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Leos Janacek


Leos Janacek (July 3, 1854 in Hukvaldy, Moravia – august 12, 1928 in ostrava) was a czech composer. He is particularly remembered for his orchestral piece sinfonietta and his operas, and is generally recognised as one of his country‘s foremost composers.

Life and work

Janacek, the son of a schoolmaster, sang as a boy in the choir of the abbey of st. Thomas in Brno. He later went to Prague to study music and made a living as a music teacher. He also conducted various amateur choirs. In 1881 he moved back to Brno, and founded the organ school there, which was later to become the Brno conservatory.

As a young man Janacek became friends with Antonin Dvorak, and began composing in a relatively traditional romantic style, but after his opera sarka (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 Jenufa (1904). Going much farther than Modest Mussorgsky and anticipating the later work of Bela Bartok in such styles, Janacek made this a distinguishing feature of his vocal writing (samson 1977). When Jenufa was given in Prague in 1916 it was a great success, and brought Janacek real acclaim for the first time. He was 62 at the time. A year later he met Kamila Stosslova, a young married woman who was a profound inspiration to him for the remaining years of his life.

He is best-known for the music he wrote from this point to the end of his life. Although many consider his output over the last dozen years of his life 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 until this point.

Much of Janacek‘s work is marked by great originality and individuality. His work is tonal, although it employs a vastly expanded view of tonality, and is marked by unorthodox spacings, 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 uses accompaniment figures and patterns prominently, 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)

The operas Kat‘a Kabanova (1921), The cunning Little Vixen (1924), The Makropulos affair (1926) and From the House of the Dead (after a novel by Dostoevsky, premiered in 1930, after his death) are regarded by many commentators as his finest works. The conductor sir charles Mackerras has become particularly closely associated with them.

Other well known pieces by Janacek include the sinfonietta, the Glagolitic Mass (the text written in old church slavonic), Lachian Dances, the rhapsody Taras Bulba and his two string quartets. These pieces and the above mentioned four late operas were all written in the last decade of Janacek‘s life.

Janacek‘s operas
Sarka (1887)
Pocatek romanu, "The Beginning of a romance" (1894)
Jenufa, Jeji pastorkyтa, "Jenufa, Her stepdaughter" (1904)
Osud, "Fate" (1904)
Vylety pane Brouckovy, "The excursions of Mr. Broucek" (1920)
Kat‘a Kabanova (1921)
Prihody lisky Bystrousky, "The cunning Little Vixen" (1924)
Vec Makropulos, "The Makropoulos affair" (1926)
Z mrtveho domu, "From the House of the Dead" (1930)

Additional information about Leos Janacek at


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