Searching for The Cunning Little Vixen
The idea of looking for foxes must strike Londoners as a little strange. Every evening as I walk home I see our vulpine neighbour scavenging in the bins, leaving half-eaten detritus in his or her wake. When Janáček was writing The Cunning Little Vixen, however, he really had to seeking them out. His friend Vincenc Sládek, who was the local forester, used to take the composer up into the hills around Janáček’s native Hukvaldy to see foxes in the wild. Much later on, Sládek’s nephew remembered one of these amusing treks:
“As if to order, the Vixen’s family emerged from the den and began to show off and frisk about. Janáček started fidgeting until in the end he frightened the foxes away. ‘Why couldn’t you keep still Dr. Janáček? You could have gone on looking!’ Janáček, completely exhilarated and happy, just brushed this aside with the words, ‘I saw her! I saw her!’ and there was no holding him any more.”
A few years ago, inspired by stories of Janáček’s fieldwork, I decided to leave the suburban foxes of London and seek out the original Cunning Little Vixen. Hukvaldy is a sleepy village, tucked in the northeastern corner of Moravia, near the Polish border. Having travelled from Brno, the industrial city where the composer spent most of his life, I wanted to follow Janáček’s footsteps. My iPod in hand, I left the quiet settlement behind and started tramping through the bracken, higher and higher. The sun peaked through the leaf canopy overhead, though the forest was oddly still and there was no Vixen’s family to be seen. I passed the knotty routes of age-old trees and the heady scent of ferns filled the air, but Janáček’s Bystrouška remained elusive. Disappointedly I clambered back through the undergrowth and walked on back toward the village. Suddenly I saw her, sat proudly on a rock, surveying the land that inspired Janáček’s opera. She was oddly still, almost statuesque. I sat by her feet and listened to the Forester’s final words in the opera. If only the vixen had been real… if only a baby frog had jumped into my hands.
- Gavin Plumley