Leoš Janáček (pronounced LAY-oash yah-NAH-chek) was born on July 3, 1854 in Hukvaldy in the Czech Republic. He showed a talent for music early on, but following his graduation from the Prague Organ School in 1875, he labored for many years in relative anonymity as a music teacher and choirmaster in Brno. He was almost 50 before his first major work, the opera Jenufa, was performed, and 62 before he became really well known. In the last 12 years of his life, however, he turned out masterpieces with astonishing frequency, including the symphonic poem Taras Bulba, the opera The Cunning Little Vixen, and the Sinfonietta presented here. He died in 1928 at age 74, an inspiration to late-bloomers everywhere.
Regarding the Sinfonietta, we learn from Wikipedia that…
The work is typical of Janáček’s tight construction, the material of each movement deriving from the opening motif. It features several variants based on Janáček’s original fanfare. The first movement is scored only for brass and percussion. The second movement begins with a rapid ostinato from the wind, but later has a more lyrical episode. The third begins quietly in the strings, but is interrupted by a stern figure in the trombones, leading to another fast dance-like passage. In the fourth movement, Janáček celebrates the newly liberated Czechoslovakia with a joyous trumpet fanfare. The finale begins in the key of E-flat minor with a calm retrograde version of the opening melody. However, this quickly moves into a triumphant finale, the return of the opening fanfare decorated with swirling figures in the strings and wind.
I was introduced to this piece through a 1966 recording featuring the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by George Szell. While the orchestral writing is brilliant throughout, the majestic, triumphal fanfares in the first and last movements especially made a lasting impression. Truly a glorious introduction to Janáček.
In this extraordinary live recording from the 2011 London Proms, we hear the Hallé Orchestra of Manchester, England conducted by Sir Mark Elder. The tempo indications for the five movements, together with their subtitles and start times in the video below, are as follows:
- I. Allegretto — Allegro maestoso (Fanfare) (0:06)
- II. Andante — Allegretto (The Castle, Brno) (2:26)
- III. Moderato (The Queen’s Monastery, Brno) (9:05)
- IV. Allegretto (The Street Leading to the Castle) (14:51)
- V. Andante con moto (The Town Hall, Brno) (18:13)