About this Recording
8.553623 - JANACEK: Choruses for Male Voices

Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) Choruses for Male Voices

The Czech composer Leoš Janáček is now widely regarded as being one of the most important and original artists of the early twentieth century. A distinguished musical dramatist, he wrote a total of nine operas at least five of which are considered to be major works that have become a regular part of the repertory - Jenůfa (1894-1903), Kálya Kabanová (1919-21), The Cunning Little Vixen (1921-23), The Makropulos Affair (1923-25) and From the House of the Dead (1927-28). Janáček was a multi-faceted artist, a composer, conductor, organist, teacher, writer and a significant authority on folk-music, and the stylistic trait that is central to an understanding of his work is the unique treatment of melody resulting from his intensive study of Moravian speech, and more specifically the subtle fluctuations of spoken intonation brought about by the speaker' s changing inner emotional state. The composer was of the opinion that 'a fragment of national life is attached to every word uttered by the people; the melody of their speech should be studied in every detail'.

Both Janáček's grandfather and father were teachers and musicians and at the age of eleven Leoš entered the Augustinian Monastery in Brno as a chorister. Here he benefited greatly from the encouragement of the choirmaster and composer Pavel Křížkovský, eventually succeeding him as choirmaster in 1872. Janáček's excellent work with the choir led to a request the following year to conduct the Svatopluk (a post he held from 1873-77), a working-men's choral society for which he wrote his first compositions. In 1874 he undertook further music studies, first at the Prague Organ School then at the Leipzig Conservatory and in Vienna, before returning to Brno as a music master at the Teachers' Institute An added incentive to write for chorus came with the formation in 1903 of the Moravian Teachers' Choir (the same choir as on this recording). Janáček established a close friendship with its conductor, Ferdinand Vach, and it was this choir that gave the premieres of most of his works in the genre.

Following an early period of romantic works the language of which was indebted to earlier Czech composers, notably Dvořák, the formation of Janáček's individual style dates from the composition of his third opera Jenůfa. The final, intensely creative decade of his life coincided with Jenůfa's long-overdue snccess, the birth of an independent Czechoslovakia, and his love for a young married woman, Kamila Stósslová. To this utterly remarkable late period belong some of Janáček's finest works including the orchestral rhapsody Taras Bulba (1915-1918), the song-cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared (1917-19), the Sinfonietta (1926), the two String Quartets (1923 and 1928), and the Glagolitic Mass (1926), as well as his operatic masterpieces. Apart from opera the only other genre that Janáček worked in throughout his life is the one featured on this disc, the unaccompanied chorus.

Of the four Čtyři lidové mužské sbory (Four folk male-voice choruses) only one is not based on a folk text, Což ta naše bříza (Our Birch Tree, 1893). Its text is by Smetana's librettist Eliška Krásnohorská and likens the trembling of the birch leaves to the palpitations of the heart. Orání (Ploughing, 1873) was not only Janáček's first ever work for male-voice chorus but also his earliest known composition. In Vínek (The Garland, 1893) Janáček uses the original folk melody in its entirety, whilst the witty Peřina (The Quilt, 1914) catalogues the many useful attributes of a quilt!

The Čtvero mužských sborů (Four male-voice choruses) date from 1885 and bear the following dedication on the title page. 'Dedicated to the esteemed master Mr Antonín Dvořák in token of unbounded respect by Leoš Janáček'. Dvořák was actually rather taken aback by the work's audacious modulations. The Čtvero mužských sborů moravských (Four Moravian male-voice choruses) were composed in 1904 and are dedicated to the Moravian Teachers' Choral Society The highly chromatic Komáfi (Tbe Gnat's Wedding) and Rozloučení (Parting) are both based on Moravian folk-songs annotated by the renowned collector František Sušil, whilst the texts of the passionate Dež viš (If you knew) and the humorous Klekánica (The Evening Witch) were written by Andřej Přikryl.

The next three works form the zenith of Janáček's achievements in the genre of unaccompanied chorus - Kantor Halfar (Teacher Halfar; 1906, rev. 1917), Maryčka Magdónova (1906-7) and Sedmdesát tisíc (The 70,000) (1909, rev.1913). They represent a trilogy of sorts in that all three are based on texts drawn from Petr Bezruč's Silesian Songs, a collection of 61 poems the bitter critique of which, detailing social exploitation and poverty, found a particularly sympathetic recipient in Janáček. Whether the text concerned a people as a whole (The 70,000) or the more personal tragedy of an individual (the protagonsists of Kantor Halfar and Maryčka Magdónova are both driven to suicide), Janáček responded with some of his most powerful music. AII three works are cast in a free rondo form, with complex polyphonic webs created by the accumulation of numerous motifs. The 70.000 is a quite extraordinary work about the revolt of Silesian miners, with almost all its material drawn from the opening eight-bar melody. The forceful climax, a series of passionate, agitated shouts from the chorus, packs a hugely visceral punch.

The impetus to write Česká Iegie (The Czech Legion, 1918) came from a momentous event in the history of Janáček's native land: the aforementioned birth of an independent Czechoslovakiaon 28th October 1918. The inspiration for the highly regarded Potulný šílenec (The Wandering Madman, 1922) for male chorus and solo soprano came from a quite different source, setting an allegorical text by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore whose poetry reading in Prague in June 1921 made an enormous impression upon the composer.

Tři mužské sbory (Three male-voice choruses) date from 1888, although the third chorus Žárlivec (The Jealous Man) was only rediscovered in 1940 amongst Dvořák's papers after Janáček had sent it to the composer to ask for his opinion. Finally, the youthful Láska opravdivá (True Love) is notated without time signature or key signature although the key of G major is adhered to throughout.

Peter Quinn

Moravian Teachers Choir
The Moravian Teachers Choir ranks as one of the best known Czech chorus ensembles. It was established in 1903 and its first members were graduates of the Teachers College in Kroměříž. From the flfst the choir embarked on an active programme that included works by many distinguished Czech composers from the tum of the century and involved the ensemble in concert appearances at home and abroad. The founder and first principal director of the choir was Ferdinand Vach, who was succeeded in 1936 by Jan Šoupal, who worked with the ensemble regularly during the Nazi occupation and continued his activities after the war, with further concert engagements that took the choir to Belgium, the Netherlands, the Soviet Urtion and Great Britain and brought a number of recordings for Supraphon.

Close the window