Josip Mandić

The musical works of Josip, or Josef, Mandić (April 4, 1883 – October 5, 1959) are a paradigm of the phenomenon of oblivion so common in art history.

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The musical works of Josip, or Josef, Mandić (April 4, 1883 – October 5, 1959) are a paradigm of the phenomenon of oblivion so common in art history. For how else can one account for Mandić and his opuses being to the widest circle of music lovers – and to most people who are at all familiar with Croatian music – today totally unknown, although in the words of competent critics of the time his First Symphony “was the first modern large-scale symphony by a composer in this country” (L. Šafranek-Kavić), or “the greatest and grandest instrumental work of our [Yugoslav] music to date” (Emil Adamič)? Mandić’s orchestral compositions were conducted by some of the leading conductors of his time, like Nikolai Malko, Georg Szell (György Széll), Fritz Busch and Václav Talich, with such orchestras as the Czech Philharmonic, the Dresden Staatskapelle, or, for example, the Royal Scottish Philharmonic! The simplest answer is that most of Mandić’s works just disappeared without trace after his death in Prague in 1959.
Notwithstanding the persistent and long-lasting search for Mandić’s scores carried out by present writer particularly zealously in all the musical institutions of Prague, making ten visits to the city and contacting numerous persons, it was for years impossible to find a clue to the existence of even a single composition.
And when it all seemed hopeless, in further investigations and quests during 2003 it turned out that there were in Vienna several branches of the composer’s family, and that the compositions, sought for months in Prague, were in fact in Vienna. After this beginner’s luck, it soon became clear that the masterpieces, the Second Symphony, most of the chamber works and the remaining numerous vocal compositions that we know at least the names of were not there either. When in 1959 the Mandić family, after the composer’s death in Prague, left for Vienna, they had to go through the Iron Curtain. This flight to the West was an exploit indeed at that time, something that had to be carried out rapidly, mainly under the cover of night, in very great secrecy, with enormous consequences even to the richest and most influential. The Mandić family did succeed, but of the great legacy left in the Prague flat, all that remained was one cupboard-full of the scores and manuscripts of Josip Mandić. It is highly probable that some unknown person simply threw some of the most precious scores in Croatian music into the wastepaper basket! After many years, in 2005, it was possible to find some of the chamber works (or parts of them, from which the original scores were reconstructed, such as the Nonet and the Wind Quintet), and, which is a cause of particular gladness, relatively recently the orchestral part of Mandić’s youthful opera Petar Svačić (which, if fragmentarily, it will be possible to reconstruct). From today’s perspective, after so many years of systematic search, it seems that some important Mandić works have been lost, irretrievably and forever.
Josip Mandić was born in Trieste in 1883. His father, Frane, and his uncle, Matko, were by origin from Mihotići by Kastav, and were among the leading figures of the second generation of the National Revival in Istria. They, just like Josip’s brother Ante, played a significant role and left a deep trace in the political life of the region and the former states.
Brought up and coming to manhood in a family of well educated people and conscious Croatian patriots, with a mother who was an Italian, an amateur singer who was his first music teacher, Josip Mandić too acquired an exceptional education. After completing elementary school in German in Trieste, he went to high school in Rijeka (Royal High School in Sušak) and in Zagreb (the Royal Great High School, known as the Upper School High, 1893-1899). In 1901 Mandić went off for further education to Vienna, and in the winter term (1901/02) he enrolled in the Medical Faculty of the University, transferring, however, in the summer term of 1902 to the Law Faculty.
In the winter term of 1903 he started to study music at the Music and Drama Conservatory – to give it its full name, the Conservatorium für Musik und darstellende Kunst der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien. His main subject was the organ and he also attended lessons in harmony and counterpoint, as taught by the famed Hermann Graedener. It can be seen that on the enrolment paper, in the year of study, the number 1 was crossed out, which might tend to confirm the idea that in the Vienna Conservatory he was received at once in the fifth year. From the same source we learn that in academic 1904/05 he enrolled in organ (Vockner), counterpoint with Graedender, and instrumentation with Eusebius Mandyczewski.
In the heading grades however “did not appear” was put in, which would tend to suggest that Mandić studied music in Vienna for just a year. “Did not appear” might also mean that he did not go for the exams, but still attended lectures, and hypothetically, then, he might have spent a total of 3 or 4 seminars in the Vienna Conservatory. Mandić’s formal education was completed in 1907, when he obtained the Juris Doctor degree in law, but not from the University of Vienna, but rather from the University of Graz Law School!
It is very much worth pointing out that Mandić also tried his hand as a writer, a dramatist. While he was still a lad, on January 16, 1910, he had three short one-act dramas performed to great acclaim in Trieste on the stage of the National Home (Slovene Theatre). They were powerfully marked by themes of social criticism: After Fifteen Years, In the Dark and The Samaritans (original titles in Slovene – Po petnajstih leteh, V temi and Samaritanci). He showed effectively, with sharp contrasts and very subjectively, the sufferings of the vulnerable classes and the indifference and “rottenness” of the aristocracy, all written in Slovene. Of these three plays only one, alas, is extant – In the Dark, kept in the Slovene Theatre and Film Museum in Ljubljana


Aged eighteen, he wrote an opera: Petar Svačić, the only Croatian opera on any historical theme that was de facto written and performed in the period of 1902 to 1909, with great success at that, in Ljubljana, January 15, 1904. The first performance of this work, fragments of which were performed in a concert version in Trieste as early as February 19, 1903, prompting the critic of the Trieste daily paper to call Mandić “brillante promessa” and classify the musical material of Svačić as “la stoffa del geniale compositore e del valente contrappuntista“, was performed in Ljubljana, conducted by the excellent Czech conductor Hilarius Benišek, where it enjoyed a total triumph. Critics did indeed agree about the weaknesses of the libretto by Karlo Lukež, but Mandić reaped genuine panegyrics for his music.
Still during, and immediately after the successful completion of his studies in Vienna, Mandić devoted himself to politics, with great success. In 1905 he worked as a “committee member”, and in the election campaign for the national elections of 1907 he acted as secretary of the Political Association for Croats and Slovenes in Istria, headquartered in Pazin. In July 1907 in Trieste he established the National Labour Organisation known as NRO. Close in its ideology and politics to the political association Edinost [Unity], the National Labour Organisation too fought for the rights of Slovene and Croatian workers who were a minority in Trieste, but unlike the other political organisations of this kind with clearly defined political aims, the NRO also had a very strong national bent. In the short period of a few years during which he was president of the organisation (1907 – 1911), Mandić drew to the NRO a large number of workers, organised a lot of large (indeed, in terms of numbers involved, imposing) workers’ meetings in Trieste and surrounds, at which he gave inspiring speeches. He was an exceptionally important player in the whole political life of Trieste, at that time the great and important port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
In 1915, Mandić left for Zurich. It can be assumed that the reason for this was that the Austro-Hungarian government of the time was monitoring his political activities, and perhaps at one time discovered his anti-monarchical tendencies, although we have no reliable information as to this. From the very meagre information about Mandić’s stay in Switzerland what must be pointed out is the fact that he had contacts with Ferruccio Busoni, composer, conductor and pianist with a European reputation, since he “sent Mandić back again” to music. According to the information we have, Mandić stayed in Zurich until 1920, after which he moved to Prague, where he lived until the end of his life. In a very short time, Mandić established himself as a lawyer, opened his legal office, and once again devoted himself to music. And once again he took up his musical studies. From 1925 to 1926 he had private lessons from the Slovene composer Slavko Osterc and later on studied instrumentation, musical form and composition with Czech composers who were respected at the time, teachers of the Prague conservatory, Rudolf Zamrzla, Jaroslav Křička and Karl Boleslav Jirák. After his orchestral suite Čemulpo had been performed in Trieste in 1905, it was not until 1927 that he came out before the audiences with new compositions. At a concert on May 20, his compositions Suite in the Old Style for piano, Three Compositions for piano and a series of songs for voice and piano Improvisations were performed. And then quite soon, in 1928, came a performance of his String Quartet, which then highly respected Czech music critics called a “masterly work”. In the 1927-1934 period, as well as the operas Mirjana and Captain Niko, his two last symphonies (Third and Fourth) as well as Variations on a theme by Mozart for orchestra, the most important part of his musical oeuvre came into being.
His orchestral compositions First Symphony and Second Symphony, the symphonic poem Nocturnal Wandering, Three Ballades and Little Suite were performed in Prague and some European cities by the major conductors of the time – Talich, Malko, Szell and Busch with such well known orchestras as the Czech Philharmonic, the Staatskapelle Dresden and the Royal Scottish Philharmonic.
When the First Symphony was performed in Zagreb in 1931, the well-known Slovene composer Emil Adamič said in the Slovene paper Jutro that it was “the greatest and grandest work of our Yugoslav music to date” and said that “because of its individuality, modern direction and revolutionary instrumentation was extremely difficult” and that “at the dress rehearsal it left a powerful and in places grandiose impression.” In Obzor of March 24, 1931, Lujo Šafranek-Kavić spoke of Mandić’s First Symphony as of “the first modern large-scale symphony by one of our composers”. It should be said that for the first time in Croatian music history, elements of Istrian folk music were employed in the First Symphony, which was first performed by the Czech Philharmonic, under the baton of the country’s leading conductor, Václav Talich. In 1931, in Glasgow, Nikolai Malko with the Royal Scottish Philharmonic performed the Second Symphony for the first time. Scottish critics were enthusiastic about the work, which was characterised as “volcanic”, observing that “the idiom is modern, the work rhythmically exceptionally complex, and the orchestration reveals from beginning to end the hand of a master”.
What kind of intellectual and artistic climate Mandić inhabited in Prague can be seen from the fact revealed by his family that in his big apartment in the centre of Prague, frequent guests were (and they played music very often) the best known intellectuals and musicians of the time – Franz Werfel, Max Brod, Josef Suk, Vítězslav Novák, Alexander Zemlinsky, Beniamino Gigli, Zdenka Ziková, Marta Krásová and the famed Czech Quartet. In the Croatian press, Mandić was perceived as “a great promoter of Croatian music in Prague”, while the Czechs would not forget the generous gesture of a patron of the arts: after he had heard the graduation concert of Jaroslav Ježek, Mandić paid for him to live and study for a year in Paris.
A kind of crown to Mandić’s music in the period between the wars was the opera Mirjana, which was performed in Zagreb in April 2008. The opera, for which the libretto was done by Mandić in collaboration with big names in world literature, Max Brod and Franz Werfel, was first performed in the Municipal Theatre in Olomouc on February 20, 1937. When it was performed in the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb, Mirjana was, in 2008, recognised by the experts as a kind of match to Ero the Joker, above all because the two operas were created at the same time. Mirjana is based on a surreal libretto taken in part from the fantastic tale of Branislav Nušić Eternity.
World War II brought a radical change to Mandić’s life: his financial and thus the whole of his life situation began rapidly to alter. Following the letters between the brothers Ante and Josip Mandić we can find out that from 1940 Josip was under Gestapo surveillance, with his letters being opened. On November 15, 1941, he and his whole family were without warning evicted from his flat in Bubeneči street. In the midst of winter they were forced to move to the Hotel Zlata Husa, and only two months later were they able to find a flat in Horne Černošice not far from Prague. Four months after that, the Gestapo, in Mandić’s words, sold the house into which he had just moved, and the family had to move once again, this time into a house in the same street, at no. 91. And from the same letter we find out that in 1942 the Nazi occupier closed down his office and prevented him from dealing anymore with his legal profession.
After a short lasting recovery in the first post-war years, in 1948, Mandić once again had his legal office closed down, this time by the socialist government, and so he had no basic source of income. Unfortunately, hit by the tragic and absurd fate of political reality in post-war Czechoslovakia, he never returned to his legal calling as long as he lived.
At the beginning of 1957, new big problems began for him. As we find out from a letter of Karl Dunst to Ante Mandić of January 31, 1957, Mandić was “arrested on the road and for more than 25 days he has been in detention.” On July 4, 1957, he was sentenced to five years in prison.
From that moment on Mandić, who was in a very poor state of mind, did everything he could to avoid it. He placed great hopes in a possible amnesty about which, as a lawyer, he was well informed. He counted on his brother’s help in getting the penalty quashed, for he too was a lawyer and also a highly positioned politician in Yugoslavia, and thus had excellent links that might have been able to help. All these hopes came to nothing, alas, for Mandić died on October 5, 1959. He was buried in the Prague cemetery called Olšanské hřbitovy. The lines from the records of the Municipal Court of Prague, which are now in possession of Mandić’s grandson Alexander Mandić and represent his last will and testament dated in 1964, are especially upsetting. Namely, the records state that Mandić’s entire assets consist only of “very old and worn-out clothes” of insignificant estimated value in Czech koruna.
Recent research has shown that Mandić has been partially at least posthumously rehabilitated by the current Czech government, which has indirectly confirmed his innocence and the error of the remorseless political system that de facto cost a very sensitive man his life has been admitted.

Davor Merkaš (c) Muzički informativni centar
Citiranje: Merkaš, Davor, „Josip Mandić“. Introduction to the sheet music: Josip Mandić. Symphony No. 1 for Large Orchestra, Soprano and Tenor. Romantic, Croatian Music Information Centre, Zagreb 2019, XI-XV.