Exhibition at MUNI Faculty of Arts Commemorates Brno Composer Jan Novák’s Life in Exile

“Incursus barbarorum” will present Jan Novák’s works from 1968 to 1984, including correspondence, photographs, samples from productions, and Latin poetry collections. Photo credit: MUNI.

Brno, Mar 16 (BD) – A new exhibition at the Masaryk University Faculty of Arts will focus on the last 16 years of the life of composer Jan Novák, when he lived in exile abroad. The exhibition, “Incursus barbarorum: the composer Jan Novák in exile”, will present the composer’s works from 1968 to 1984, including correspondence, photographs, samples from productions, Latin collections of Novák’s poems protesting the occupation, and a copy of the court judgement for him to leave the republic. Some of the documents are being made available to the public for the first time.

Jan Novák (1921–1984) was a composer and pianist whose music disappeared not only from concert stages, but also from music dictionaries after 1968. According to musicologist Martin Flašar, Novák’s life story is typical of a Central European artist of the 20th century.

“After his return from the USA in February 1948 he faced permanent political pressure from the Union of Czechoslovak Composers. He responded to the spiritual and moral decay of society by turning to classical Latin,” said Flašar.

After the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Soviet-led Warsaw Pact troops in August 1968, Novák responded with a poetry collection, “Incursus barbarorum”, before deciding to leave his home country and go into exile in Denmark, Italy and Germany with his family.

The exhibition will be complemented by lectures and discussions in the faculty’s Reading Room. The exhibition will open on 22 March at 6pm, with a short lecture by Martin Flašar with musical samples.

On 27 April, the dramaturg of Filharmonie Brno, Vítězslav Mikeš, will introduce Novák’s orchestral work and share his own dramaturgical experience in performing Novák’s works. On 4 May, Tomáš Weissar from the Institute of Classical Studies will deliver a lecture in the Reading Room about the composer’s relationship to Latin.

“Not only did Jan Novák set ancient and mediaeval Latin to music and poems, he also composed his own. He even spoke Latin and his dream was to raise his daughters to be native Latin speakers,” explained Weissar.

The cycle will be closed on 18 May by Rebecca Grosschmidt, PhD student at the Institute of Musicology. In her lecture about Novák’s film work, she will talk about Novák’s collaboration with important Czech directors such as Karel Kachyňa, Jiří Trnka and Karel Zeman. All lectures start at 6pm.

The exhibition and the lectures take place at the reading room and cafe of the Faculty of Arts at Arna Nováka 1. The exhibition will last until 31 August 2023. Entrance to the exhibition and accompanying program is free.

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