Gerard von Brucken Fock: Jozal (1910-1912)

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Libretto: Gerard von Brucken Fock
Composition: 29 January 1910 - April 1912
Wereldpremière: 29 May 2016 *
401Concerts 3, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

‘Ja ik neem het en laat het niet meer los’ (Act I, monologue Jozal)
‘Jozal!... Asdé!’ (Act II, duet Jozal/Asdé)
Denzil Delaere (Jozal), Asdé (Jolien De Gendt), Pieter Dhoore (piano), Ann Vancoillie (viool)
* The act I and II fragments perormed in 401Concerts 3 are world première performances.
Downloadable through 401Concerts 3.

Korte inhoud

Text: René Seghers
Partners: Nederlands Muziek Instituut, Kröller-Müller Museum

Emperor Fedor of Westland
Asdé, his daughter
Bezm, her maid
Prins Jozal, Prince at the Court of the Emperor
A prisoner

The soldiers of Emperor Fedor of Westland are on their way back home after having conquered many countries. A prisoner who was mortally wounded during his attempt to escape recalls to the soldiers how he was taken from his peaceful home in order to fight – against his will. He was taken prisoner and tortured, starved and dragged from country to country on his bare feet while dreaming of family back home. Now he was stabbed. With his dying breath he asks for the saviour to arise and take up his sword in the name of God to restore God’s Kingdom on Earth and peace for the righteous, whereas now evil prevails all around, leaving the poor people with nothing. Jozal, prince in the emperor’s army steps forward. He is that soldier that will lead God’s army and restore God’s kingdom, he says in his long monologue ‘Ja ik neem het en laat het niet meer los (Yes, I will take it, and won’t let it slip)(excerpts of this monologue and of the Act II duet can be heard in the video trailer here presented of 401Concerts 3):

Ja ik neem het en laat het niet meer los | Yes, I will take it, and won’t let it slip
Tot het recht is vervuld. | Until justice is done
Ik zweer bij al wat mij dierbaar is, | I swear this on all that I hold Holy
Bij mijn ziel en zaligheid, | on my soul and salvation
Bij de hel en den hemel | on heaven and hell
Bij Babeliv, de groote stad, | On Babeliv, the great city,
Bij Asdé, de onvergelijkelijke | on Asdé, the eternal
Van heden af wijd ik mij de zaak der armen | From now on I will only strive fort he poor and the weak
En der vertrapten | and those crumbling
Ik doe afstand van al wat schoon en begeerlijk is | I renounce all beauty and glory
Van rijkdom en macht, | all riches and power
Wellust en eer | lust and prestige
Totdat het licht zal zijn geworden | Until light shal prevail
In deze duistre zwarte wereld | in this darkened world
Ik zweer kuisch te zullen blijven | I will abstain from sins of the flesh
Geen wijn te zullen drinken | won’t drink wine
Geen spijze dan brood te zullen eten, | wille at no other meals than the bread of the poor
Totdat alle armen verzadigd zullen zijn. | until all the poor will be fulfilled.

In the second act he meets princess Asdé. She is his beloved and when he tells her about his calling and the need to part from her, since her father is the accursed oppressor of the poor, she pleads with him to reconsider and look at the glory of God’s Kingdom as it is, which surely testifies that he achieving his goals already:

Zie om je heen, Jozal, zie de schoonheid om je heen!  | Look around Jozal
Kan de wereld zo slecht zijn, als je meent? | Can the World be as bad as you say?
Moet het niet alles medewerken tot de plannen van Hem die zoiets geschapen heeft? | isn’t it all a part of God’s plan?
Moeten wij het niet van hem verwachten? Geloovig vertrouwend op Hem hopen? | Should we not trust in it?
O Jozal! laten wij het overgeven aan Hem door wie de wereld bestaat. | O Jozal, let us leave things in the hands of the creator.

Het is alles valsch! Ik kan die schoonheid niet langer verdragen | All is false. I can’t bear it any longer
O die wreedheid in de natuur! | The cruelty of nature
Die ongevoeligheid | The heartlessness
Koud zien de sterren neer op der menschen worstelen,  |The stars are looking down on us with coldness
zij bewegen zich onveranderlijk in hunne banen | They never move an inch from their paths
Alles gaat precies zijn zelfden gang, | All continues as ever before
Of de wereld lijdt of juicht, Lacht of schreit! … | All the suffering or rejoicing of the World doesn’t matter to them
Terwijl daar onschuldigen smachten | While the innocent suffer
In hun kerker schijnt de maan vriendelijk aan den hemel, | in their cells, the moon shines brightly in Heaven
Terwijl hier het gruwelijk onrecht den scepter voert. | while down here injustice prevails
[with irony]
Rimpelt het water van het meer zich daar vreedzaam in het Zuidenwindje | See the wind rustling in the peaceful lake yonder
Zingen vogeltjes lief en melodieus in de takken | hear the birds’ melodious song
Is dat niet harteloos van God, | isn’t that heartless of God,
Is dat niet gemeen? | isn’t that cruel?
Ik zou zoón wereld in elkaar trappen als ik hem was! | Were I Him, I’d crush that World!

Eventually Asdé is successful. Jozal is tired and lies his head on her chest, forgetting his intentions and giving in to her charms, for which is he then cursed by an apparition. In the third act, the King celebrates his victories. The high priest praises him for killing hundreds of thousands of enemies and sacking hundreds of cities and villages. The King announces that his victory must be celebrated with a wedding, the one of his daughter Asdé with prince Jozal. At this point Jozal once again steps forward, renounces the wedding and proclaims the abdication of the Emperor in name of the people and God. When the emperor tells the people that God’s empire has no alcohol, brothels and gambling tables, the people choose the emperor. Jozal is stabbed to death like a dog, without honour or glory.


In terms of dramaturgy Jozal’s plot is a shocking testimony of Gerard von Brucken Fock’s tormented personality, which made him receptive for all sorts of religious, mystical and sectarian nonsense. And yet it is a most fascinating plot since it is effectively the first ever autobiographical plot, albeit in a metaphorical way, ever written. Jozal = Gerard von Brucken Fock, he fights the cause Gerard von Brucken Fock fought in life and in his imagination: he tried to give his immense riches away, tried to become a working class person (he then had his wife, of high nobility, work as a seamstress in a sewing plant), and even tried to separate from his wife in order to serve the higher cause and salvage their love – see his biography). Thus, Jozal and the Emperor are the personifications of Von Brucken Fock’s split personality. The end of the opera, with Jozal’s tragic failure reflects Von Brucken Fock’s own sense of failure, since he didn’t manage to succeed as a worker, neither could he do without his wife and the pleasures of food and love. In order to atone for his weakness he joined the Salvation Army to distribute their pamphlets, win souls and play salvation songs on the barrel organ from Paris to Switzerland. After the libretto was completed Von Brucken Fock worked on the composition between January 1910 until the completion of the score in Paris on January 14, 1912. We are currently looking into the reason why the opera remained unperformed at the time. This cannot have been caused by the impossibility to stage it with such an impossible plot, because Von Brucken Fock was rich enough to finance a full scale performance himself, had he wanted to. Of course, any thought of an independent staged performance of the work is impossible even today, although modern times do provide a wholly different look on this opera and its context. From a modern perspective the extreme libretto which shuns any compromise to common sense, convention or taste fascinates along with the tragic autobiographical aspects. As such it is truly a unique work, which cannot be compared to anything that Von Brucken Fock could have known at the time. In concept it is perhaps a unique prolongation of Wagner’s original intention, which saw his operas not as amusement but as the dramatic starting points of the New World order. Musically Von Brucken Fock also had to find a dramatic language for the extreme text for which the style of his piano compositions and songs after Chopin to Liszt was wholly unapt. Instead he found surprisingly Wagnerian tones (he was a declared anti-Wagnerian) when required and mingled these with free atonality which he either invented or picked up in Vienna from the likes of the young Alban Berg (Von Brucken Fock travelled extensively and lived all over Europe).

While a scenic performance of Jozal seems as impossible today as it was then, I believe that a concert performance could surprise and impress. The opera certainty has Von Brucken Fock’s most original and inspired music. Especially the second act which is de facto made up from the duet between Jozal and Asdé, easily surpassing the duet from the second act of Tristan und Isolde in length, could be a success with the audience. Elsewhere in the work there is also no lack of grand visions and ambition. Jozal’s tirades can be seen as the direct precursors for the fulminante speeches of Fidel Castro and his characterisation of the Church and its priests was as sharply drawn then as a guarantee for excommunication had the work been published. Clearly, Jozal was designed as a work that had to continue where Parsifal ended. The tragedy is perhaps that he believed in its subject for years, just as he believed in the contents of his novel about the Return of Christ on Earth which he believed imminent in the light of all human evil that he witnessed around him. However, in the end he withdrew his novel while it was already being printed; in the very last minute he must have realized the shortcomings of his point of view. This is not surprising given his well known extreme fluctuations of moods and intentions. We are very proud to have presented the world première of highlights from Jozal on May 29 2016 at 401Concerts 3 in the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo. Performed where Jozal’s act I monologue ‘Ja ik neem het en laat het niet meer los’ and the central part of the second act duet ‘Asdé! / Jozal’, including the moonlight music. Asdé was performed by soprano Jolien De Gendt and Jozal by tenor Denzil Delaere, accompanied from the piano by Pieter Dhoore. Ann Vancoillie played the violin in the ‘Moonlight music’.  The recording can be downloaded from the 401Concerts 3 download programme along with arias and duets from operas by Cornelis Dopper, Willem Landré, Daniël de Lange, Julius Röntgen, Jan van Gilse, Jan Brandts Buys and Richard Hageman.

Download 401Concerts 3 with Jozal

401COnc3Logo390The recording of our third 401DutchOperas concert in the Kröller-Müller Museum is downloadable via 401Concerts 3. Apart from highlights of Cornelis Dopper's De blinde van Casteel Cuillé it also includes highlights from Willem Landré's De roos van Dekama, Daniël de Lange's Lioba, Gerard von Brucken Fock's Jozal, Julius Röntgen's Agnete and De lachende Cavalier, Jan van Gilse's Helga von Stavern, Jan Brandts Buys’ De kleermakers van Marken (Die Schneider von Schönau) and Richard Hageman's Caponsacchi.