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This article is taken from PN Review 233, Volume 43 Number 3, January - February 2017.

‘All That Needs to Be and Nothing Else’: An Appreciation of Michael Hersch Marius Kociejowski
THE OTHER NIGHT I went to a performance of Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa. I wonder if ever there was an opera that so brutally wrenches one from hell to purgatory and onward to uncertain paradise. Dostoevsky could have written the libretto, Sophocles might have staged it, Janáček most definitely composed it. I defy anyone not to be emotionally drained by the ride. One of its great ironies is that the music is never more sublime than at the moment of greatest horror. There is, finally, a species of happiness to be had, though it will have to be shared with snoopy neighbours who are a kind of hell in themselves. As with Greek tragedy, the darkest and the most hopeless in all literature, the opera does not leave one feeling depressed: Janáček takes his music not only through but above human suffering. My heart in a sling, my brain elsewhere, I left the opera house without my glasses. I rushed back and was told they’d been found and that I could collect them at the stage door. I got there just in time to see Jenůfa herself leave, so ordinary, so smashing, in her regular street clothes. I wanted to say something to her but couldn’t. All that could be said had already been explored to the extreme in this greatest of twentieth-century operas.

The greatest of twentieth-century operas? Really? How so? What a fix music puts us in, who love it but have not the words to say how or why it percolates through to some halfway house between mind and heart. ...


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