Piano Music Vol. 1
Following the Bohemian exodus of Beethoven'stime, it was left to the independent will of three visionary nationalists toshape the next hundred years of Czech music: Smetana (encouraged by Liszt), Dvořak(championed by Brahms), and Janaček (unknown to anyone). Janaček, ahumble Moravian from Brno, began as a trail-blazing teacher and nature-lovingfolklorist. He ended by becoming one of the most creative and lastinglyoriginal operatic forces of the twentieth century. Discovered late (not untilhis sixties, with the 1916 Prague production of Jenůfa), hispioneering of "speech-melody", based on the rise and fall and rhythmsof his native tongue, gave him the distinguishing musical soundprint of hislifework. "lf speech-melody," he wrote in 1918, "is the flowerof 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 understandthe words," his Brno student, the conductor Vilem Tausky, remembered himsaying. "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 beencollecting 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 dramaticexpression I have recourse to my library"*. "Janaček's creationwas life, and to live was to create," his biographer Jaroslav Vogel haswritten (1962). "He composed permanently - in the streets, at the market,during his morning walks ...He even composed during his classes..." Theolder he got the younger his art became, transcending its romantic rootsthrough the radical economy, cellular modernity and non-conformity of itsconception. The energy was unstoppable, the inventive cocktail endless.
In his preface to Volume I of the CompleteCritical Edition (Prague/Kassel 1978), Ludvik Kundera writes that Janaček'spiano works "are neither numerous nor ostentatious; they do not follow theLiszt or Chopin tradition nor flaunt the virtuosity of either the composer orthe interpreter. [But] they include several... valuable compositions reflectingthe composer's inner life and revealing a poetic conception of the instrumentalmedium" close to that of Schumann. Brahms, too, on occasion, he might haveadded.
Thecycle Along an Overgrown Path is broadly autobiograpical, recalling, onthe 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, thechildhood and long, suffering death of his daughter Olga "on the eve ofher twenty-first spring" (Thursday 26th February 1903). Hukvaldy was aplace to which Janaček often returned -and never forgot. Its waterways hepictured with the wandering eye and sensuousness of a master poet: "Theymirror 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 sinksto the bottom contentedly, so it seems to me. Before she drinks, the tiny wrenchases away the sadness of solitude with a little song. The hind drinks fromthem with a gentle kiss... I know a large fountain -nearly a small lake, chokedby the darkness of ages... There are no angles in this eternal darkness, onlysouls who play with countless marbles of pink and white [blossoms] (8thSeptember 1922)'. An Overgrown Path is music of intimate nostalgia, adeeply private diary of memories and impressions, dreams and images. Of dancesand songs - occasionally real, frequently illusory.
Of the original series of ten pieces or 'littlecompositions" (1901-08, printed 1911), several appeared first forharmonium (Janaček was an organist), in a Brno publication called SlavonicMelodies (1901/02: Nos. 1, 2, 4, 7, 10). The titles followed later. In aletter of 6th June 1908, Janaček 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 willsense weeping in [No. 61. The premonition of certain death. During the hotsummer nights [of 1902 in Hukvaldyl that angelic person [Olgal lay in deathlyanguish"; 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 thesepieces, Janaček wrote, "there is more distress than there are wordsto tell it, they are above all things the most dear to me". Of a projectedsecond (untitled) series (1911) only No. 1 in E flat [1l1 was printed in Janaček'slife 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 in1942, together with two discarded numbers from the first series (1902): in Dmajor [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 recordingacknowledges the ordering of the 1942 printing as well as modem Czech performancepractice.
Up to 1918 Moravia was part of theAustro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire. German was the language of the rulingclasses, Czech that of "the social and economic underdogs" Gohn Tyrrell).
On lst/2nd October 1905 the Austrians of Brno organised a demonstrationobjecting to a request from the Czechs for a university of their own. TheCzechs retaliated. Factions clashed, the police and army intervened, a youngcarpenter was bayoneted. Stark, chilling, desperate, poignant, Street Scene I.
X. 1905 was Janaček's memorial to this human tragedy: "Thewhite marble staircase/of the House of Artists in Brno... a simple worker FrantisekPavlik / falls, stained with blood... / He came only to plead for auniversity... / And was killed by cruel murderers" (preface to the score).
Loosely a sonata-type design in E flat minor, varyingly orchestral and pianisticin conception, it was originally in three parts. But on the day of the firstperformance - given by Ludmila Tučkova, 21st January 1906 - Janačekin a fit of self-criticism tore-up and burnt the last movement (a funeralmarch). The other two he threw into the river. They survived only because Tuckovahad by then already copied them out: it was from her manuscript that thecomposer later authorised the work to be published in 1924 -in two halves: Presentimentand Death (originally Elegy).
@Ates Orga 1996
*From Janaček: Leaves from his life, edit & trans Vilem &Margaret Tausky (Kahn & Averill, London 1982), reprinted by kindpermission.