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ClassicsOnline Home » JANACEK: Lachian Dances / Taras Bulba / Sinfonietta
Leoš Janáček (1854 -1928)
Janáček was born in 1854 in the northern part of Moravia, near the
Polish frontier, a region that enjoys both linguistic and musical individuality.
He was educated at the Augustinian school in Brno, the
capital of Moravia, eventually succeeding to the position of organist that had
been occupied by his teacher. Between 1874 and 1875 he studied at the Prague
Organ School, where Dvorák had been a pupil sixteen years earlier, returning to
Brno as conductor of the local Philharmonic Society. His lack of confidence in
his own ability as a composer took him to Leipzig in 1878 for a further year of
study, followed by similar activity in Vienna.
In 1881 Janáček opened a
music school in Brno, and in the following years continued to write music, in
1886 dedicating a set of choral works to Dvorák, but in general enjoying only a
very local reputation. His first opera, Sarka, met difficulties, since
permission for the use of the poem on which it was based
had not been granted by the author. Subsequent operas had a better fate, at
least in Brno, but it was not until 1916 that the attention of the Prague
National Theatre was drawn to his work, leading, largely by a series of lucky
chances, to the performance there of the opera known as Jenufa, that had
first been staged in Brno in 1904. The last twelve years of Janáček's
life brought him fame in Czechoslovakia and elicited from him a series of five
further operas, each as original in choice of libretto as in musical content.
The music of Janáček is dominated by his preoccupation with Moravian
folk-song, the spirit of which informs his work. He
had a particular interest in the musical inflections of speech and the melodic
shape of natural sounds, while his theories of harmony were original,
particularly in his sudden shifts of key. As a composer he only started work in
middle age and always appeared as a musician of startling originality, in part
through geographical isolation, at a distance from Vienna and even from Prague.
Janáček's Lachian Dances
were originally to have been Valachian, but were transposed geographically by
the composer's own alternation of the title. Written in 1889 and 1890, the six
dances are scored for a large orchestra. The first, Starodavny, opens with a
melody derived from tragic song "Matthew has been killed", with which
the following melodies provide contrast. The nature of the dances that follow is
apparent from their titles. For the composer, towards the end of his life, they
recalled a past that had vanished and a countryside and way of life with which
he had been familiar.
The Rhapsody Taras Bulba is based on Gogol. It was written in 1918.
Typically the composer chose a romantic historical novel by a Russian writer as
the frame-work for his creation. His interests were Pan-Slav, embracing the
unity of the Slav peoples, and under similar impetus he had turned to
Ostrovsky's play The Storm for his opera Katya Kabanova and to
Dostoyevsky for his last opera, From the House of the Dead. His attempt
to make an opera of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, with a Russian libretto of
his own devising, remained unfinished.
For Taras Bulba Janáček
takes three episodes in the violent life of the Cossack leader Taras Bulba in
his struggle against the Poles in 1682. In the first the son of Taras Bulba,
Andri, is put to death by his father for the disloyalty that his love has
brought about. The Cossacks had laid siege to the town of
Dubno, where Andri's beloved is among those besieged. The young man enters the
town by a secret passage and joins with the Poles in the subsequent battle with
his own people. The second episode shows the death of his second son Ostap,
tortured and put to death by the victorious Poles, an event witnessed by the
disguised Taras Bulba, mingling with the crowd. The third movement, with its
organ part, depicts the prophecy and death of Taras Bulba himself, nailed to a
tree and condemned to be burned to death. As he dies, he foretells the future
liberation of the Cossacks.
The Sinfonietta was Janáček's
last orchestral work and was written in 1926. The original intention had been to
provide a series of fanfares for a gymnastic festival at
Brno, the reason for the use of twelve trumpets employed in the work. At the
same time the composer had intended to salute the newly established independence
of Czechoslovak and then, finally, the liberation of Brno from unwelcome German
domination. The five movements were given titles. Fanfare, The Castle, The
Queen's Monastery, The Street and The Town Hall, in this final tribute to the
town where he had spent most of his life. Nine trumpets announce the main theme
of the first movement. The second movement is based on two themes, the first in
the manner of a Moravian folk song and the second in a less energetic rhythm. A
melancholy third movement is followed by a set of variations on a trumpet theme.
The work ends with a movement that allows the twelve trumpets finally to unite
in a concluding fanfare.
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic
ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929. The orchestra's first conductor was
František Dyk and over the past sixty years it has worked under the batons of
several prominent Czech and Slovak conductors.
The orchestra has made many recordings for NAXOS ranging from the ballet
music of Tchaikovsky to more modern works by composers such as Copland, Britten
& Prokofiev. For Marco Polo the orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov,
Glière, Rubinstein and other post-romantic composers.
Ondrej Lenard was born in 1942 and had his early training in Bratislava,
where, at the age of 17, he entered the Academy of Music and Drama, to study
under Ludovit Rajter. His graduation concert in 1964 was given with the Slovak
Philharmonic Orchestra and during his two years of military service he conducted
the Army Orchestral Ensemble, later renewing an earlier connection with the
Slovak National Opera, where he has continued to direct performances.
Lenard's work with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra in Bratislava began in
1970 and in 1977 he was appointed Principal Conductor. At the same time he has
travelled widely abroad in Europe, the Americas, the Soviet Union and elsewhere
as a guest conductor, and during his two years, from 1984 to 1986, as General
Music Director of the Slovak National Opera recorded for Opus operas by Puccini,
Gounod, Suchon and Bellini.
For Naxos Lenard has recorded symphonies and ballet music by Tchaikovsky and
works by Glazunov, Johann Strauss II, Verdi and Rimsky-Korsakov. For Marco Polo
he has recorded Havergal Brian's colossal Gothic symphony to great critical ac
claim in the international music press.
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