Leos Janacek

Janáček, Leoš

 

(also Leo Eugen Janáček). Born July 3, 1854, in Hukvaldy, Moravia; died Aug. 12, 1928, in Ostrava. Czech composer, folklorist, choirmaster, conductor, teacher, and music critic.

Janáček studied under P. Křižkovský in Brno from 1865 to 1872 and under F. Z. Skuherský at the Organ School in Prague in 1875; in 1879 and 1880 he studied at the Leipzig and Vienna conservatories. In 1881 he founded the Organ School in Brno (since 1919 a branch of the Prague Conservatory) and became its head. From 1881 to 1888 he was conductor of the orchestra of the Czech Philharmonic Society and edited the music newspaper Hudební listy (Musical Pages).

Beginning in the 1890’s, Janáček collected and adapted Moravian folk music, publishing some 2,500 folk songs. In 1889 he wrote the now classic article “The Musical Aspect of Moravian Folk Songs.” The founder of the 20th-century national school of composers, Janáček drew on previously unknown ancient Moravian folk music, although his mature works did not make use of particular folk melodies. In highly original fashion he musically rendered specific Bohemian and Moravian speech inflections, which he notated as “spoken songs.” He achieved a synthesis of the harmony, rhythm, and color of folk music art with a modern musical idiom, thereby creating a unique individual musical style that drew on the achievements of 20th-century musical art and is distinguished by its strikingly national originality.

Janáček, reacting against the influence of German late romanticism on Czech music, turned to Russian realistic musical art, Franco-Italian verismo, and French music of the turn of the 20th century. He initiated Czech composers’ interest in Russian literature as a source for operas and programmatic works. He headed the Russian Circle in Brno from 1896 to 1915 and visited Russia in 1896 and 1902. His Piano Trio (1909) and String Quartet (1923) were inspired by The Kreutzer Sonata of L. N. Tolstoy, whom he called a “teacher of life,” and sketches for the operas Anna Karenina and The Living Corpse have been preserved. Also based on plots from Russian literature were the symphonic rhapsody Taras Bulba (1918, after N. V. Gogol), the opera Katia Kabanova (1921, based on A. N. Ostrovskii’s The Thunderstorm), and the opera From the House of the Dead (1928; staged 1930, Brno; after F. M. Dostoevsky).

Notable among Janáček’s nine operas are Her Foster Daughter (Jenůfa; 1904, Brno), the productions of which in Prague in 1916 and Vienna in 1918 earned the composer worldwide recognition, and The Cunning Little Vixen (1924, Brno). Other works include the oratorio Glagolitic Mass (1926), the Sinfonietta (1926), works for chamber orchestra with various instruments, choral works, songs and song cycles, and piano sonatas.

After the independent Czechoslovak Republic was created, Janáček gained widespread recognition. He was chairman of the Moravian Composers’ Club (1919) and represented Czech musical art at international music festivals in Salzburg (1923), Venice (1925), and Frankfurt am Main (1927). An opera theater and the Academy of Fine Arts (1947) in Brno were named in his honor. Festivals devoted to Janáček’s works were held in Brno in 1948, 1958, 1965, and 1978.

REFERENCES

Asaf’ev, B. lanachek, Novak, Ferster, Suk: Izbr. trudy, vol. 4. Moscow, 1955.
Nest’ev, I. ’Eepadcheritsa’ L. lanachka. Moscow, 1960.
Poliakova, L. Opernoe tvorchestvo Leosha lanachka. Moscow, 1968.
Poliakova, L. Cheshskaia i slovatskaia opera XX v., book 1. Moscow, 1978. Pages 73–273.
Vogel, J. Leoš Janášek. Prague, 1958.
Štědroň, B. Leoš Janáček. Prague, 1976.

L. V. POLIAKOVA

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In the United States, Italian, French, German, and English language operas are most often performed, both professionally and in collegiate settings; however, operas by Czech composers such as Leos JanAcek's Jenufa, Vec Makropulos (The Makropulos Case), Z mrtveho domu (From the House of the Dead), Bedrich Smetana's Hubicka (The Kiss), ProdanA nevesta (The Bartered Bride), and Antonin DvorAk's Rusalka have been performed in major American opera houses over the course of the last decade.
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Its next 'Music at the Museum' event will see the world-famous Prazak Quartet (from Czech Republic), along with the Cypriot clarinettist and artistic director of the Music at the Museum series George Georgiou, in a concert featuring works by Leos Janacek and Carl Maria von Weber.
LEOS Janacek's harrowing opera, Jenufa, makes for an uncomfortable evening in the theatre, but, in Tom Cairns' pared-down and intensely moving production - with inspired conducting from Aleksandar Markovic - it can be a thrilling experience, too.
In an evening of European music, the German showed contrasting sides to his piano playing, opening with Leos Janacek's lighthearted Concertino, in which the 71-yearold composer returned to his childhood with vivid scenes from the natural world he saw.