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JANACEK: Choruses for Male Voices

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Leos Janaček (1854-1928) Choruses for Male VoicesThe Czechcomposer Leos Janaček is now widely regarded as being one of the mostimportant and original artists of the early twentieth century. A distinguishedmusical dramatist, he wrote a total of nine operas at least five of which areconsidered to be major works that have become a regular part of the repertory -Jenůfa (1894-1903), Kalya Kabanova (1919-21), The CunningLittle Vixen (1921-23), The Makropulos Affair (1923-25) and Fromthe House of the Dead (1927-28). Janaček was a multi-faceted artist, acomposer, conductor, organist, teacher, writer and a significant authority onfolk-music, and the stylistic trait that is central to an understanding of hiswork is the unique treatment of melody resulting from his intensive study ofMoravian speech, and more specifically the subtle fluctuations of spokenintonation brought about by the speaker' s changing inner emotional state. Thecomposer was of the opinion that 'a fragment of national life is attached toevery word uttered by the people; the melody of their speech should be studiedin every detail'.

BothJanaček's grandfather and father were teachers and musicians and at theage of eleven Leos entered the Augustinian Monastery in Brno as a chorister.

Here he benefited greatly from the encouragement of the choirmaster andcomposer Pavel Křizkovsk?¢, eventually succeeding him as choirmaster in1872. Janaček's excellent work with the choir led to a request thefollowing year to conduct the Svatopluk (a post he held from 1873-77), aworking-men's choral society for which he wrote his first compositions. In 1874he undertook further music studies, first at the Prague Organ School then atthe Leipzig Conservatory and in Vienna, before returning to Brno as a musicmaster at the Teachers' Institute An added incentive to write for chorus camewith the formation in 1903 of the Moravian Teachers' Choir (the same choir ason this recording). Janaček established a close friendship with itsconductor, Ferdinand Vach, and it was this choir that gave the premieres ofmost of his works in the genre.

Following anearly period of romantic works the language of which was indebted to earlierCzech composers, notably Dvořak, the formation of Janaček'sindividual style dates from the composition of his third opera Jenůfa. Thefinal, intensely creative decade of his life coincided with Jenůfa's long-overduesnccess, the birth of an independent Czechoslovakia, and his love for a youngmarried woman, Kamila Stosslova. To this utterly remarkable late period belongsome of Janaček's finest works including the orchestral rhapsody TarasBulba (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 Janaček worked in throughouthis life is the one featured on this disc, the unaccompanied chorus.

Of the four Čtyřilidove muzske sbory (Four folk male-voice choruses) only one is not basedon a folk text, Coz ta nase břiza (Our Birch Tree, 1893). Its textis by Smetana's librettist Eliska Krasnohorska and likens the trembling of thebirch leaves to the palpitations of the heart. Orani (Ploughing, 1873)was not only Janaček's first ever work for male-voice chorus but also hisearliest known composition. In Vinek (The Garland, 1893) Janačekuses the original folk melody in its entirety, whilst the witty Peřina (TheQuilt, 1914) catalogues the many useful attributes of a quilt!

The Čtveromuzsk?¢ch sborů (Four male-voice choruses) date from 1885 and bear thefollowing dedication on the title page. 'Dedicated to the esteemed master MrAntonin Dvořak in token of unbounded respect by Leos Janaček'.

Dvořak was actually rather taken aback by the work's audaciousmodulations. The Čtvero muzsk?¢ch sborů moravsk?¢ch (FourMoravian male-voice choruses) were composed in 1904 and are dedicated to theMoravian Teachers' Choral Society The highly chromatic Komafi (TbeGnat's Wedding) and Rozloučeni (Parting) are both based on Moravianfolk-songs annotated by the renowned collector Frantisek Susil, whilst thetexts of the passionate Dez vis (If you knew) and the humorous Klekanica(The Evening Witch) were written by Andřej Přikryl.

The next threeworks form the zenith of Janaček's achievements in the genre ofunaccompanied chorus - Kantor Halfar (Teacher Halfar; 1906, rev. 1917), MaryčkaMagdonova (1906-7) and Sedmdesat tisic (The 70,000) (1909,rev.1913). They represent a trilogy of sorts in that all three are based ontexts drawn from Petr Bezruč's Silesian Songs, a collection of 61poems the bitter critique of which, detailing social exploitation and poverty,found a particularly sympathetic recipient in Janaček. Whether the textconcerned a people as a whole (The 70,000) or the more personal tragedyof an individual (the protagonsists of Kantor Halfar and MaryčkaMagdonova are both driven to suicide), Janaček responded with some ofhis most powerful music. AII three works are cast in a free rondo form, withcomplex polyphonic webs created by the accumulation of numerous motifs. The70.000 is a quite extraordinary work about the revolt of Silesian miners,with almost all its material drawn from the opening eight-bar melody. Theforceful climax, a series of passionate, agitated shouts from the chorus, packsa hugely visceral punch.

The impetus towrite Česka Iegie (The Czech Legion, 1918) came from a momentousevent in the history of Janaček's native land: the aforementioned birth ofan independent Czechoslovakiaon 28th October 1918. The inspiration for thehighly regarded Potuln?¢ silenec (The Wandering Madman, 1922) for malechorus and solo soprano came from a quite different source, setting anallegorical text by the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore whose poetry reading inPrague in June 1921 made an enormous impression upon the composer.

Tři muzskesbory (Three male-voicechoruses) date from 1888, although the third chorus Zarlivec (TheJealous Man) was only rediscovered in 1940 amongst Dvořak's papers afterJanaček had sent it to the composer to ask for his opinion. Finally, theyouthful Laska opravdiva (True Love) is notated without time signatureor key signature although the key of G major is adhered to throughout.

Peter Quinn

Moravian Teachers Choir

The Moravian Teachers Choir ranks as oneof the best known Czech chorus ensembles. It was established in 1903 and itsfirst members were graduates of the Teachers College in Kroměřiz.

From the flfst the choir embarked on an active programme that included works bymany distinguished Czech composers from the tum of the century and involved theensemble in concert appearances at home and abroad. The founder and firstprincipal director of the choir was Ferdinand Vach, who was succeeded in 1936by Jan Soupal, who worked with the ensemble regularly during the Nazioccupation and continued his activities after the war, with further concertengagements that took the choir to Belgium, the Netherlands, the Soviet Urtionand Great Britain and brought a number of recordings for Supraphon.

Item number 8553623
Barcode 730099462327
Release date 01/01/2001
Category Romantic
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Composers Janacek, Leos
Conductors Mati, Lubomir
Orchestras Moravian Teachers Choir
Disc: 1
True Love
1 Ploughing
2 Our Birch Tree
3 The Garland
4 The Quilt
5 Warning
6 O, Love
7 Oh, to Be a Soldier
8 Your Wondrous Eyes
9 Since You Know
10 The Gnat's Wedding
11 The Evening Ghost
12 Parting
13 Teacher Halfar
14 Marycka Magdonova
15 Seventy Thousand
16 The Czech Legion
17 The Wandering Madman
18 Parting
19 The Dove
20 The Jealous Man
21 True Love
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