General information
Title CZKdo je na světě nejmocnější
Subtitle CZbaletní komedie o 1 dějství
Title ENWho is the Most Powerful in the World
Subtitle ENballet comedy in 1 act
Title DEWer ist der Mächtigste auf der Welt
Subtitle DEBalletlustspiel in einem Aufzug und vier Bildern
CategoryStage Works and Film Music
Halbreich number133
Instruments3333-4331-Timp-Batt(GC,Ptti,S drum,Tbrino,Tam-tam,Xil)-Cel-2Arpe-Pf-Archi
Place of compositionPrague
Year of origin1922
Initiation of composition1922
Completion of composition1922
First performance
Performer Bakala, Břetislav
Hladík, Jaroslav
Date of the first performance31.01.1925
Location of the first performanceBrno, National Theatre (Národní divadlo)
Note on the first performanceBřetislav Bakala (cond.), Jaroslav Hladík (choreography)
Autograph deposition
Note on the autograph depostitionAutograph missing. *** Copy of full score and piano reduction by unidentified hand at the archive of the National Theatre in Prague. Copy of second piano reduction by unidentified hand at the Paul Sacher Stiftung, Basel.
CopyrightSchott Music Panton (CZ, SK: Dilia, Prague)
Purchase linkbuy
References Related writings
Documents in the Library
Note Libretto/synopsis by Bohuslav Martinů, based on an oriental fairy tale.
About the composition

The surprising fact the Martinů began writing his one-act comic ballet Who is the Most Powerful in the World well before his departure for Paris is confirmed by a letter, dated 10 November 1957, to his friend and biographer Miloš Šafránek (1894–1982): “I wrote the ballet in Prague of course while I was still going to Suk’s class, though I wrote it outside of class and have not seen it since then and so have not added anything to it at a later date. Actually, in Suk’s class, if I am not mistaken, I did not manage to finish anything.“

The autograph score of this work has been lost, so the exact date when Martinů finished the ballet is not known. In this work, he was striving to break away from the symphonic construction of dances in his previous ballet, Istar, H 130, which he had completed in 1921. This time he wanted to write a short and simple stage work which would include not only waltzes, polkas and marches, but also more modern dances like the boston or foxtrot. He characterized the change in his musical style thus: “[…] I began to turn away from the Impressionist style that I had cultivated up to that point, and longed to find a more appropriate form of musical expression, for precise rhythms and forms. […] I have also thrown out so-called musical narrative or description, the musical underlining of the situation and all kinds of Impressionist devices for the creation of effects of tone-colour and mood.” (“Kdo je na světě nejmocnější”, Národní a Stavovské divadlo, vol. 4, no. 16, 11. 12. 1926, p. 4.)

Martinů worked to his own libretto, basing it on an unspecified fairy-tale of Indian origin. The plot involves an ordinary but ambitious family of mice. The daughter of the family is of an age to be wed and her parents wish to marry her off to whomever (or whatever) is most powerful in the world. The first candidate is the prince of the mice, but the parents immediately reject him and start looking for a more suitable match elsewhere. When the sun comes out, they are overjoyed and immediately offer the sun their daughter’s hand in marriage; but at that very moment an old ill-tempered cloud blots out the sun and therefore seems to outrank it. Then a wind springs up and drives the cloud away. His self-satisfaction does not last long, however, for he soon encounters a wall which will not give way to him. For a while the two are joined in combat, but the wall emerges victorious and is offered the daughter‘s hand. But the retinue of the mouse prince has already started to burrow away beneath the wall, which collapses as a result. The mice would seem to be the most powerful of beings after all. At the end of the tale the mouse prince and the mouse daughter celebrate the happiest of weddings.

The premiere of the ballet took place on 31 January 1925 at the Brno National Theatre – the first time one of Martinů’s theatrical works had appeared on the Brno stage. It formed part of a double bill with the opera Alladine and Palomides (or: The Strength of Desire) by the Brno composer Osvald Chlubna (1893–1971). The orchestra was conducted by Břetislav Bakala (1897–1958), the choreography was organised by ballet master Jaroslav Hladík (1885–1955), with Ota Zítek (1892–1955) as producer. The reviews in contemporary journals were very positive about the work, most of them admiring its sparkling wit and mentioning the influence of Stravinsky. Martinů, however, distanced himself from the Russian composer, writing to his friend Stanislav Novák on 7 February: “Please tell everyone you meet that my mouse ballet is three years old – that it dates from a period when I know nothing about Stravinsky except that he had written Petrushka, though I didn’t even know that piece at the time.“

A further performance of Who is the Most Powerful in the World took place on 17 February 1927 at the National Theatre in Prague. Remislav Remislavský (1897–1973) took on the production duties, as he had done before for Istar. The scene designer was František Berger, and the performance was conducted by Josef Winkler (1885–1942). Martinů’s ballet again formed part of a double bill, this time appearing four times alongside Ravel‘s opera L’enfant et les sortilèges and another twice in conjunction with the ballet Coppélia by Léo Delibes (1836–1891). Since then, it has not been played at the National Theatre. Martinů had to wait until 1933 before another of his stage works – the first version of his ballet Špalíček, H 214 I – was produced there.

Who is the Most Powerful in the World was not performed again anywhere until 1960; it was presented as a puppet theatre show by the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague in that year and by the West Bohemian puppet theatre in Karlsbad the following year. Further performances of the ballet have taken place in Pardubice (People’s arts school, 1973), Ljubljana (Slovenian national theatre, 2005), and Rostock (People’s theatre, 2008). In 2009, the Bohuslav Martinů Elementary arts school in Polička performed the work in the town’s Tyl House theatre as well as at the Czech Museum of Music in Prague. The last company to produce the work was Prague Chamber Ballet, which took it into its repertoire in 2013, performing it for the final time, at least for now, in the Municipal Library in Prague in 2018.

Natálie Krátká, Martinů Revue XXII, No. 2+3 (May–December 2022), pp. 18–19.

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