Leos Janáček

He was a chorister at the Augustinian 'Queen's' Monastery in Old Brno, where the choirmaster Pavel Krizkovsky took a keen interest in his musical education. After completing his basic schooling he trained as a teacher and, except for a period at the Prague Organ School, he spent 1872-9 largely as a schoolteacher and choral conductor in Brno. In 1879 he enrolled at the Leipzig Conservatory, where he developed his interest in composition under the strict and systematic supervision of Leo Grill. After a month in Vienna he returned to Brno in May 1880; there he became engaged to one of his pupils, Zdenka Schulzova, whom he married in July 1881.In Brno, Janacek took up his former activities, and he also founded and directed an organ school and edited a new musical journal, Hudebni­ listy. After composing his first opera, Sarka, he immersed himself in collecting and studying Moravian folk music, which bore fruit in a series of orchestral suites and dances and in a one-act opera, The Beginning of a Romance. This was favourably received in 1894, but Janacek withdrew it after six performances and set to work on Jenufa.

During the long period of composition of Jenufa (1894-1903), Janacek rethought his approach to opera and to composition in general. He largely abandoned the number opera, integrated folksong firmly into his music and formulated a theory of 'speech-melody', based on the natural rhythms and the rise and fall of the Czech language, which was to influence all his ensuing works and give them a particular colour through their jagged rhythms and lines. Jenufa was soon followed by other operatic ventures, but his reputation in Brno was as a composer of instrumental and choral music and as director of the Organ School. Outside Moravia he was almost unknown until the Prague premiere of Jenufa in 1916. The creative upsurge of a man well into his 60s is explained partly by the success of Jenufa in Prague and abroad, partly by his patriotic pride in the newly acquired independence of his country, and perhaps most of all by his passionate, though generally distant, attachment to Kamila Stoesslova, the young wife of an antique dealer in Pisek, Bohemia.

Between 1919 and 1925 Janacek composed three of his finest operas, all on subjects with special resonances for him: Katya Kabanova with its neglected wife who takes a lover, The Cunning Little Vixen with its sympathetic portrayal of animals (and particularly the female fox), and The Makropoulos Affair with the 'ageless' woman who fascinates all men. Each was given first in Brno and soon after in Prague. His 70th birthday was marked by a doctorate from the Masaryk University in Brno. Early in 1926 he wrote the Sinfonietta for orchestra, characteristic in its blocks of sound and its forceful repetitions, and later that year his most important choral work, the Glagolitic Mass. While performance of his music carried his fame abroad, he started work on his last opera, From the House of the Dead, which he did not live to see performed. It received its premiere in April 1930 in a version prepared by his pupils Bretislav Bakala and Osvald Chlubna.

Janacek's reputation outside Czechoslovakia and German-speaking countries was first made as an instrumental composer. He has since come to be regarded not only as a Czech composer worthy to be ranked with Smetana and Dvorak, but also as one of the most substantial and original opera composers of the 20th century.

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1877 Suite for String Orchestra 3.50 stars CD
Sinfonietta - Taras Bulba Comments:
Los Angelos Chamber Orchestra cond. Neville Marinner
1888 Lachian Dances 4.00 stars CD
Sinfonietta - Taras Bulba Comments:
London Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Francois Huybrechts
1918 Taras Bulba 4.50 stars CD
Sinfonietta - Taras Bulba Comments:
Wiener Philharmoniker cond. Charles Mackerras
Sinfonietta - Taras Bulba
1918 Taras Bulba 4.50 stars LP
Taras Bulba Comments:
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Karel Ancerl
1918 Taras Bulba 4.00 stars DVD-R

Comments:

National Youth Orchestra cond. Colin Davis

Recorded from BBC Proms 2011

1917-1920 Tagebuch eines verschollenen 4.50 stars LP
Tagebuch Comments:
Kay Griffel - Alto
Ernst Haefliger - Tenor
Conductor and pianist - Rafael Kubelik
1920-1921 Kata Kabanova 4.50 stars 2CD
Tagebuch Comments:
Synopsis:

Act I
The setting is the Russian town of Kalinov, in the 1860s. Vana Kudrjas admires the view of the Volga River, which amuses the more literal-minded housekeeper of the adjoining Kabanov estate. Two men approach, Dikoj and his nephew, Boris Grigorjevic, where Dikoj is berating Boris. Dikoj learns that Kabanicha, the Kabanov family matriarch, is not at home. Dikoj leaves, and Boris explains to Kata why he tolerates the abuse: his parents are dead, and to be able collect his inheritance, he must respect his uncle no matter what his uncle says to him. Boris also tells Vana that he is secretly in love with Kata, the young wife of Tichon. Boris and Kata depart as Kabanicha berates Tichon for his inattentiveness. Tichon and Kata try to calm her down, but Kabanicha will have none of it, telling Tichon that he spoils Kata. Tichon complains to Varvara, the family's foster daughter, who rebukes him for retreating into drinking more than defending Kata.In the house, Kata tells Varvara of her happy childhood, and dreams of having a man who truly loves her. Tichon enters to say good-bye, as he is journeying to Kazan on business, for Kabanicha. Kata asks to accompany him or for him not to go, but he insists. Kata then asks him to make her swear an oath to speak to no strangers during his absence, which puzzles Tichon. Kabanicha announces that Tichon must go, but not before instructing Kata how to behave in his absence. Tichon dutifully says that Kata must treat Kabanicha like her own mother and always act properly. He bows to Kabanicha and kisses her and Kata before he departs.

Act II
The women are working on embroidery. Kabanicha criticizes Kata for appearing more sorrowful at Tichon's absence. After Kabanicha leaves, Varvara shows Kata the key to the far part of the garden. Varvara intends to meet Vana, her lover, there. She hints at the same suggestion Vana, and puts the key in her hand. Kata is hesitant, but then surrenders to fate and will meet Boris. She steps outside as evening comes on. Kabanicha reappears with Dikoj, who is drunk and complaining that people take advantage of his softhearted nature. However, Kabanicha chastises him.Vana is waiting for Varvara in the garden. Boris then unexpectedly appears, after receiving a message to go there. Varvara arrives, and she and Vana go for a walk by the river. Kata then appears, and Boris declares his love for her. She is at first worried about social ruin, but finally she reciprocates her secret feelings for him. They embrace and themselves leave for a walk. Vana and Varvara return, as she explains her precautions in case Kabanicha suddenly appears. Kata and Boris are heard in wordless, ecstatic duet as Vana and Varvara say that it is time to return home.

Act III
Vana and Kuligan are strolling near the river when an approaching storm causes them to take shelter in a ruined building. Other people join them, including Dikoj. Vana tries to calm Dikoj with scientific explanations about a new invention, the lightning rod. However, this only angers Dikoj, who insists storms are not electricity but punishment from God. The rain dies down, and people start to leave the shelter. Vana meets Boris and Varvara. Varvara says that Tichon has returned, and Kata is very agitated. Kabanicha arrives with Tichon and Kata. The storm returns, and people assume initially that this is what upsets Kata. However, she confesses to Tichon in front of everyone her assignation with Boris during her husband's absence. Then she runs out into the storm.Evening approaches after the storm has ended. Tichon and a search party are looking for Kata. At first among the party, Varvara and Vana then decide to leave the village for Moscow and start a new life. They leave, and as the searchers continue, Kata appears. She knows that her confession has dishonoured her and humiliated Boris. She feels tormented and wants to meet Boris one more time. Boris appears and sees her, and the two embrace. Boris says that his uncle is sending him away to another town, but asks her what will become of her. Distracted, she bids him farewell, and he leaves in sorrow. After thinking of how nature will continue to flourish over her grave, Kata throws herself into the river. Kuligan sees this from the far bank and calls for help. Tichon appears, followed by Kabanicha. Tichon blames Kabanicha for Kata's suicide. Dikoj appears with Kata's body and lays her on the ground. Tichon cries, and without any emotion, Kabanicha thanks the bystanders for their help.

Solists
Wiener Staatsopernchor
Wiener Philharmoniker cond. Charles Mackerras

1922 Sonata for Violin and Piano 4.00 stars LP
Prokovief - Janacek Comments:
David Oistrakh - Violin
Frida Bauer - Piano
1923 String Quartet No 1 (Kreutzer Sonata) 4.00 stars LP
String Quartet Comments:
Janacek Quartet
1924 Mládi (Youth) 4.00 stars LP
Vienna Wind Comments:
The Vienna Wind Ensemble
1924 Mládi (Youth) 4.00 stars CD
Sinfonietta - Taras Bulba Comments:
Sebastian Bell - Flute
Janet Craxton - Oboe
Anthony Pay - Clarinet
Michael Harris - Bass Clarinet
Martin Gatt - Bassoon
Philip Eastrop - Horn
1925 Sinfonietta 4.50 stars CD
Sinfonietta - Taras Bulba Comments:
Wiener Philharmoniker cond. Charles Mackerras
Sinfonietta - Taras Bulba
1924 The Cunning Little Vixen 4.50 stars DVD
Sinfonietta - Taras Bulba Comments:
Thomas Allen
Eva Jenis
Orchestre de Paris cond. Charles MacKerras

Synopsis:

Act I:
In the forest, the animals and insects are playing and dancing around. The forester (baritone) enters and lies down against a tree for a nap. The Vixen (soprano), in baby form (usually sung by a young girl), inquisitively chases a frog right into the lap of the surprised forester who forcibly takes her home as a pet. Time passes (in the form of an orchestral interlude) and we see the Vixen, now grown (to full size soprano), tied up in the forester's yard with the conservative old dachshund (mezzo). Fed up with life in confinement, the vixen chews through her rope, attacks the chickens, and hops the fence to freedom.

Act II:
The vixen takes over a badger's home and kicks him out. In the inn, the pastor, forester, teacher and schoolmaster drink and talk about their mutual infatuation with the gypsy girl Terynka. The drunken schoolmaster leaves the inn and mistakes a sunflower that the vixen is hiding behind for Terynka and confesses his devotion to her. The forester, also on his way home, sees the vixen and fires two shots at her, sending her running. Later, the vixen, coming into her womanhood, meets a charming boy fox (soprano), and they retire to the badger's home. An unexpected pregnancy and a forest full of gossipy creatures necessitate their marriage, which rounds out the act.

Act III:
The poacher Harasta (bass/bass-baritone) is engaged to Terynka and is out hunting in preparation for their marriage. He sets a fox trap, which the numerous vixen cubs mock. Harasta, watching from a distance, shoots and kills the vixen, sending her children running. At Harasta's wedding, the forester sees the vixen's fur, which Harasta gave to Terynka as a wedding present, and flees to the forest to reflect. He returns to the place where he met the vixen, and sits at the tree grieving the loss of both the vixen and Terynka. His grief grows until, just as in the beginning of the opera, a baby vixen unexpectedly jumps in his lap. This reassurance of the cycle of death leading to new life gives his heart a deep peace.

1925

Sinfonietta 4.50 stars LP
Sinfonietta - Taras Bulba Comments:
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Karel Ancerl
1925 Concertino 4.00 stars CD
Sinfonietta - Taras Bulba Comments:
Paul Crossley - Piano
London Sinfonetta cond. David Atherton
1925 Concertino 4.00 stars 8 CD
Comments:
Martha Argerich - Piano
Lucia Hall - Violin
Alissa Margulis - Violin
Nora Romanoff-Schwarzberg - Viola
Corrado Giuffredi - Clarinet
Zora Slokar - Horn
Vincent Godel - Bassoon
1926 Glagolitic Mass 4.50 stars LP
Glagolitic Mass Comments:
Brighton Festival Chorus
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Rudolf Kempe
1926 Glagolitic Mass 4.50 stars CD
Comments:
Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra cond. Charles Mackerras
1926 Capriccio 4.00 stars CD
Sinfonietta - Taras Bulba Comments:
Paul Crossley - Piano
London Sinfonietta cond. David Altherton
1927-1928 Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Pilgrimage of the Soul
3.50 stars CD
Comments:
Thomas Zehetmaier - Violin
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie cond. Heinz Holliger
1928 String Quartet No 2 (Intimate Letters) 4.00 stars LP
String Quartet Comments:
Janacek Quartet
Compilation Folk Songs 4.00 stars CD
Comments:
1. Little Queens: We're Carrying A May Pole - Severacek Children's Chor/Lukas Cerny

2. Little Queens: The Falcon's Flight - Severacek Children's Chor/Lukas Cerny

3. Little Queens: Our Little Queen Is Ill - Severacek Children's Chor/Lukas Cerny

4. Little Queens: Heigh Ho, My Little Queen - Severacek Children's Chor/Lukas Cerny

5. Little Queens: What Kind Of Queen Has The King Got? - Severacek Children's Chor/Lukas Cerny

6. Little Queens: Oni Oni Onion - Severacek Children's Chor/Lukas Cerny

7. Little Queens: The Swain's Young Wife - Severacek Children's Chor/Lukas Cerny

8. Little Queens: We're Going To The Mill - Severacek Children's Chor/Lukas Cerny

9. Little Queens: The Pretty Little Queen Is Standing - Severacek Children's Chor/Lukas Cerny

10. Little Queens: Our Queen - Severacek Children's Chor/Lukas Cerny

11. Little Queens: The Willows Are Turning Green - Severacek Children's Chor/Lukas Cerny

12. Hukvaldy, Folk Poetry: Andy, Andy - Stanislav Predota/Adam Skoumal

13. Hukvaldy, Folk Poetry: You Little Church In Hukvaldy - Eva Struplova/Adam Skoumal

14. Hukvaldy, Folk Poetry: Mommy Dear - Eva Struplova/Adam Skoumal

15. Hukvaldy, Folk Poetry: On The Ballif's Meadows - Stanislav Predota/Adam Skoumal

16. Hukvaldy, Folk Poetry: Why Are You So Sad, Little Rose? - Stanislav Predota/Adam Skoumal

17. Hukvaldy, Folk Poetry: The Ballif's Hana - Stanislav Predota/Adam Skoumal

18. Hukvaldy, Folk Poetry: She Herded Cows - Eva Struplova/Stanislav Predota/Adam Skoumal

19. Hukvaldy, Folk Poetry: What Are Those Shadows? - Stanislav Predota/Adam Skoumal

20. Hukvaldy, Folk Poetry: The Oak In Our Yard - Stanislav Predota/Adam Skoumal

21. Hukvaldy, Folk Poetry: When I Went Through The Black Forest - Eva Struplova/Stanislav Predota/Adam Skoumal

22. Hukvaldy, Folk Poetry: You Little Church In Hukvaldy, Hey! - Stanislav Predota/Adam Skoumal

23. Hukvaldy, Folk Poetry: God Bless You - Eva Struplova/Stanislav Predota/Adam Skoumal

24. Hukvaldy, Folk Poetry: When I Went Around The Yard - Stanislav/Adam Skoumal

25. Folk Nocturnes: Hey, Girl, Mowing Grass - Severacek Children's Chor/Hanus Barton

26. Folk Nocturnes: It's Going To Get Cold And Freeze - Severacek Children's Chor/Hanus Barton

27. Folk Nocturnes: The Master's Meadow's Green - Severacek Children's Chor/Hanus Barton

28. Folk Nocturnes: The Foreman's Going Through The Valley - Severacek Children's Chor/Hanus Barton

29. Folk Nocturnes: Our Handsome Johnny - Severacek Children's Chor/Hanus Barton

30. Folk Nocturnes: When I Go Of To The Army, Sweetheart! - Severacek Children's Chor/Hanus Barton

31. Folk Nocturnes: The Swallow Flew High - Severacek Children's Chor/Hanus Barton

32. Nursery Rhymes: Intro - Hanus Barton/Stepan Koutnik/Ludmila Peterkova/Jaroslav Kubita/Ondrej Roskovec/Vaclav Roskovec

33. Nursery Rhymes: The Beet Got Married - Richard Sporka/Josef Brozman/Lubomir Moravec/Jiri Prudic/Jiri Uherek/Hanus Barton/Stepan Koutnik...

34. Nursery Rhymes: It's Best In Spring - Richard Sporka/Hanus Barton/Pavel Foltyn

35. Nursery Rhymes: Crawling Mole - Hanus Barton/Stepan Koutnik/Ludmila Peterkova/Severacek Children's Chor/Milan Uherek

36. Nursery Rhymes: Chales Rode To Hell - Hanus Barton/Stepan Koutnik/Severacek Children's Chor/Milan Uherek

37. Nursery Rhymes: Torn Trousers - Hanus Barton/Stepan Koutnik/Ludmila Peterkova/Severacek Children's Chor/Milan Uherek

38. Nursery Rhymes: Frank The Bully Played The Bass - Richard Sporka/Josef Brozman/Lubomir Moravec/Hanus Barton/Stepan Koutnik/Ludmila Peterkova...

39. Nursery Rhymes: Our Dog - Hanus Barton/Stepan Koutnik/Severacek Children's Chor/Milan Uherek

40. Nursery Rhymes: I'm Making, Making A Sermon - Hanus Barton/Stepan Koutnik/Ludmila Peterkova/Severacek Children's Chor/Milan Uherek

41. Nursery Rhymes: The Old Woman Cast A Spell - Hanus Barton/Lukas Cerny/Vaclav Hoskovec/Severacek Children's Chor/Milan Uherek

42. Nursery Rhymes: Heigh, Ho, There The Cows Go - Hanus Barton/Stepan Koutnik/Ludmila Peterkova/Severacek Children's Chor/Milan Uherek

43. Nursery Rhymes: My Tiny Little Wife - Richard Sporka/Hanus Barton/Stepan Koutnik

44. Nursery Rhymes: Old Woman In The Bushes - Hanus Barton/Jaroslav Kubita/Severacek Children's Chor/Milan Uherek

45. Nursery Rhymes: The White Goat Gathers Pears - Hanus Barton/Stepan Koutnik/Ludmila Peterkova/Severacek Children's Chor/Milan Uherek

46. Nursery Rhymes: Jerry Bug Beat The Jug - Jiri Prudic/Jiri Uherek/Hanus Barton/Stepan Koutnik/Ludmila Peterkova

47. Nursery Rhymes: The Goat Is Lying In The Hay - Hanus Barton/Stepan Koutnik/Severacek Children's Chor/Milan Uherek

48. Nursery Rhymes: Wencie Pencie, The Drummer - Hanus Barton/Stepan Koutnik/Ludmila Peterkova/Jan Ourednik/Severacek Children's Chor/Milan Uherek

49. Nursery Rhymes: Frankie, Frankie - Hanus Barton/Stepan Koutnik/Ludmila Peterkova/Vaclav Hoskovec/Severacek Children's Chor/Milan Uherek

50. Nursery Rhymes: Bear On The Log - Richard Sporka/Josef Brozman/Lubomir Moravec/Jiri Prudic/Jiri Uherek/Hanus Barton/Pavel Foltyn.