Leoš Janácek


His father and grandfather music teachers, Leos Janácek was born in Hukvaldy, Moravia and sent as soon as feasible (in practice, at the age of 11) to sing at the Augustinian monastery in Brno.  The choirmaster there, Pavel Krizkovský, was Moravia's leading composer and instructed him personally.  By 1872 he had qualified as a teacher himself and took over from Krizkovský at the monastery.  Further conducting work and an organ course in Prague widened his horizons, and in 1877 he wrote his first published work, the choral Exaudi Deus.  In 1879 he enroled at the Leipzig conservatory, and although subsequent compositions show notable progress he was unsatisfied and transferred to Vienna.

Returning to Brno to marry, Janácek resumed teaching and founded an organ school there.  Teaching obligations, a turbulent private life and a disillusionment with his experiences in Leipzig and Vienna meant he wrote little if at all between 1881 and 1885.  Eventually he resumed writing with works for children, and in 1887 beginning his first opera, Sarka.  Its evolution spanned a landmark period in Janácek's musical evolution - invited by a friend to help collect folksongs in northern Moravia, he renounced his romantic aesthetics and incorporated the music he found into both his opera and adaptations for concert performance.  Pocátek románu (1891) was a one-act opera consisting mainly of adapted folk songs and dances; Janácek later developed it into his first major operatic success, Jenufa (1894-1903).

Turning down an offer to direct the Warsaw Conservatory, Janácek continued to teach at his organ school; his compositions enjoyed moderate success but it was not until his last years that he was to enjoy his most productive period.  The combination of Jenufa's success and his country's new independence led him to write his three finest operas; Kat'á Kabanová (1919-21), The Cunning Little Vixen (1921-3) and The Makropolous Case (1923-25).  He also composed major orchestral works such as his Sinfonietta (1926), and the choral Glagolitic Mass (1927).  Showing few signs of slowing down, he died in 1928 after contracting pneumonia.

Related composers: Antonín Dvorák, Bedrich Smetana, Béla Bartók

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