‘Folk music binds people together, uniting mankind with a spiritual bond of happiness.’ So saying, Janácek effectively declared his artistic credo. But the kind of folk music he was referring to wasn’t the popular ‘gypsy’ melodies of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances, but the indigenous folk music of
‘Folk music binds people together, uniting mankind with a spiritual bond of happiness.’ So saying, Janácek effectively declared his artistic credo. But the kind of folk music he was referring to wasn’t the popular ‘gypsy’ melodies of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances, but the indigenous folk music of his native Moravia, which ultimately formed the bedrock of his musical style.
The Sinfonietta (1926) began life as a fanfare written specifically to celebrate the independence of Czechoslovakia via a 1926 gymnastics festival in Prague. Later that year he added the other four movements dedicating the entire work to ‘the free Czech men and women of today’. The outer movements are physically uplifting in their radiant joy, whilst the second and fourth are heavily influenced by Moravian folk music, with its habitual repeated notes and unpredictable, stamping rhythms. In contrast, the central Moderato is essentially lyrical in tone, a mood which the decidedly sinister central section hardly dispels.
Dating from the same year and creative pool is the Glagolitic Mass, an exultant affirmation of the power of love and friendship. ‘In the tenor solo I hear a high priest,’ Janácek explained, ‘in the soprano solo a girlish angel and in the chorus our people.’ Although he had little time for organised religion, Janácek retained the custom of preceding and following the five choral sections with instrumental fanfares, and also includes a solo organ fantasia before the work’s uplifting final section. The fast attack and rate of decay of the piano (when unaided by the sustaining pedal) was particularly conducive to Janácek’s creative thinking, as witness the selection of seven haunting piano miniatures in this collection.
It also explains why when composing his piano Concertino (1925) and Capriccio for the left hand (1926) he chose accompanying ensembles devoted either exclusively to or highlighted by the piquant, pungent timbres of wind instruments. That same angular originality and textural flair illuminates the Violin Sonata (1914–21), whose terrifying emotional changeability was a direct response to the Great War. Similarly, Janácek’s great song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared (1917–19), which features a unique form of vocal writing that he called ‘speech-melody’.