene)
Place of compositionPolička
Year of origin1916
Initiation of composition1916
Completion of composition12/1916
First performance
Autograph deposition
InstitutionBohuslav Martinů Centre in Polička
Deposition locationPolička
OwnerBohuslav Martinů Centre in Polička
Note on the autograph depostitionSketches also deposited at the Bohuslav Martinů Centre in Polička.
CopyrightSchott Music
Purchase linkbuy
References Related correspondence
Documents in the Library
Note Libretto by Alois Kohout.
About the composition

The Shadow is one of four hitherto unknown ballets which Martinů wrote before Istar, H 130, the first of his ballets to be staged (in Prague, 1924). Two of them, Tance se závoji (Dances with Veils, H 93) and Koleda (Christmas Carol, H 112), dated 1914 and 1917 respectively, have long been considered lost. The ballet which survives alongside The Shadow is Noc (Night H 89) from 1914, an imposing score which employs a very large orchestra and an off-stage female chorus. The Shadow, by contrast, uses merely a chamber orchestra and an off-stage soprano. Harry Halbreich observed that ‘one would hardly suspect that these works were conceived by the same composer within the space of three years’. It is still harder to believe that they were meant to form part of a trilogy of one-act ballets, but such is the case. The third part was to be a dramatisation of the painting Villa by the Sea by the Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin. In the event, this impulse produced the orchestral Ballade, H 97, probably written in the year between Night and The Shadow.

The catalyst for this spurt of creativity was the Russian actress and dancer Olga Vladimirovna Gzovska, who first appeared as a solo artist at Prague's National Theatre in 1912. Martinů wrote to her, hoping to collaborate when she next came to Prague. His overtures were received favourably, judging from a short reply from Gzovska’s husband Vladimir Nelidov, asking Martinů to call at their hotel. However, in a letter to his friend and biographer Miloš Šafránek from 1958, Martinů stated that he never got to meet Gzovska but merely sent her a score. Indeed, the magazine Nové ilustrované listy reported in August 1914 that Gzovska had accepted Dances with Veils for performance, and although no such performance seems to have resulted, Martinů was sufficiently encouraged to press on and complete The Shadow by Christmas of 1916.

On 16 August 1919 Martinů wrote to the head of the National Theatre, Karel Kovařovic, to try to persuade him to mount a production of his ballet. Kovařovic did not reply until the end of October, but indicated that he was prepared to recommend the work. He further advised Martinů to be patient and explained that the final decision now rested with Otakar Ostrčil, recently appointed his successor. Martinů’s hopes were dashed before the end of the year. Ostrčil felt he could recommend neither Night nor The Shadow. His review of Night is perfunctory in the extreme, but for The Shadow he wrote at greater length, summarising the plot of the ballet and then giving his reasons for refusing the work.

Halbreich feels that it marks an important stage in the composer‘s development, especially in its use of the piano in a chamber setting.  This feature, of course, attracted the most scathing criticism from Ostrčil, but would be encountered again and again in Martinů’s work in the following decades. The Shadow surely has more than merely documentary value – for all its wanton impracticality and occasionally awkward orchestration, it contains a wealth of attractive ideas which have remained concealed for far too long.

Mike Crump, Martinů Revue, 2/2016

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