Thursday, February 10, 2011: Moravian Masterpieces

A cunning little vixen, memorial to the composer

“It’s said that I’ve accomplished something. It’s the work of an artist, of so little consequence and so little noticed, yet all the same so important.”

Leoš Janácek (1854-1928) was one of the most important Czech composers. He often had trouble getting along with authority or competitors. He held many jobs related to music, but suffered long “dry” periods and took years to complete some of his major compositions.

He spent most of his life in the-then little backwater town of Brno in Moravia. His well-deserved fame came only towards the end of his life.

He created some of the most innovative and progressive music in the early 20th century. He used the musicality of spoken Czech combined with folk music and motifs to create operas such as Jenůfa, The Cunning Little Vixen, and Mr Brouček’s Trip to the Moon; he wrote choral works, chamber music (Intimate Letters), orchestral works (Sinfonietta), and more.

On the occasion of the unveiling of a plaque on his birthplace in Moravia in 1926, he admitted, “It’s something when I’ve struck a chord which is heard everywhere, that all at once that chord binds all of us, that all at once we feel like one nation.”

He put his finger on an essential “Czechness” when he continued, ” … [Art] binds us and makes us defiant and strong in the face of anything in the world. All the rest, the sound of it, is a secondary thing to me. And that I bring together our nation, so petulant and quarrelsome, and broken up into so many factions, if I have accomplished this, I feel now, I have not lived in vain.”

Janácek died two years later. His first successful opera, Jenůfa, is sometimes referred to as the Moravian national opera. You can see it at the National Theatre Brno Feb 16, and the National Theatre Prague in May. His name is pronounced Leh-osh Yan-ahh-chek (fairly even emphasis on each syllable) … and the last syllable is also his nationality.

–Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Kazuo Ikeda

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