by Virginio Sala
Leos Janacek (1854-1928) holds a special place in the landscape of the composers born around the middle of the 19th century, and whose activity went on up to the first decades of the 20th century. He is the third great Czech musician, after Smetana and Dvorak, and left a valuable inheritance: he was the first who researched, with a scientific mindset, the Moravia’s folksongs and folk music tradition. And out of that tradition he largely drew inspiration for his own works, giving it a new life, but with a deep originality.
Janacek paid a particular attention not only to the music, but also to the language of his country, an important aspect of the nationality issue in that time: the teaching of the Czech language was prohibited in 1777 by the Empress Maria Teresa, and only after 1848 the use of the national language was tolerated by the Austrian Habsburgs. Janacek found the best field for expressing his voice in the vocal music and in the opera – Jenufa (1904), one of his nine works for the musical theatre, is the masterwork of the Czech opera.
As Jaroslav Krejci wrote:
Janacek’s work was largely inspired by folk music and topics from Czech history or the history of other Slavic nations. The folkloristic inspiration came primarily from his native Moravia, or rather its eastern part, where the folksongs displayed a more lyrical, emotional and variegated formation. It took some time before Janacek’s style found its way to the hearts of the sophisticated, rather traditionally-minded milieu of the Czech capital, Prague (in Bohemia). But once this happened, the gate was open to the musical world at large. Significantly this was at the time of World War I, as a result of which the Czechs emancipated themselves from Austrian domination and entered the world arena on an equal footing with other nations.
Janacek wrote some instrumental music at the beginning of his career (Lachian Dances), but then devoted himself completely to vocal music and opera. He came back to the pure instrumental music only at the end of the century: the set of piano pieces collected in 1901 under the title On the overgrown path is a reflection of an unlucky phase of the musician’s life. In those years, his daughter Olga died, only twenty-one years old, his relationship with his wife was strained, and the National Theatre of Prague refused his Jenufa, after the premiere in Brno. So those pieces show a misterious and very intimate nature; their surface simplicity veils an outstanding compositional depth, and they are rather difficult for the interpreter, who has to master a subject matter,at first sight very magmatic. In 1911, requested by his publisher, Janacek added a second set of pieces to the “Path” collection,
In the Mist is a four-pieces suite, composed by Janacek in 1912: a set of fascinating pieces, soft and at the same time very deep, built out of sheer competence, with a contnuously varied repetition technique.
It will be possible to appreciate this piano cycle in Emanuele Torquati‘s concert, on air on Limenmusic Web Tv @ www.limenmusic.com – Channel 1.