About this Recording
8.553586 - JANACEK: Along an Overgrown Path / Piano Sonata, 'From the Street'

Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) Piano Music Vol

Leoš Janáček (1854-1928)

Piano Music Vol. 1


Following the Bohemian exodus of Beethoven's time, it was left to the independent will of three visionary nationalists to shape the next hundred years of Czech music: Smetana (encouraged by Liszt), Dvořák (championed by Brahms), and Janáček (unknown to anyone). Janáček, a humble Moravian from Brno, began as a trail-blazing teacher and nature-loving folklorist. He ended by becoming one of the most creative and lastingly original operatic forces of the twentieth century. Discovered late (not until his sixties, with the 1916 Prague production of Jenůfa), his pioneering of "speech-melody", based on the rise and fall and rhythms of his native tongue, gave him the distinguishing musical soundprint of his lifework. "lf speech-melody," he wrote in 1918, "is the flower of a water-lily, it nevertheless buds and blossoms and drinks from the roots, which wander in the waters of the mind". "I don't need to understand the words," his Brno student, the conductor Vilem Tausky, remembered him saying. "I can tell by the tempo and modulation of speech how a man feels; if he lies, or if it is just a conventional conversation. I have been collecting these speech rhythms for years, and I have an immense dictionary. These are my windows into the soul of man, and when I need to find a dramatic expression I have recourse to my library"*. "Janáček's creation was life, and to live was to create," his biographer Jaroslav Vogel has written (1962). "He composed permanently - in the streets, at the market, during his morning walks ...He even composed during his classes..." The older he got the younger his art became, transcending its romantic roots through the radical economy, cellular modernity and non-conformity of its conception. The energy was unstoppable, the inventive cocktail endless.


In his preface to Volume I of the Complete Critical Edition (Prague/Kassel 1978), Ludvik Kundera writes that Janáček's piano works "are neither numerous nor ostentatious; they do not follow the Liszt or Chopin tradition nor flaunt the virtuosity of either the composer or the interpreter. [But] they include several... valuable compositions reflecting the composer's inner life and revealing a poetic conception of the instrumental medium" close to that of Schumann. Brahms, too, on occasion, he might have added.


The cycle Along an Overgrown Path is broadly autobiograpical, recalling, on the one hand, the composer's rustic boyhood in the mountains and woods around Hukvaldy , the village where he was born in Northern Moravia; and, on the other, the childhood and long, suffering death of his daughter Olga "on the eve of her twenty-first spring" (Thursday 26th February 1903). Hukvaldy was a place to which Janáček often returned -and never forgot. Its waterways he pictured with the wandering eye and sensuousness of a master poet: "They mirror the flight of a butterfly, and the dark shadows of the dense forest, which stare into them with the unwavering gaze of a child. A fallen leaf sinks to the bottom contentedly, so it seems to me. Before she drinks, the tiny wren chases away the sadness of solitude with a little song. The hind drinks from them with a gentle kiss... I know a large fountain -nearly a small lake, choked by the darkness of ages... There are no angles in this eternal darkness, only souls who play with countless marbles of pink and white [blossoms] (8th September 1922)'. An Overgrown Path is music of intimate nostalgia, a deeply private diary of memories and impressions, dreams and images. Of dances and songs - occasionally real, frequently illusory.


Of the original series of ten pieces or 'little compositions" (1901-08, printed 1911), several appeared first for harmonium (Janáček was an organist), in a Brno publication called Slavonic Melodies (1901/02: Nos. 1, 2, 4, 7, 10). The titles followed later. In a letter of 6th June 1908, Janáček elaborated movingly on some of them. A "love song" (No. 2); a "letter put away and forgotten" (No. 3); "the bitterness of deception" (No. 6); "perhaps you will sense weeping in [No. 61. The premonition of certain death. During the hot summer nights [of 1902 in Hukvaldyl that angelic person [Olgal lay in deathly anguish"; the mournfully recurrent C sharp/ A sharp hoot of the barn owl, superstitiously the harbinger of death, in No. 10 (bars 3-6 et al). In these pieces, Janáček wrote, "there is more distress than there are words to tell it, they are above all things the most dear to me". Of a projected second (untitled) series (1911) only No. 1 in E flat [1l1 was printed in Janáček's life time (30th September 1911); No. 2 in G flat [121 remained in manuscript; No. 3 in E flat [141 was left sketchy .Nos. 2 and 3 (the latter in an extended/ amplified completion by Kurz/5chafer revised Kundera) were first published in 1942, together with two discarded numbers from the first series (1902): in D major [131 and C minor [151. In re-distributing the published "Faralipomena" sequence of the Complete Edition (D major, C minor, E flat sketch), the present recording acknowledges the ordering of the 1942 printing as well as modem Czech performance practice.


Up to 1918 Moravia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire. German was the language of the ruling classes, Czech that of "the social and economic underdogs" Gohn Tyrrell). On lst/2nd October 1905 the Austrians of Brno organised a demonstration objecting to a request from the Czechs for a university of their own. The Czechs retaliated. Factions clashed, the police and army intervened, a young carpenter was bayoneted. Stark, chilling, desperate, poignant, Street Scene I. X. 1905 was Janáček's memorial to this human tragedy: "The white marble staircase/of the House of Artists in Brno... a simple worker František Pavlik / falls, stained with blood... / He came only to plead for a university... / And was killed by cruel murderers" (preface to the score). Loosely a sonata-type design in E flat minor, varyingly orchestral and pianistic in conception, it was originally in three parts. But on the day of the first performance - given by Ludmila Tučkova, 21st January 1906 - Janáček in a fit of self-criticism tore-up and burnt the last movement (a funeral march). The other two he threw into the river. They survived only because Tuckova had by then already copied them out: it was from her manuscript that the composer later authorised the work to be published in 1924 -in two halves: Presentiment and Death (originally Elegy).


@ Ates Orga 1996

* From Janáček: Leaves from his life, edit & trans Vilem & Margaret Tausky (Kahn & Averill, London 1982), reprinted by kind permission.




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