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An attraction of opposites

Donald Macleod explores Janáček's tangled relationship with his wife, with music including the Zdenka Variations and his first quartet for strings.

Donald Macleod explores Janáček's tangled relationship with his wife, with music including the Zdenka Variations and his first quartet for strings.

One of the most original voices of the twentieth century, Leoš Janáček was a composer, musical theorist, folklorist and teacher. Born in 1854 in the Moravian village of Hukvaldy, which was then part of the Austrian Empire, in his youth German was the language of government, education and social influence. Having returned from studies in Germany, Janáček made detailed studies of native folk song and spent years annotating the natural rhythms of the Czech language. He was to write all his works for stage in his native language. The range of his professional activities gave him a range of outlets to voice what quickly became a life-long commitment to Czech culture.

Janáček was a contradictory man, who spent much of his life feeling at odds with his circumstances. Through five of his closest relationships, Donald Macleod builds a picture of how his inner tensions found expression in his music. The longest and most fractured of his associations was with his German-speaking wife Zdenka. After a shaky start, he grew very close to his daughter Olga, with whom he shared his love of Russian literature. His friendship with the literary collaborator Max Brod proved to be the turning point in his quest for professional standing, while his muse Kamila Stösslova became the joy and agony of his later, creatively enriched years. As a young man Janáček turned to Antonín Dvořák. They shared an interest in folk music, and the older composer proved to be a loyal friend and mentor.

Janáček met his future wife when he was employed by her father to give her piano lessons. The differences between Zdenka’s comfortable upbringing and his impoverished childhood were marked, and once they married it wasn’t too long before resentments began to surface.

Lavečka (The Bench)
Martina Janková, soprano
Ivo Kahánek, piano

Theme with variations (Zdenka variations)
Jan Bartós, piano

Amarus (3rd movement)
Vílem Přibyl, tenor
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Czech Philharmonic Choir
Václav Neumann, conductor

Janacek, rev. Mackerras
The Cunning Little Vixen Orchestral Suite JW 1/9
II: The Vixen at the Gamekeeper’s Farmyard.
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Edward Gardner, conductor

Quartet no.1 (The Kreutzer Quartet)
The Pavel Haas Quartet

23 days left to listen

59 minutes

Music Played

  • Leos Janáček

    Lavečka (The Bench)

    Performer: Ivo Kahánek. Singer: Martina Janková.
    • SU 108572.
    • SU 108572.
    • 35.
  • Leos Janáček

    Theme with variations (Zdenka Variations)

    Performer: Jan Bartoš.
    • SUPRAPHON : SU 1919-2 001.
    • SUPRAPHON.
    • 1.
  • Leos Janáček

    Amarus (excerpt)

    Performer: Czech Philharmonic Choir. Singer: Vilém Přibyl. Orchestra: Czech Philharmonic. Conductor: Václav Neumann.
    • Praga 250 100.
    • Praga 250 100.
    • 3.
  • Leos Janáček

    The Cunning Little Vixen Suite (2nd movement)

    Orchestra: Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. Conductor: Edward Gardner.
    • CHANDOS : CHSA-5142.
    • CHANDOS.
    • 11.
  • Leos Janáček

    String Quartet No 1 (The Kreutzer Sonata)

    Performer: Pavel Haas Quartet.
    • Supraphon: SU39222.
    • Supraphon.
    • 1.

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