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Leos Janacek

born: 1854-07-03
died: 1928-08-12
birthplace: Hukvaldy
diedplace: Ostrava

one of the most important world composers of the beginning of 20th century. Born as ninth son of a provincial teacher and bandmaster in Hukvaldy, Moravia. He got the basic musical education from P. Krizkovsky in the Old Brno Monastery school which he attended since 1865. In 1869-72 he went on his secondatry classes here at the Normal School; after finishing the studies, he stayed here as assisting teacher for two more years. In 1874-75 he studied the Organists' School in Prague under F. Blazek and F. Z. Skuhersky. After his return to Brno he rolled out a wide variety of activities including teaching, playing instruments, conducting and composing. He replaced P. Krizkovsky as choirmaster of the Old Brno Monastery; became a conductor od "Beseda brnenska" (musical society of Brno), choirmaster of Svatopluk (the Craftsmen Union Choir). In 1879-80 he finished his musical studies at conservatories of Leipzig and Vienna. In 1881 he founded the organists school in Brno and worked there as teacher and schoolmaster until 1919. He was also a keen collector of traditional songs and dances from Moravia and co-editor of traditional songbooks. He wrote several books of musical theory (counterpoint and harmony), lots of articles, reviews and short essays.

As a composer he started as a follower of his first teacher P.Krizkovsky, writinf music based on classical and romantic tradition with inspiration in traditional Moravian music. Inspired by Dvorak's Slavonic Dances, he wrote his Lachian Dances, a masterpiece in traditional music adaptations. In his opera "Jenufa" (which he wrote between 1894-1903) he used his own theory od Speech Melodies for the first time. The theory became a starting point of all his following dramatic works, trying to translate the melody of speech into the musical language. His works become very original, staying away of short-term fashion influences, often predicting new musical styles (expressionism). Most of his contemporaries were not able to fully understand his contribution to classical music evolution. E.g. the well known theoretician Zdenek Nejedly regarded Janacek as pure musical amateur. Only the next generations of authorities were able to judge the value of Nejedly'statements (Nejedly later turned to politics, became a communist leader and keen propagator of the art of Social Realism).Prague premiere of Jenufa in 1916 (only 12 years after premiere in Brno) was finally a success which made Janacek known all over Europe. This encouraged him to write more works in challenging style experiments (Glagolska mse, Capriccio and Concertino, Vec Makropulos).

Today, Janacek and Dvorak are the most often played Czech composers worldwide. Numerous quotations and remakes of his works in scenic and movie music are the proof of his popularity until these days. The best known remake of his Sinfonietta can be found on the first album of the legendary artrock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer (the track called Knife-edge).

  • Piano compositions
    • Thema con variazioni (Zdenciny variace/The Variations of Zdenka) , 1880
    • Moravske tance (Moravian Dances) (1892, 1904)
    • Po zarostlem chodnicku (On a Grass-grown Sidewalk) (1901-8)
    • Sonata 1.X.1905 (Z ulice / From the Street) , 1905
    • V mlhach (In the Mists) , 1912
    • Vzpominky (Memories) , 1928
  • Compositions for piano with chamber accompaniments
    • Pohadka / Tale (for cello and piano) , 1910
    • Sonata for violin and piano (1914-1921)
    • Concertino , 1925
    • Capriccio for left hand , 1926
    • String Quartets, etc.
  • Operas
    • Sarka (words by J. Zeyer) , 1888
    • Jeji pastorkyna / Jenufa (wordy by G.Preissova) , 1903
    • Kata Kabanova (on book by N.A.Ostrovsky) , 1921
    • Prihody lisky Bystrousky / Adventures of the Fox Bystrouska (on book by R.Tesnohlidek) , 1923
    • Vec Makropulos / Case Makropulos (on book by Karel Capek) , 1925
    • Z mrtveho domu / From the Dead House (on book by F.N.Dostojevsky) , 1928
  • Orchestral works
    • Suita pro smycce (Suite for Strings) , 1887
    • Lašské tance / Lachian Dances (around 1893)
    • Taras Bulba (rhapsody after N.V.Gogol) , 1918
    • Sinfonietta , 1926
  • Vocal writings
    • a number of traditional songs adaptations, choirs etc.
    • chamber vocal cycles (e.g. Zápisnik zmizeleho / The Diary of the Disappeared) , 1919
  • Spiritual works
    • Cantata Amarus (on lyrics by Jaroslav Vrchlicky) , 1898
    • Glagolska mse (Glagolic Mass) , 1926


Mala encyklopedie hudby (dr. Jar. Smolka; &kolektiv, Supraphon 1983)
Kniha o hudbe (Book of Music, V.Holzknecht & col., Orbis 1964)
Anthology of Czech Music (Divadelni ustav 2004)
Po zarostlem chodnicku (biographical novel by Frantisek Kozik (European Literature Club 2003)


Suita pro smycce-1877 (MP3) (III.Andante con moto, Nezavisly komorni orchestr Boemia, dir. Hynek Farkac)
Lasske tance/1. Starodavny-1889 (MP3) (Filharmonie Brno, dir. Frantisek Jilek, Supraphon 1993/2006)
Lasske tance/6. Pilky-1889 (MP3) (Filharmonie Brno, dir. Frantisek Jilek, Supraphon 1993/2006)
Sonata pro housle a klavir-1921 (MP3) (Jaroslav Sveceny housle, Marie Synkova klavir, Subitom 2003 jako priloha knihy F.Kozik-Po zarostlem chodnicku)
Sinfonietta-1926 (MP3) (Symfonicky orchestr slovenskeho rozhlasu Bratislava, dir. Josef Lenard)
Smyccovy kvartet c.2 "Listy duverne"-1928 (MP3) (Janackovo kvarteto, Supraphon 2000)

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Last update 2012-07-04