Leoš Janácek

(3 July 1854, Hukvaldy - 12 August Ostrava)


Leo Eugen Janácek was a Czech composer, musical theorist, folklorist, publicist and teacher. Nowadays he is widely regarded as one of the most important exponents of musical nationalism of the 20th century. He showed an early musical talent in choral singing. Although his father envisioned a future in teaching at a school for Janácek, his musical abilities led him to another path.

In 1865 he enrolled as a ward of the foundation of the Abbey of St. Thomas in Brno, where he took part in choral singing under Pavel Krížkovský and occasionally played the organ. Although he was gifted as a pianist, he turned his attention to composition. While choirmaster of the Svatopluk Artisan's Association (1873–76) he wrote his first vocal compositions. In 1874 he enrolled at the Prague organ school, under František Skuherský and František Blažek, and after one year, graduated with the best results in his class.

In 1876 he began studying piano under Amálie Wickenhauserová-Nerudová, with whom he co-organized chamber concertos and performed in concerts over the next 2 years. From October 1879 to February 1880 he continued studying piano, organ and composition at the Leipzig Conservatory. In the months spent at Leipzig he composed his Thema con variazioni for piano in B flat, also named Zdenka's Variations. Dissatisfied with his teachers, Janácek moved on to the Vienna Conservatory, where he sought to deepen his skills as a composer under Franz Krenn. Due to high criticism of his piano technique and ”academic” compositions, he left the conservatory in June 1880.

In 1881, Janácek founded the Brno organ school and was appointed director until 1919 when the school became the Brno Conservatory. That same year, he became the director of the Czech Philharmonic Conservatory, until 1888. The main compositions from this period include the Four male-voice choruses (1886), dedicated to Antonín Dvorák, and his first opera, Šárka (1887–88) produced in 1925. During this same period he began studying folk music, songs and dances. In the early 1890s he began his folklorist activity in Moravia and Silesia, using a repertoire of orchestral and piano arrangements of folk songs and dances. Most of his achievements in this field were published in 1899–1901 though his interest in folklore would be lifelong.

Although his earliest works were composed in the Romantic style, in his later operas he developed a distinctly Czech style intimately connected with the inflections of his native speech and, like his purely instrumental music, making use of the scales and melodic characteristics of Moravian folk music. In the first decade of the 20th century Janácek composed choral church music including Otcenáš (Our Father, 1901), Constitutes (1903) and Ave Maria (1904). In 1901 the first part of his piano cycle On an Overgrown Path was published, and gradually became one of his most frequently performed works.

Dedicated to his dying daughter, Olga, his new work Jenufa was performed in Brno in 1904 with reasonable success. Future works based on the poetry of Petr Bezruc include Kantor Halfar (1906), Marycka Magdónova (1908), and Sedmdesát tisíc (1909). Besides Jenufa, hie most important operas were Vec Makropulos (1926; The Makropulos Case), Z mrtvého domu (1930; From the House of the Dead ), the two one-act satirical operas Výlet pana Broucka do Mesíce (Mr. Broucek’s Excursion to the Moon) and Výlet pana Broucka do XV stol (Mr. Broucek’s Excursion to the 15th Century), both performed in Prague in 1920, and the comic opera Príhody Lišky Bystroušky (1924; The Cunning Little Vixen). His operas are marked by a skilled use of music to heighten dramatic impact.

In 1920 Janácek retired from his post as director of the Brno Conservatory, but continued to teach until 1925. His notable choral works include the Glagolská mše (1926; Glagolitic Mass, also called Slavonic or Festival Mass), his song cycles Zápisník zmizelého (1917–19; Diary of One Who Vanished) and Rikadla (1925–27; Nursery Rhymes).
Janácek also wrote a number of instrumental chamber works in which, as in his vocal works, he manipulates blocks of strong harmonies and repetitive melodies influenced by the contours of his native folk music. His use of elements of folk music and his attention to speech inflection mark him as a 20th-century counterpart of Mussorgsky. Although some influence of the French musical Impressionists appears in his later works, Janácek’s style remained highly individual and original.

Here  you can find a list of Leoš Janácek's compositions.