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Janáček, Leoš

Janáček, Leoš (b Hukvaldy, E. Moravia, 1854; d Moravská, Ostrava, 1928). Cz. composer, conductor, organist, and teacher. Although he was 47 when the 20th cent. began, he is essentially a 20th-cent. composer. His father was a choirmaster. At 11, Janáček entered the Augustinian monastery, Brno, as a choirboy, studying mus. with Pavel Křižkovský. In 1872 he became a junior master at Brno teachers' training coll., and was at the Prague Organ Sch., 1874–6. He went to Leipzig and Vienna in search of fame and fortune but returned disappointed to Brno as mus. master at the training coll. His early comps. met with little success, but he became deeply involved with Moravian folk music, working with Bartoš on editing, harmonizing, and performing folk-songs. He also founded Brno Organ Sch. in 1881, becoming dir. and remaining as organizer until 1919. In 1894 he began work on his 3rd opera, Jenůfa, which was perf. in Brno with considerable success in January 1904, the year of his 50th birthday. He had every right to expect it would then be staged in Prague, but some years earlier he had severely criticized a comp. by Karel Kovařovic who was now head of the Prague Opera. He refused to hear Jenůfa and it took Janáček's friends until 1916 to have the work accepted for Prague—even then, Kovařovic insisted on ‘editing’ it himself, for which he received a royalty. Nevertheless the opera was a triumph, as it was in Max Brod's Ger. version in Vienna and Cologne in 1918. This success at the age of 62, coupled with the formation of the Cz. republic, was a tremendous creative spur to Janáček and in the last 10 years of his life he produced a series of works full of originality, vitality, and power. The opera The Excursions of Mr Brouček (1917) and the orchestral rhapsody Taras Bulba (1918) were followed by the song-cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared, the operas Káťa Kabanová and The Cunning Little Vixen, the concertino for pf. and chamber orch., the Sinfonietta, 2 str. qts., the wind sextet Mládi, the Glagolitic Mass, and 2 more operas, The Makropulos Affair and From the House of the Dead. Mus. history can offer few, if any, parallels with this upsurge of sustained inspiration—an inspiration partly derived from his love for a young married woman, Kamila Stösslová, whom he met in 1917 and to whom he wrote over 600 letters. He visited London for a concert of his works in 1926.

Janáček's early works belong to the 19th-cent. world of Dvořák and Smetana. But in his maturity, from Jenůfa onwards, his individual style developed. His works are based on short bursts of melody, strongly rhythmical, like vocal exclamations, these deriving from his fascination by speech-rhythms. He noted in sketch-books phrases he overheard in town and countryside, particularizing the moods in which they were spoken. The melodic fragments undergo sudden changes of tonality and mood, being built by simple but unusual means to strong emotional climaxes. His harmonic language, however, was in no way innovatory. His staple fare in this respect comprised common chords, 7ths, 9ths, and the whole-tone scale, but what is unusual is his spacing and juxtaposition of chords. His orchestration is equally striking and unusual, often seeming harsh and raw but invariably being apt and effective. He liked to use instr. at the extremes of their range.

Janáček's operas have held their place in the repertory since they were first perf. in Europe but only since the 1950s has the Eng. public been awakened to their originality and beauty, largely through the efforts of the cond. Charles Mackerras, who has also purged the scores of corruptions and accretions by other hands. The emotional range of the operas is wide: jealousy, hatred, love, and guilt are explored in Jenůfa and Káťa Kabanová, nature and the eternal round of the seasons in the fantasy The Cunning Little Vixen, satire in The Excursions of Mr Brouček, and harsh reality in The Makropulos Affair and the extraordinary From the House of the Dead—yet in all these disparate works the principal element is a compelling faith in humankind and its grip on life. Prin. works:OPERAS: Šárka (text by Zeyer) (1887–8, rev. 1918 and 1924); The Beginning of a Romance (Počátek Románu) (1891, prod. 1894); Her Foster-Daughter (Její Pastorkyńa, known as Jenůfa) (1894–1903, 1st rev. 1906); Fate (Osud) (1903–5, rev. 1906–7); The Excursions of Mr Brouček (Výlet páně Broučkovy) (1908–17); Káťa Kabanová (Katya Kabanova) (1919–21); The Cunning Little Vixen (Příhody lišky Bystroušky) (1921–3); The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos) (1923–5); From the House of the Dead (Z Mrtvého Domu) (1927–8).ORCH.: Suite for Strings (1877); Idyll for strings (1877); Suite (c.1891); Lachian Dances (Lašske tance) (1889–90); ov. Jealousy (Žárlivost) (1894); ballad The Fiddler's Child (Šumařovo Dítě) (1912); rhapsody Taras Bulba (1915–18); sym.-poem The Ballad of Blanik (Balada blanická) (1920); Sinfonietta (1926); sym.-poem Danube (Dunaj) (1923–8, completed by O. Chlubna); vn. conc. (Pilgrimage of the Soul) (c.1926–8, sketches completed by M. Stědroň and L. Faltus, 1988. See From the House of the Dead).CHORUS & ORCH.: Lord, have mercy on us (Hospodine pomiluj ny), double ch., solo qt., wind orch., org., hp. (1897); Amarus, sop, ten., bar., ch., orch. (c.1897, rev. 1901, 1906); At the Inn of Solan (Na Solani Čarták), ten., male ch., orch. (1911); The Eternal Gospel (Věčné Evangelium), sop., ten., ch., orch. (1914–15); Glagolitic Mass (Glagolská mše), sop., alto, ten., bass, ch., org., orch. (1926); Nursery Rhymes (Řikadla), 9 vv., pf., 11 instr. (1925, rev. 1927).CHORUS: Ploughing (Oriani), male ch. (1876); The Wild Duck (Kačena Divoka) (c.1885); 4 Choruses, male vv. (1886); The Wreath (Vinek), 4 male ch. (1904); 4 Moravian Choruses, male vv. (1904); Songs of the Hradčany (Hradčanské Piškičky), 3 ch., women's vv. (1916); Diary of One Who Disappeared (Zápisník Zmizelého), song-cycle, ten., cont., 3 women's vv., pf. (1917–19); Wolf Tracks (Vlěì stopa), sop., women's ch., pf. (1916); Kaspar Rucky, women's ch. (1916); Teacher Halfar (Kantor Halfar), male vv. (1906, rev. 1917); The Czech Legions (České Legie), male ch. (1918); The Wandering Madman (Potulny šilenec), sop., male ch. (1922).CHAMBER MUSIC: Dumka, vn., pf. (c.1880); Fairy Tale (Pohádka), vc., pf. (1910, 2nd version 1923); vn. sonata (1914, rev. 1921); str. qt. No.1 (Kreutzer Sonata) (1923–4), No.2 (Intimate Letters) (Listy důvěrné) (1928); Youth (Mládi), wind sextet (1924); concertino for pf., chamber orch. (c.1925); Capriccio, pf. (left hand), chamber orch. (c.1926).PIANO: Vallachian Dances (1888); National Dances of Moravia, for pf. (4 hands), Books 1 and 2 (1891), Book 3 (1893); On an Overgrown Path (Po zarostlém Chodnìčku), 15 short pieces (7 orig. for harmonium) (1901–8); Sonata 1:x:1905 (A street scene; Z ulice) (the day a worker was killed by a soldier for demonstrating for a Cz. univ. in Brno); In the Mists (V mlhách) (1912); Moravian Dances, 2 books (1912); In the Threshing House (1913).SOLO VOICE: Song of Spring, v., pf. (1897); Folk Poetry of Hukwald, 13 songs for v., pf. (1899); A Garland of Moravian Folk Songs, 53 songs coll. by Bartoš and Janáček, with pf. acc. by Janáček, Book 1 (1892), 2 (1901).

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Leoš Janáček

Leoš Janáček

The Czech composer Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) was one of the most important opera composers of the first half of the 20th century.

Leoš Janáček, one of 14 children, was born in an obscure village in Moravia, where his father was an impoverished schoolteacher and church organist. Leoš was sent as a choirboy to the St. Augustine Abbey, Brno, at the age of 10, where he received a rudimentary musical education and learned to play the organ. With the help of a patron, he went to Prague in 1874 to enter the organ school with the intention of becoming an organist and church choir director. His interest in composition grew, and study at the conservatories in Leipzig and Vienna followed. By the time he was 25, he had acquired a solid technique, although he had not written any compositions of consequence.

In 1875 Janáček returned to Brno, where he spent the rest of his life. He worked indefatigably to make this provincial city into a musical center. He conducted choirs, established a symphony orchestra, and founded an organ school to train church musicians. Frank and impolitic, he alienated himself from the musical establishment in Prague, and thus his recognition as a composer was delayed.

Janáček became interested in collecting folk songs and in studying the relationships between language and music. He wrote down, in musical notation, sentences and expressions he heard, and he was fascinated with animal sounds.

Not until he was almost 50 did Janáček achieve musical maturity in his opera Jenufa (1903). First produced in Brno, it eventually received performances in Prague, Vienna (in German), cities in Germany, and New York City at the Metropolitan Opera in 1924. The last 20 years of his life were very fruitful and filled with honors. His operas Kata Kabanova (1921), The Cunning Little Fox (1924), The Makropolous Case (1925), and The House of the Dead (1928) were widely performed in the post-World War II period.

Janáček's opera texts show a wide variety of types, from the animal fairy-tale atmosphere of The Cunning Little Fox to the gloom of Fyodor Dostoevsky's House of the Dead. Jenufa and Kata Kabanova are in the tradition of verismo, that is, realistic, opera: they are stories of simple, rural people involved in violent emotional experiences. The outstanding traits of these operas are the vividness of emotional expression and the avoidance of typically operatic conventions. The melodic lines proceed in lines close to speech, while the orchestra uses leitmotivs in a free manner. All the operas, no matter how different in subject, express the composer's compassion for the human condition.

Janáček also wrote a number of important instrumental compositions. These include two String Quartets (1923, 1928), Taras Bulba for orchestra (1924), the Suite for Wind Instruments (1924), and numerous songs and piano pieces. His Glagolitic (Slavonic) Mass (1927) achieved international recognition.

Further Reading

Hans Hollander, Leoš Janáček: His Life and Work (trans. 1963), is a sympathetic study of the man and his music. See also Rosa Newmarch, The Music of Czechoslovakia (1942), and Jaroslav Šeda, Leoš Janáček (trans. 1956).

Additional Sources

Horsbrugh, Ian, Leoš Janáček, the field that prospered, Newton Abbot: David & Charles; New York: Scribner's, 1981.

Janáček, Leoš, Janáček, leaves from his life, New York: Taplinger Pub. Co., 1982.

Susskind, Charles, Janáček and Brod, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.

Vogel, Jaroslav, Leoš Janáček, a biography, London: Orbis Pub., 1981. □

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Janáček, Leoš

Leoš Janáček (lĕ´ôsh yä´nächĕk), 1854–1928, Czech composer, theorist, and collector of Slavic folk music. He studied in Prague and Leipzig and founded a music conservatory at Brno in 1881. His works include the operas Jenufa (1904), his best-known work; Katia Kabanova (1921), after Ostrovsky's Storm; The Makropulos Affair (1926); and From the House of the Dead (1930), after a novel by Dostoyevsky. Also of note are Janáček's song cycle, The Diary of One Who Vanished (1916–19), and his Glagolitic Festival Mass (1926), with a text in Old Slavonic.

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Janáček, Leoš

Janáček, Leoš (1854–1928) Czech composer. His compositions include orchestral works, such as Taras Bulba (1918) and the Sinfonietta (1926), two string quartets (1923, 1928), and the cantata The Eternal Gospel (1914). He also wrote several operas, including Jenůfa (1904), The Cunning Little Vixen (1924), and The Makropoulos Case (1926).

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