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8.553587 - JANACEK: In the Mist / Concertino / Variations for Zdenka
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Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) Piano Music Vol

Leoš Janáček (1854-1928)

Piano Music Vol. 2

 

From October 1879 to March 1880 Janáček was in Leipzig, studying with Reinecke and others at the Conservatoire. A love-gift for Zdenka Schulzova the fourteen-year-old daughter of his superior at the Teachers' Institute in Brno, whom he was to later marry, the op. 1 "Zdenka" Variations in B flat (29 January - 22 February 1880) date from this time. Modelled on Schumann and Brahms -but with a touch of Smetana, a gloss of learning, a breath of piquancy - the seven variations of contrasted tempo, texture and figuration are framed by a pensive, dance-echoing andante theme in 2/ 4 - the first half closing in G minor, the second staying mostly in C minor.

 

For Janáček there was his country: ''I have one greatjoy: Moravia alone is enough to give me all necessary inspiration. so richare her sources" (1916). His country's language:"speechmelody;the seatofthe emotional fumace" (1918). His country's dance:"the flashingmovement, thelaces sticky with sweat; screams, whooping, the sounding furyofthe musicians." (1924). And his country's song: "in folk-song, there is the whole man: body, soul, landscape... He who grows from folksong, grows into a whole man" (1926). Discovered in 1948, the first of his Three Moravian Dances (2 April1892) is in the stylised manner of the Chopin mazurkas or Smetana polkas. Vitalised by a regional dance of the same name, Ej, Danaj!, its audacity is bold. How could anyone possibly guess from the jolting, side-stepping harmonies of its opening, or the tonal shocks that follow, that this is music with a key signature of G minor? Anticipating the odzemek from the recruiting scene in Jenllfa, the refrain in both minor and major forms, was derived from a traditional song about a girls anxiety on parting from her lover, Zelene sem sela (I sowed green plants). Incorporating folk-tunes had collected in the field, the second and third Dances (c 1904, published 1905) are more direct. Čeladensky in A flat (a miller's, beggar's or clown's dance) and Pilky in B flat (a saw dance associated with the bringing in of firewood for the winter) correspond respectively to the fifth and sixth of the Lachian Dances for orchestra (1893): "... a kaleidoscope of moving, turning, bending bodies... full of flashing little notes, full of teasing songs, sometimes chattering, sometimes thoughtful" (22 May 1928).

 

"I finish one work after another - as if I were soon to make my account with life" (30 November 1927). Commissioned by a Serbian music magazine, the E major Recollection, a 20-bar albumleaf, was written shortly before the composer's death (12 August 1928).

 

Curiously for one so rhythmically energised, Janáček, like Beethoven, was not a dancer, but he was a gymnast. His Music for Gymnastic Exercises or Club-Swinging (1893) was composed for his fellow enthusiasts of the Sokol Gymnastic Association- they are of Sinfonietta inspiration. The five march-like pieces, in G, D, C, E minor and Care preceded by fanfares and have commonly related trio sections a fourth below .Folk echoes and Moravian dance-steps never seem far away: No 2, for example, has the short/long rhythm of the sedlačka; while No 3 passingly resembles a Moravian/Slovak song, Zitra sa ja vydavat mam (Tomorrow I must marry).

 

The last of Janáček's mature piano cycles, first played by Marie Dvořákova in Brno on 14 January 1914, In the Mist (1912), was the intimate admission of an anguished mental state. It "does not contain a single moment of respite," Jaroslav Vogel has written (1962), "it is one long struggle of resignation and recurring pain which predominates even at the end". The music reveals many typical Janáček traits, liberated rhythms and pulses rapidly contrasted juxtapositions and inflexions ... song and dance fragments intensively concentrated and worked (what Ronald Stevenson calls "brusque, ejaculatory thematic invention")... enriched, austere, gritty sonorities (the most subtly voiced and detailed Janáček was ever to sense for the piano) speech melody... recessed worlds of confiding dialogue, whispered images, natural silences and solitary recitative. Its "black" keys, D flat, G flat -major, minor, modal, seem intentionally distant and tactually mysterious; while emotionally there's at times a hyper-intense nervosity, a breathless holding back and rushing forwards, verging on Schumannesque inner revelation. When, near the end of the fourth movement, a fleeing, urgent glimpse of a lone mountain shepherd improvising on his fujara or wooden pipe, Janáček is again haunted by those same calls (and sounding pitches) of the owl that years earlier had harbingered the death of his only daughter Olga (An overgrown path), the extent of his suffering and confession is forcefully brought home. The shout of his realisation, his unforgetting heart-ache, is painful (bars 121ff). The first version of this finale [5] shares common material but in lengh (137 bars against 159), key (E flat instead of D flat) and metre (fixed rather than fluid) is otherwise audibly different. Conspicuosly, its accellerating allegro-presto-prestissimo structure omits the tempo / mood / atmosphere changes of the final draft - what eventually became a slow theme, for instance (the andante molto pesante at bar 77), was originally fast (bar 36).

 

A sequel to the earlier Mladi, the Concertino (spring 1925), for piano, string and wind septet, was first performed in Brno on 16 February 1926, the year of the Sinfonietta. Acknowledging its autobiographical stimulis, Janáček called it "an intimate expression of the artisťs reminiscences of his youth, but in contrast to the suite for wind instruments [Mladi] of serious experiences, among them the bitterness and difficulties at the beginning of his creative work" .Later he wrote of its apparent programme: "It was in the spring, when we once blocked the entrance of a hedge-hog's house in a linden tree. The hedge-hog had lined its nest softly in that old tree. It was beside itself with anger! It just could not understand it... Should the hedge-hog stand on its hind-legs and burst into an elegy? No sooner had he put his snout out, than he had to roll up again [first movement (prelude), 4/4, 6/4: piano/horn]. The squirrel chattered away, as it jumped from the top of one tree to another. Later, it moaned in a cage like my clarinet, but turned around and danced to amuse the children [second movement (scherzo) 6/8, 2/4, 6/16: piano E flat clarinet]. The wide-open eyes of little owls and big owls stared insolently out from the strings of the piano, as did those of the remaining critical night-folk [third movement, 4/4]. In the fourth movement [2/4, 5/8] everything seems like the penny that one quarrels about in fairy-tales. And the piano? Someone must, surely, be in command. I believe that every movement has three motifs" (Pult und Taktstock , June 1927) ".

 

@ 1996 Ates Orga

* From Janáček's Uncollected Essays on Music, edit & trans Mirka

Zemanova (Marion Boyers, London/New York 1989), reprinted by kind permission


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