Leoš Janáček

Leoš Janáček

Leoš Janáček (IPAudio|Cs-Leos Janacek.ogg| [ˈlɛoʃ ˈjanaːtʃɛk] ) (July 3, 1854 – August 12, 1928), was a Czech composer, musical theorist, folklorist, publicist and teacher. He was inspired by Czech, Moravian and all Slavic folk music and on these roots created his original style. His most celebrated compositons include the symphonic poem "Sinfonietta", the oratorial "Glagolitic Mass", the rhapsody "Taras Bulba", and his string quartets and operas.

Life and work

Janáček was born in Hukvaldy, Moravia, (then part of the Austrian Empire), the son of Jiří Janáček, a schoolmaster, and Amalie Janáček.Drlíková (2004), p. 7] 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 Křížkovský and occasionally played the organ.Drlíková (2004), p. 7] Janáček became the choirmaster of the "Svatopluk artisan´s association" in 1873. During the "Svatopluk years" (1873-76) he wrote his first vocal compositions. [Drlíková (2004), p. 13] In 1874 he went to Prague to study music at the Prague organ school and made a living as a music teacher. He also conducted various amateur choirs.

From October 1879 to February 1880 he studied piano, organ, and composition at the Leipzig Conservatory [Drlíková (2004), p. 27] ; among his teachers there were Oskar Paul and Leo Grill. In Leipzig Janáček composed "Thema con variazioni" for piano in B flat subtitled "Zdenka’s Variations" [Drlíková (2004), p. 29] . From April to June 1880 he studied composition at the Vienna Conservatory with Franz Krenn.

Thereafter he returned to Brno and resumed his artistic and organizational activities. [Drlíková (2004), p. 31] On 13 July, 1881 he married his young pupil Zdenka Schulzová.Drlíková (2004), p. 33] He was appointed director of the organ school, a post he held until 1919, when the organ school became the Brno Conservatory.Drlíková (2004), p. 33] In the middle of the eighties Janáček started a more systematic compositional activity, he created the "Four male-voice choruses" (1886), dedicated to Antonín Dvořák, and his first opera "Šárka" (1887-8) among other works.Vysloužil, p. 224 cs icon] At that time he also started to study and collect folk songs, dances and music. In the beginning of 1887 occurred the first conflict between Janáček and Czech composer Karel Kovařovic, whose opera "The Bridegrooms" Janáček sharply criticized in the "Hudební listy" journal. Kovařovic later, as director of the National Theatre in Prague, refused to stage Janáček´s opera "Jenůfa". [Drlíková (2004), p. 41]

In 1888 Janáček attended the performance in Prague of Tchaikovsky’s music, and he met the older composer personally. Since early 1890s Janáček headed the mainstream of folklorist activities in Moravia and Silesia. He processed his folksongs and dances into orchestral and piano arrangements. Most of his achievements in this field were published in 1899-1901.Janáčkovy záznamy hudebního a tanečního folkloru, p. 380] However, his interest in the folklore persisted till his death.Janáčkovy záznamy hudebního a tanečního folkloru, p. 380] His own compositonal work from that time was still influenced by the declamatory and dramatic style of Smetana, Dvořák, and Wagner.Vysloužil, p. 224 cs icon] The cantata "Amarus" (1897), and the "Beginning of the Romance" (1891), another attempt of Janáček at writing an opera, were composed in that time. Vladimír, composer´s second child, died in 1890.

The fundamental break in Janáček´s output came with the start of the 20th century. In 1903 his daughter Olga died, too, his opera "Jenůfa" (dedicated to the memory of Olga) was refused by the National Theatre in Prague, and dejected, Janáček was recovering in the spa Luhačovice. In 1905 Janáček attended a demonstration in support of a Czech university in Brno, which inspired his composition of the 1. X. 1905 piano sonata. [Drlíková (2004), p. 67] His life situation in that time was difficult, he destroyed some of his works, many compositions remained unfinished, and he longed for artistic recognition from Prague. [Vysloužil,p. 225 cs icon]

In 1916 he started a long professional and personal relationship with theatre critic, dramatist and translator Max Brod. [Drlíková (2004), p. 83] [C Susskind, "Janáček and Brod", Yale University Press, 1985, ISBN 0-300-03420-2] In that same year was "Jenůfa", revised by Kovařovic, finally accepted by the National Theatre. The performance in Prague in 1916 was a great success, and brought Janáček his first acclaim; he was 62. Janáček started a relationship with singer Gabriela Horváthová after the Prague première which led to his wife Zdenka's suicide attemptcite web |url=http://www.leosjanacek.com/biography.htm |title=Janáček: a brief biography |accessdate=2008-09-15 |last=Plumley |first=Gavin |coauthors= |date= |work= |publisher=] [Thema con variazioni, p. 8 cs icon] and their informal divorce.cite web |url=http://www.leosjanacek.com/biography.htm |title=Janáček: a brief biography |accessdate=2008-09-15 |last=Plumley |first=Gavin |coauthors= |date= |work= |publisher=]

A year later (1917) he met Kamila Stösslová, a young married woman who was an inspiration to him for the remaining years of his life, and with whom he conducted an obsessive correspondence (nearly 730 lettersDrlíková (2004), p. 99] ) – passionate on his side at least.

He was relieved of duties as the director of the Brno Conservatory in 1920. [Drlíková (2004), p. 91] In 1922 Janáček attended a lecture by the Indian poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore, and composed the chorus "The Wandering Madman" on the text of this poem. Later that year he also encountered the microtonal works of Alois Hába.

In 1924, the year of his 70th birthday, the first biography of Janáček was published by Max Brod. The New York Times published an interview with Janáček by Olin Downes.Drlíková (2004), p. 99] In 1925 he retired from his functions. However, composing didn't stop. In 1926 Janáček travelled to England at the invitation of Rosa Newmarch, in London a number of his compositions were performed, e.g. his first string quartet, the wind sextet "Youth", and the violin sonata. [Drlíková (2004), p. 109] Janáček has been very successful and active in his later years, and became an international celebrity. [Vysloužil,p. 227 cs icon] Nevertheless, in August 1928, along with Kamila Stösslová and her son Otta, he made an excursion to Štramberk. Soon after this he became ill, and died in the sanatorium of Dr. L. Klein in Ostrava. [Drlíková (2004), p. 119] He is buried at the Central Cemetery in Brno.


In 1874 Janáček became friends with Antonín Dvořák, and began composing in a relatively traditional romantic style, but after his opera "Šárka" (1881), his style began to change. He made a study of Moravian and Slovak folk music and used elements of it in his own music. He especially focused on studying and reproducing the rhythm and the pitch contour and inflections of normal Czech speech, which helped in creating the very distinctive vocal melodies in his opera "Jenůfa" (1904). Going much farther than Modest Mussorgsky and anticipating the later work of Béla Bartók in such styles, Janáček made this a distinguishing feature of his vocal writing.Samson 1977] Janáček composed the majority of his output during the last decade of his life, although the fundamentals for his later works lies in the previous period of 1904-1918. [Vysloužil, p. 227 cs icon]

He is best known for the music he wrote from this point to the end of his life. Although many consider his output from this period to mark his mature style, he had been writing in this fashion for quite a number of years but had simply not received wide public acclaim earlier.fact|date=August 2008

Much of Janáček's work display great originality and individuality. His work is tonal, although it employs a vastly expanded view of tonality. He also uses unorthodox chord spacings and structures, often making use of modality: "there is no music without key. Atonality abolishes definite key, and thus tonal modulation....Folksong knows of no atonality." [Hollander 1963] He features accompaniment figures and patterns, with according to Jim Samson, "the on-going movement of his music...similarly achieved by unorthodox means—often a discourse of short, 'unfinished' phrases comprising constant repetitions of short motives which gather momentum in a cumulative manner." Samson 1977]


Janáček belongs to a wave of 20th century composers who were seeking greater realism and greater connection with everyday life, combined with a more all-encompassing use of musical resources. His operas in particular demonstrate the use of "speech"-derived melodic lines, folk and traditional material, and complex modal musical argument. Janáček's works are still regularly performed around the world, and are generally considered popular with audiences. He would also inspire later composers in his homeland, as well as music theorists, among them Jaroslav Volek, to place modal development alongside of harmony in importance in music.The operas of his mature period "Jenůfa" (1904), "Káťa Kabanová" (1921), "The Cunning Little Vixen" (1924), "The Makropulos Affair" (1926) and "From the House of the Dead" (after a novel by Dostoevsky, premiered posthumously in 1930) are considered as his finest works. [Kundera (2004), p. 43] The conductor Sir Charles Mackerras has become particularly closely associated with them.

His chamber music, while not especially voluminous, includes works which are generally considered to be "in the standard repertory" as 20th century classics, particularly his two string quartets: Quartet No. 1, "The Kreutzer Sonata" inspired by the Tolstoy novel, and the Quartet No. 2, "Intimate Letters".

At the Frankfurt am Main Festival of Modern Music in 1926 Ilona Štěpánová-Kurzová performed the world premiere of Janáček's lyrical Concertino for piano, two violins, viola, clarinet, French horn and bassoon; the Czech premiere took place in Brno on February 16, 1926. A comparable chamber work for an even more unusual set of instruments, the Capriccio for piano left hand, flute, two trumpets, three trombones and tenor tuba, was written for pianist Otakar Hollmann, who lost his right hand during World War I. After its premiere in Prague on March 2, 1928, it gained considerable acclaim in the musical world.

Other well known pieces by Janáček include the "Sinfonietta", the "Glagolitic Mass" (the text written in Old Church Slavonic), and the rhapsody "Taras Bulba". These pieces and the above mentioned five late operas were all written in the last decade of Janáček's life.


Both Janáček's style and thematic inspiration make use of several fundamental sources.


Janáček was deeply influenced by folklore, and by folk music in particular. His interest was not of the idealized romantic vision of folklore in the 19th century, but rather oriented to the realistic, descriptive and analytic approach.cite album-notes |title=Moravian Folk Poetry in Songs (Pecková, Kušnjer, Lapšanský) |albumlink= |bandname=Leoš Janáček |year=1994 |notestitle= |url= |first=Miloš |last=Štědroň |authorlink= |coauthors=(transl. Ivan Vomáčka) |pages=p. 8 |format=CD |publisher=Supraphon |publisherid=112214-2233 |location=Prague |mbid= cs icon en icon] Janáček partly composed the original piano accompaniments to more than 150 folk songs, with respect for their original function and context [cite book |title=Moravská lidová poezie v písních (foreword) |last=Janáček |first=Leoš |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1994 |publisher=Bärenreiter Editio Supraphon |location=Prague |isbn= |pages= |url= H 4570 cs icon de icon] , and partly used folklore inspiration in his own works, especially in his mature compositions.cite album-notes |title=Moravian Folk Poetry in Songs (Pecková, Kušnjer, Lapšanský) |albumlink= |bandname=Leoš Janáček |year=1994 |notestitle= |url= |first=Miloš |last=Štědroň |authorlink= |coauthors=(transl. Ivan Vomáčka) |pages=p. 8 |format=CD |publisher=Supraphon |publisherid=112214-2233 |location=Prague |mbid= cs icon en icon] Even though he didn't intentionally imitate the style of any folklore area with which he was acquainted, it is apparent that the basis of his style is to a large degree influenced by folk music.cite album-notes |title=Moravian Folk Poetry in Songs (Pecková, Kušnjer, Lapšanský) |albumlink= |bandname=Leoš Janáček |year=1994 |notestitle= |url= |first=Miloš |last=Štědroň |authorlink= |coauthors=(transl. Ivan Vomáčka) |pages=p. 8 |format=CD |publisher=Supraphon |publisherid=112214-2233 |location=Prague |mbid= cs icon en icon] Janáček's systematic practice of writing down folk songs formed an exceptional feeling for melody and rhythm of human speech which helped him to compile a list of distinctive segments that he would term "speech tunes".cite album-notes |title=Moravian Folk Poetry in Songs (Pecková, Kušnjer, Lapšanský) |albumlink= |bandname=Leoš Janáček |year=1994 |notestitle= |url= |first=Miloš |last=Štědroň |authorlink= |coauthors=(transl. Ivan Vomáčka) |pages=p. 8 |format=CD |publisher=Supraphon |publisherid=112214-2233 |location=Prague |mbid= cs icon en icon] He later transformated those extracts of spoken language in his vocal and instrumental works. The roots of his style, marked by the lilt of human speech, grow from the universe of folk music.cite album-notes |title=Moravian Folk Poetry in Songs (Pecková, Kušnjer, Lapšanský) |albumlink= |bandname=Leoš Janáček |year=1994 |notestitle= |url= |first=Miloš |last=Štědroň |authorlink= |coauthors=(transl. Ivan Vomáčka) |pages=p. 8 |format=CD |publisher=Supraphon |publisherid=112214-2233 |location=Prague |mbid= cs icon en icon]


Janáček's deep affection for Russia represents another important element of his musical inspiration.cite album-notes |title=Katya Kabanova (Prague National Theatre, Jaroslav Krombholc) |albumlink= |bandname=Leoš Janáček |year= |notestitle= |url= |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |pages=p. 6 |format=CD |publisher=Supraphon |publisherid=108016-2612 |location=Prague |mbid= ] This state of mind accompanied him throughout his life. Its artistic expression is apparent especially in the chamber, symphonic and operatic output of his mature years.cite album-notes |title=Katya Kabanova (Prague National Theatre, Jaroslav Krombholc) |albumlink= |bandname=Leoš Janáček |year= |notestitle= |url= |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |pages=p. 6 |format=CD |publisher=Supraphon |publisherid=108016-2612 |location=Prague |mbid= ] He showed a genuine interest in Russian culture and closely followed developments in Russian music from his early years. In 1896, following his first visit of Russia, he founded a "Russian Circle" in Brno. Janáček read Russian authors in their original language. Russian literature offered him an enormous source of inspiration to which he turned on many occasions. His views of Russia, however, were not only romantic; he also saw the evils of Russian society.cite album-notes |title=Katya Kabanova (Prague National Theatre, Jaroslav Krombholc) |albumlink= |bandname=Leoš Janáček |year= |notestitle= |url= |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |pages=p. 6 |format=CD |publisher=Supraphon |publisherid=108016-2612 |location=Prague |mbid= ] He was twenty-two years old when he wrote his first composition based on a Russian theme: a melodrama "Death" to the words of Lermontov's poem. In his later output, he often used literary models with sharply contoured plots.cite album-notes |title=Katya Kabanova (Prague National Theatre, Jaroslav Krombholc) |albumlink= |bandname=Leoš Janáček |year= |notestitle= |url= |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |pages=p. 6 |format=CD |publisher=Supraphon |publisherid=108016-2612 |location=Prague |mbid= ] In 1910 Zhukovsky's "Tale of Tsar Berendei" inspired him to write the "Fairy Tale for Cello and Piano". He composed the rhapsody "Taras Bulba" to the Gogol's short story in 1918, and five years later, in 1923, completed the first string quartet, inspired by Tolstoy´s "Kreutzer Sonata". Likewise two of his later operas were written to the Russian themes: "Káťa Kabanová", composed in 1921 to Ostrovsky's play, "The Storm", and his last work, "From the House of the Dead", transforming Dostoyevsky's vision of the world into an exciting collective drama. [cite album-notes |title=Katya Kabanova (Prague National Theatre, Jaroslav Krombholc) |albumlink= |bandname=Leoš Janáček |year= |notestitle= |url= |first= |last= |authorlink= |coauthors= |pages=p. 7 |format=CD |publisher=Supraphon |publisherid=108016-2612 |location=Prague |mbid= ]

Music theorist


Janáček created his music theory works, essays and articles in a period of fifty years, from 1877 to 1927. He contributed to many specialised music journals, such as "Cecílie", "Hlídka" and "Dalibor", but first of all he wrote and edited the "Hudební listy" journal. He also wrote several more extensive studies, as "Úplná nauka o harmonii" (The Complete Harmony Theory), "O skladbě souzvukův a jejich spojův" (On the Construction of Chords and Their Connections) and "Základy hudebního sčasování" (Basics of Music "sčasování"). [Teoretické dílo, p. 677] In his essays and books Janáček examined various musical topics, forms, melody and harmony theories, dyad and triad chords, counterpoint (he used the word "opora" - support - instead of counterpoint), devoted himself also to the studying of the mental compositional work. [Teoretické dílo, p. 677-678] Particularly important in his theoretical works is the Czech term "sčasování", Janáček´s specific word for rhythm. The term bears a relation to time ("time" = "čas" in Czech language) and handling with time in a music composition. [Teoretické dílo, p. 676] He distinguished several types of rhythm ("sčasovka"): "znící" (sounding) - meaning any rhythm, "čítací" (counting) - smaller units measuring the course of rhythm, and "scelovací" (summing) - a long value comprising the whole length of a rytmical unit. [Teoretické dílo, p. 676-677] Janáček used the combinations of their mutual action widely in his own works.

Other writing

Leoš Janáček´s literary legacy represents an important illustration of his life, public work and art between 1875 and 1928. He contributed not only to music journals, he wrote essays, reports, reviews, feuilletons, articles and books. His output in that area counts around 380 individual items. [Literární dílo, p. Iiii] His writing changed over time, and appeared in many genres. Nevertheless, the critical and theoretical sphere remained the main area of his interest.


Janáček came from a region characterized by deeply rooted folk culture, and he was in touch with folk music since his youth, as student of Pavel Křížkovský.Janáčkovy záznamy hudebního a tanečního folkloru, p. 381] Decisive for his further orientation of folklore and composing was his meeting with the folklorist and dialectologist František Bartoš (1837 - 1906). Together they cooperated preparing the folk song collections.Janáčkovy záznamy hudebního a tanečního folkloru, p. 381] Janáček was also an important collector of folk songs, focusing on concentrated records of Lachian, Moravian Slovakian, Moravian Wallachian and Slovakian songs. His collections included speech intonations, which he started to write down in 1879. [Janáčkovy záznamy hudebního a tanečního folkloru, p. 382] Janáček pioneered in ethnographic photography in Moravia and Silesia, he tried to encourage other collectors to take photographs and focus more on that area. [Janáčkovy záznamy hudebního a tanečního folkloru, p. 383] Another important part of Janáček´s significance in the folklore movement lies in his efforts to make records with a phonograph. In October, 1909, he acquired an Edison phonograph, and organised several phonographic recording sessions. His recordings were preserved and have been reissued recently. [cite web |url=http://gnosis.cz/GBrno/detail.php?nid=GM010&ntyp=1 |title=Nejstarší nahrávky moravského a slovenského zpěvu 1909-1912 |accessdate=2008-09-23 |work= |publisher=Gnosis Brno |date= cs icon]

elected Works

For the complete list see "List of compositions by Leoš Janáček".


* "Šárka" (1887)
* "Počátek Románu", "The Beginning of a Romance" (1894)
* "Její pastorkyňa", "Her Stepdaughter", known in the English-speaking world as "Jenůfa" (1904)
* "Osud", "Fate" (1904)
* "Výlety pana Broučka", "The Excursions of Mr. Broucek" (1920)
* "Káťa Kabanová" (1921)
* "Příhody lišky Bystroušky", "The Cunning Little Vixen" (1924)
* "Věc Makropulos", "The Makropoulos Affair" (1926)
* "Z mrtvého domu", "From the House of the Dead" (1930)


*"Suite for Strings"
*"Lachian Dances"
*"Moravian Dances"
*"The Fiddler’s Child" (1912-14)
*"Taras Bulba" (1918)
*"Dunaj (Danube) Symphony" (1923-25)
*"Sinfonietta" (1926)
*"The Wandering of a Little Soul" (violin concerto), (1926-27)

Vocal and choral

*"Lord, have mercy" (1896)
*"Amarus" (1897)
*"Otčenáš" ("The Lord's Prayer". 1901. 5-movement work for tenor solo, chorus, harp, and organ.)
*"Elegy on the death of daughter Olga" (1903)
*"The Eternal Gospel" (1914)
*"The Diary of One Who Disappeared" (1919)
*"Glagolitic Mass" (1926)

Chamber and instrumental

*String Quartet No. 1, "Kreutzer Sonata"
*String Quartet No. 2, "Intimate Letters"
*"Pohádka" (Fairy Tale), for cello and piano
*Violin Sonata (1914)
*Youth (1924), wind sextet
*"Concertino" for piano and chamber ensemble (1925)
*Capriccio for piano (left hand) and wind ensemble (1926)


*"1. X. 1905" (Piano Sonata)
*"On an Overgrown Path", Books 1 and 2
*"In the Mists"


See also

*"In Search of Janacek", an award-winning television documentary



*cite book |title=Janáček: Years of a Life. A two-volume biography of the composer |last=Tyrrell |first=John |authorlink=John Tyrrell (musicologist) |coauthors= |year=2006/7 |publisher=Faber and Faber |location=London |isbn= |isbn= 0571175384 (Volume 1), 0571236677 (Volume 2) |pages= |url=
*cite book |title=Music in Transition: A Study of Tonal Expansion and Atonality, 1900–1920 |last=Samson |first=Jim |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1977 |publisher=W.W. Norton & Company |location=New York |isbn=0393021939 |pages=p. 67 |url=
*cite book |title=Leoš Janáček, Život a dílo v datech a obrazech / Chronology of his life and work |last=Drlíková |first=Eva |authorlink= |coauthors= |year= 2004|publisher=Opus Musicum |location=Brno |isbn=80-903211-1-9 |pages= |url= cs icon en icon
*cite book |title=Janáček |last=Hollander |first=Hans |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1963 |publisher= |location=London |isbn= |pages=p. 119 |url=
*cite book |title=The Operas of Leoš Janáček |last=Chisholm |first=Erik |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1971 |publisher= |location= |isbn=0080128548 |pages= |url=
*cite book |title=Janáčkovy záznamy hudebního a tanečního fokloru I |last=Procházková |first=Jarmila |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2006 |publisher=Etnologický ústav AV ČR, Doplněk |location=Prague, Brno |isbn=80-85010-83-6 |pages= |url= cs icon (notes based on the English summary)
*cite book |title=Hudební slovník pro každého II |last=Vysloužil |first=Jiří |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2001 |publisher=Lípa |location=Vizovice |isbn=80-86093-23-9 |pages= |url= cs icon
*cite book |title=Teoretické dílo, Series I/Volume 2-1 |last=Janáček |first=Leoš |authorlink= |coauthors=ed. Leoš Faltus, Eva Drlíková, Svatava Přibáňová, Jiří Zahrádka |year=2007 |publisher=Editio Janáček |location=Brno |isbn=978-80-904-052-0-2 |pages= |url= cs icon (notes based on the English summary)
*cite book |title=Literární dílo, Series I/Volume 1-1 |last=Janáček |first=Leoš |authorlink= |coauthors=ed. Eva Drlíková, Theodora Straková |year=2003 |publisher=Editio Janáček |location=Brno |isbn=978-80-238-7250-7 |pages= |url= cs icon (notes based on the English summary)
*cite book |title=Můj Janáček |last=Kundera |first=Milan |authorlink=Milan Kundera |coauthors= |year=2004 |publisher=Atlantis |location=Brno |isbn=80-7108-256-2 |pages= |url= cs icon
*cite book |title=Thema con variazioni. Leoš Janáček, korespondence s manželkou Zdeňkou a dcerou Olgou |last=(ed.) Přibáňová |first=Svatava |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=2007 |publisher=Editio Bärenreiter |location=Prague |isbn=978-80-86385-36-5 |pages= |url= cs icon

External links

* [http://www.leosjanacek.com A detailed site on Leoš Janáček created by Gavin Plumley]
* [http://www.bsmny.org/features/janacek Piano music of Leoš Janáček: An Exploration for Students of All Ages] , an online feature from [http://www.bsmny.org Bloomingdale School of Music] (January, 2008
* [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=9595213 Leoš Janáček on Find-A-Grave]
* [http://www.pytheasmusic.org/janacek.html Leoš Janáček at Pytheas Center for Contemporary Music]

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