Personalities | Leoš Janáček | Modern Era | Classical
(La’-osh Ya’-na-chek) 1854–1928
Janáček came from a teaching family and initially followed that calling, though he later studied music in Prague, Leipzig and Vienna. He made his mark by fostering musical life in the Moravian capital Brno as teacher and conductor, and by collecting and publishing folksong.
His musical voice crystallized in the realist opera Jenůfa, given its successful premiere in 1904. A late starter, he consolidated his style in music for piano and choir, and two more operas, over the next 12 years.
Acclaim in Prague eluded him until the triumphant success of Jenůfa there in 1916. At the same time, Janáček met and fell in love with a married woman, Kamila Stösslová, nearly 40 years younger, who became his muse. Images of Kamila dominate the depiction of women in his next three operas, Kátya Kabanová (1921), The Cunning Little Vixen (1924) and The Makropulos Affair (1925), and his unrequited love for her was celebrated in his second string quartet, Intimate Letters (1928). New-found love and the encouraging prospect of a free Czechoslovak state – realized in 1918 – released huge creative energy in Janáček. Nearly all of his best-known works come from the 1920s and are marked by a buoyant enthusiasm which communicates itself markedly in the well-known Sinfonietta (1926).
Janáček is the greatest Czech composer of the twentieth century. Folksong and the sound of the Czech language had a major impact on his style. His early works have affinities with his friend and mentor Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904), but his explosive originality owes very little to conventional influence. Short melodic ideas, succinctly communicating enormous sentiment, set against strongly conceived tonal paragraphs, which often build to overwhelming climaxes – notably at the end of Jenůfa and in the outer movements of the Sinfonietta – result in a craggy but extremely compelling musical language. These qualities and an uncanny ability for characterization, especially of female figures, have made him one of the most popular and successful of twentieth-century opera composers.
Leoš Janáček: Works
Operas: Sárka (1888); The Beginning of a Romance (1891); Jenůfa (1903); Fate (1905); The Excursions of Mr Brouček (1917); Kátya Kabanová (1921); The Cunning Little Vixen (1923); The Makropulos Affair (1925); From the House of the Dead (1928)
Cantatas: Amarus (c. 1897); Glagolitic Mass (1926)
Song Cycle: The Diary of One Who Disappeared (1919)
Orchestral works: Taras Bulba (1925); Sinfonietta (1926)
String quartets: No. 1 The Kreutzer Sonata (1923); No. 2 Intimate Letters (1928)
Piano music: On the Overgrown Path (1901–08); Sonata ‘1 x 1905’ (1905); In the Mist (1912)
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