MEMOIRS OF JANÁČEKS’ HOUSEKEEPER
FROM THE MEMOIRS OF MARIE STEJSKALOVÁ,
THE JANÁČEKS' HOUSEKEEPER
Flat on Klášterní náměstí 2 (Monastery Square, today's Mendel Square)
The flat was large and pretty. The master had found it himself when he had grown tired of the accommodation on the first floor of Měšťanská Street no. 46, where they had lived since their wedding. However, not even the flat on Klášterní náměstí had today's modern appliances and conveniences. There was no bathroom, and for a long time there wasn't even a laundry for the whole of that large building. On each floor there was only one water pipe in the corridor for all of the tenants, the same for the closet. From this one water pipe I fetched all the water for cooking, washing, cleaning and bathing into the kitchen, then I took the dirty water back out in tubs. And then the larder was out in the corridor next to the apartment door. The bath for washing in was there too. The only light that came into the hall was from the glass doors of the young lady's room, but it never seemed dark because all of the doors were painted white.The young lady's room and the kitchen opposite were separated from the other rooms; beside the door to Olga's room was the door to the dining room. This led to the master's study, at the back of which was the drawing room. When Olga was still young, their bedroom was in her room and the piano was in the dining room. The master only composed there during the day, at night he worked by his bedside table in the bedroom. But later when he would be writing all night, it was more convenient for everyone for him to be alone and undisturbed. This is why they moved the furniture - the bed, writing desk, piano, bookcase, bedside table and etagere for music all went into the study. The heating there and for the rest of the flat was from tiled stoves. The painting was always of some national design. The window looked out onto Klášterní náměstí.
Our master insisted on good food. There were no elevenses or snacks, but at midday and in the evening he ate a lot and with gusto. He knew how to praise the cuisine as well as find fault with it.
He'd turn his nose up at spinach, but he very much enjoyed eating game, especially venison.
He liked meat. The three of us strictly observed the fasts, especially on Fridays, but the master didn't. He wanted meat and would say that he had fasted enough at the monastery foundation.
He was very proud of our donuts. If he really wanted to impress someone, he would order us to make donuts.
The desserts we made as special treats for the master were quark pies, quark strudel or crepes cut into strips, covered with hazelnuts and sugar and then baked in the shape a cake. We called it the "hazelenut cake".
..beside it [the bookcase] hung silver wreaths and ribbons which the master had received for performances of his compositions. Only the most valuable ones were there, while there were also some hanging in the drawing room, but there wasn't enough room in the small house for all of them. The easiest were the laurel wreaths: we picked off the leaves, washed them and kept them in the kitchen. For the whole time I was living at the Janáčeks, we never once spent a penny on a bay leaf for sauce.
When Olga was still alive we used to have wonderful holidays in the house. Neither she nor the master had any lessons and so they were home more often. The master would compose, but sometimes he would leave it and come to see us in the kitchen. He would look at what we had on the stove, taste it, cut up an onion, chop some parsley. He was very fond of frogs' legs with parsley sauce.
At Christmas he would check to see there were fish eggs in the fish soup; if it turned out that the carp was a milter, we had to buy the fish eggs separately for the master.
The master wasn't particularly fond of drinking or smoking: he didn't drink much wine or beer and only smoked on occasion. He held it against any of his artist friends if they could not hold their drink, and if he found out they were heavy drinkers, the relationship cooled and the friendship would be over.
The house on Smetanova Street...
You got to the small house by going up some stairs to a glazed veranda, from which the door on the right led to the hall, the kitchen on the left, in the centre was a window to the bedroom, behind the kitchen was the bathroom and my little room, but we soon discovered there was damp there, so we put a cupboard in there and I slept in the kitchen again like I used to in the old flat; the kitchen was warm and dry despite there being a stone floor. During the day the bed was covered by a wooden board, so it became a large work table; beside it was a kitchen dresser and on the other side in the corner was a blue tiled stove. There was a small kerosene stove on top of it for cooking more quickly. The master didn't have gas brought into the house, even though there were gaslights everywhere in the school. Later during the Republic we had "our wee darling" there instead of a kerosene stove.
The kitchen looked jolly and cosy as we had decorated everywhere with white covers and trims with red and blue folk embroidery.
Opposite the door to the kitchen in the bedroom was the door to the master's study. There was a piano in the middle. Between the two windows onto Giskrova Street was a chest with folk motifs. [...] The master kept his manuscripts there and the mistress would also put there anything he threw into the bin when he was dissatisfied with what he had written. He thought that we would burn them, but the mistress carefully removed them and thus saved many things which the master didn't even know about.
In the corner beside the door to the bedroom was the master's bedroom above which hung a large photograph of Olga by Klíč; the master wanted it to be the same way as he had been used to in the old apartment. When a few years later he ordered that his bed be moved upstairs to the room beside his office in the Organ School, we put a small table with a drawing there, Olga's photograph, though, remained in the study.
There was a stove in the next corner between the door to the drawing room and the bedroom, beside which was an etagere for music. On the other side of the door to the drawing room was a bureau with writing instruments and photographs of Antonín Dvořák and Olga in solid metal frames, on the wall above them their wedding portrait by Šichan. The mistress would smile and say she had never had a dress as blue as the one Šichan painted.
The chairs in the master's study were upholstered and covered with material with a flowery design, with a carved lyre on the back. They were part of the mistress's trousseau. All of the furniture in the study was from the mistress's trousseau; when we were moving into the small house, they only had the bookcase made.
The bay room next to the study served as a drawing room and dining room for guests. In the winter they would have their informal meals at their table in the bedroom, in the summer on the veranda, while I'd eat in the kitchen. The first thing everyone noticed in the drawing room was the round bay window; the tall, narrow window looked onto Haberlerova street. Here, beside the door to the hall, the whole corner of the drawing room was taken up by a display cabinet with the mistress's family porcelain, glass and silver. On the other side of the drawing room, two windows looked out onto Giskrova Street...
There was a plush green sofa in the corner between the windows and the door to the study, and an oval table with four plush green armchairs in the middle of the drawing room.
In the winter or when the weather was bad, they would sit in the bedroom. The master would read, while the mistress and I did some work, or she would play solitaire. It was as though we were cut off from the world. There was no telephone - the master wouldn't hear of it - the gramophone records, which mainly hissed and blared at that time, drove him to distraction, and when radio appeared in the last years of his life, we were not allowed to go anywhere near him with it.
Such a thorough cleaning took us six weeks, with the mistress working with me. The master would occasionally help us with a heavier piece of furniture, but in general it was better for him and better for us if he was away during the "spring cleaning". He didn't like tidying-up and was annoyed when everything wasn't in its right place.
The master spent nine years on Jenůfa - although he also wrote other things - and he changed a lot over that period. Olga became a young woman and began to look for her place in the world, then came illness, death - and he poured all of this into Jenůfa. The sicker Olga became, the more she clung on to her dad's new opera. And he, being so sensitive, put Olga's pain into his work, the suffering of his daughter into the suffering of Jenůfa. And that tough love of the Kostelnička - that was him, that was a lot like his character.
When Olga caught typhus for the second time in Russia and his wife was with her, the master once came to see me in the kitchen:
"Marie, do you know Salve, Regina? I know Ave, Maria, but I've forgotten the other."
I went to find the prayer book and found Salve, Regina. The master took the book to his study and after a while I heard the start of a song which the whole world now knows. People cry when they hear it. I think it's because the master's heart sobbed and bled so much when he wrote Salve, Regina.
Our gardener offered us a young puppy, a pinscher, which managed to entertain and cheer us. It was a short-haired bitch, light-brown, she had a clever, small head, and when she was fully grown she was as thin as a roe deer. It was even love at first sight for the master; he named her Čipera, but most of the time we called her Čipina. Both of them liked to spoil her. The master fed her rolls soaked in milk, and he would select the best bits for her from his meals. She was very bitey as a puppy and often nipped his hand. He would just laugh:
- You wee bitch, you! - and went on feeding her.
She had breakfast with the master, accompanied him to school, ran around him when he came home, fetched the sticks he threw for her, lay beside him when he composed. At first she couldn't bear the piano, she would whimper and howl, but she slowly got used to it.
A considerate teacher...
The master would do anything for the pupils at the Organ School: he'd get them free tickets to concerts and the theatre, and he'd give out clothes, shoes and sheet music if needed. One local organist, Burejsa, told me that he attended the Organ School at the start of the war and only wore a light jacket on the coldest days. The master saw him and asked him why he wasn't wearing a coat. And when discovered that Burejsa didn't have one, he took him straight back to our house and gave him his old one. The boy was emaciated and the coat hung from him like on a coat hanger, but the master looked at him with an expert eye, adjusted it slightly and said "it's fine" and the pupil continued to walk around in Janáček's coat for several years to come.
Watch out, the headmaster...!
When the master began sleeping in the [organ] school during the First World War, he came home for breakfast at 7am, got washed, changed and then went back to school. When it was colder he wore a light-brown overcoat over his shoulders like a cape, we called him "the sprinter", a cap with an emblem on his head, a large bunch of keys in his hand for the whole of the Organ School as well as the house. As he walked the keys jangled and so everyone knew the headmaster was coming and got themselves ready.
One of the classes was between us and the school attic, the pupils could carry on as much as they wanted and no-one heard them. Someone would always stand on guard by the spiral staircase to make sure that no-one surprised them. He could hear everything happening on the staircase; and naturally he was listening out for the jangling of the master's keys. When he heard them, he'd run to the class and shout "the old man's coming!" and the class would immediately fall silent.
Marie (Mářa) Stejskalová (1873-1968) was the housekeeper for Leoš and Zdenka Janáček from 1894. She worked for the Janáčeks until the composer died (1928) and then stayed with Zdenka Janáčková until her death in 1938.
The quotes are from the book U Janáčků (At the Janáčeks), which was written by the journalist and writer Marie Trkanová (1893-1974) in conversation with Marie Stejskalová, and was published by Panton (Prague 1959).