Fragments from the Letters of Ivan Zajc


  • Lovro Županović



Though the biography of the Croat composer Ivan Zajc (1832-1914) is well known today, it is lacking in particulars of personal character. This is particularly true of the correspondence the composer addressed to others or of that sent by others to him. These interesting facts can be explained in two ways : most of the letters addressed to him are probably lost whereas those he wrote to others are likely to be found in museums throughout Europe or with private persons. The author of this article found during his sojourn in Prague in Pamatnik narodniho pisemnictvi three letters by Zajc which have been unknown until now. These letters are addressed to the eminent Czech politician and writer Josef Vaclav Frič (1829 do 1891) and refer to the same work, namely to his opera Nikola Šubić-Zrinjski and represent a whole. They reveal Zajc in a special light : not only as a man and a Slav patriot but also as a creator whose human and artistic pride is deeply offended. Though they are but a part of a comprehensive correspondence that never reached its address, they add in this way new accents to the biography of the composer. The first letter is an invitation to Frič, who lived as a refugee in Zagreb from 1871 to 1876, to attend the dress-rehearsal of the opera Nikola Šubić-Zrinjski. In contrast to the other two letters which are longer and written in very bad German (Zajc never learned to write and read Croat and German!) this letter is written in Croat. The second letter admits the presumption that Frič was pleased with the opera and having left Zagreb he made efforts regarding its performance in St. Petersburg where he was to spend another period of his life. However, the beginning of the letter admits the conjecture that Frič himself asked Zajc to send him the score of the opera with the text translated into Russian. In contrast to this letter the third one is written in almost illegible handwriting. Apparently Zajc has been greatly affected by both of Frie's letters. The third letter reveals Zajc as a man who, for politeness sake, restrains his manner, but who is, nevertheless, deeply grieved because his hope to have his opera performed in St. Petersburg and probably in Prague too was not fulfilled. Now the meaning of these letters is clear: they expressed the desire to rise above the narrow circumstances of the Zagreb of that time and show to the world the achievement of his creative power. But when his attempt failed and his hope faded his soul spoke with sincerity and agitation. Today the reader of this last letter is moved by the sad thought that an artist experienced the same dissapointment of his hopes at that time as may be experienced nowadays. This last letter of Zajc to Frič assumes the power of an exciting document and as such particular passages of it will surely find their place outside the pages of this publication.


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How to Cite

Županović, L. (1967). Fragments from the Letters of Ivan Zajc. Musicological Annual, 3(1), 63–67.