Janáĉek's virtual viola d'amore

Ethan Edl (Yale University)

Leoŝ Janáĉek frequently wrote for the viola d'amore, yet he demonstrates little knowledge of the instrument's technical affordances. Although previous scholarship has thus cast Janáĉek's appropriation of the instrument as naïve and crudely symbolic, I argue for a more nuance interpretation. Analyses of several musical excerpts will demonstrate Janáĉek's interest in various kinds of sonic phenomena associated with the viola d'amore. I relate this to Janáĉek's documented interest in sensory marginalia, demonstrating the ways in which Janáĉek's interest in the instrument was over determined. From this analysis, Janáĉek's viola d'amore emerges as a complicated object, which embodies certain imagined possibilities of the instrument, but is paradoxically ill-suited to being performed on an actual viola d'amore. I propose that Janáĉek's viola d'amore is a qualified kind of virtual instrument, and as such is an extreme yet productive case of a more general negotiated relationship between composer and instrument.