Leos Janacek (1854-1928)

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Donald Macleod on Janacek's 70th birthday year, when he was headed for emotional ruin.

Forget pipe and slippers. In 1924, Leos Janacek (1854-1928) careened into his eighth and final decade with an almost rock star-like abandon: sleepwalking through his own personal erotic fantasy as his personal life crashed catastrophically around him. His was in love: infatuated to the point of madness with a woman nearly four decades younger, the very much married Mrs Kamila Stösslová.

Meanwhile, as his long-suffering wife endured almost unbearable torrents of gossip, insults and casual misogyny (can you believe I wrote this piece with such a stupid wife!", he quipped to a group of admirers one evening), the composer almost blithely tossed off a series of career-defining masterpieces - all written at breathtaking, almost breakneck speed.

This week, Donald Macleod explores the brilliant, tempestuous last five years of classical music's 'anti-prodigy' - the seventysomething whose obsessive love inspired him to create some of the finest works of the 20th century. We'll hear a near-comprehensive list of Janacek's final works: from the astonishing Sinfonietta and Glagolitic Mass, written just months apart, to extended excerpts from Janacek's last great trio of operas: "The Cunning Little Vixen", "The Makropoulos Affair" and "From The House Of The Dead".

We'll also hear both of Janacek's String Quartets - each intimately related to his illicit relationship with Kamila - as well as concerti for violin and piano, and surely one of the strangest pieces in all classical music: his "Capriccio" for left hand piano, trumpets, trombones, tuba and flute.

To begin the series, Donald Macleod catches up with Janacek in his 70th birthday year - a period when the composer was well on the way to emotional ruin.

March Of The Blue Boys, for piccolo and piano (1924)

Roberto Fabbriciani (piccolo), Massimiliano Damerini (piano)

ARTS MUSIC 47557-2 - Track 1

String Quartet no.1 "The Kreutzer Sonata" (1923-4)


Con Moto

Talich Quartet

CALLIOPE CAL 9333 - Tracks 5-8

Mladi ("Youth") (excerpt) (1924)

Moderato - 5'05''

Members of the London Sinfonietta / David Atherton

DECCA 4303752 - Disc 2, Tracks 6-10

The Cunning Little Vixen (Act I excerpt)(1921-23, fp 1924)'


"Going To Be A Storm Soon"

"Come On, Old Lady, And Let's Get The Show Started"

"Mummy! Mummy! What Is That?"



"I'm Just The Same Too"

"Look What We've Got Down 'ere"

Interlude (beginning) - (conclusion)

"You Should Take A Lesson From Me!"

"Sisters! Comrades!"

Thomas Allen (forester, baritone)

Stephen Wallder (cricket)

Shelley Nash (caterpillar)

Robert Tear (mosquito)

Piers Laurence (frog)

Rebecca Bainbridge (Vixen cub)

Lillian Watson (Vixen, soprano)

Gillian Knight (forester's wife, contralto)

Karen Shelby (dog)

Mary King (rooster)

Glenys Groves (chief hen)

Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden / Sir Simon Rattle

CHANDOS CHAN31301 - Disc 1, Tracks 1-13."

01Folklorist and Teacher20140721

Donald Macleod focuses on the early years of Janacek's multi-faceted career.

For most of his life, Leoš Janácek was known primarily as a folklorist and teacher and didn't achieve international recognition as a composer until he was into his sixties. He was a man of immense drive and determination and, alongside his passion for the folk music of his native Moravia, Janácek improved the standard of music-making and music education in Brno where he spent most of his life.

Donald Macleod introduces works from the years leading up to Janacek's first big success including a sample of the wealth of folk songs he collected, a ghostly orchestral ballad, a piano piece written at a time of personal and professional crisis, and part of the opera which finally put Janácek's career as a serious composer firmly on the map.


Donald Macleod presents music of the open air and the story of a woman six centuries old.

In today's episode, Donald Macleod explores music of the open air - and the story of a woman six centuries old...

Janacek's Danube" symphony was left unfinished at his death - all that remains of a planned trip down the river with his beloved Kamila that never came to fruition.

Meanwhile, the composer's Concertino for piano stands as one of his most charming works - full of filigree flourishes and charming melodies inspired by a spring spent in the idyllic countryside of Eastern Czechoslovakia.

We end with the climactic scene of the composer's penultimate opera - the tragic case of Emila Marty, doomed to live forever, in the legal drama "The Makropoulos Affair"

Dunaj ("Danube") - Symphony in Four Movements (mid 1920s)







Brno State Philharmonic Orchestra / Franti?ek Jilek

SUPRAPHON 1115222 - Tracks 6-9

Concertino for piano and chamber orchestra (1925)


Piu Mosso

Con Moto

Rudolf Firkusny (piano)

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra / Rafael Kubelik

DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 4762196 - Tracks 4-7

The Makropulos Affair (Act III excerpt)(1923-5, fp 1926)

"The seal and th'initials E.M."

"Fetch the doctor!"

Cheryl Barker (Emilia Marty, soprano)

Neal Davies (Dr Kolenaty, bass-baritone)

John Graham-Hall (Vitek, tenor)

Elena Xanthoudakis (Kristina, soprano)

Robert Brubaker (Gregor, tenor)

Thomas Walker (Prus, tenor)

ENO Chorus and Orchestra / Sir Charles Mackerras

CHANDOS CHAN3138 - Disc 2, Tracks 3-4."



Janácek first encountered Kamila Stösslová in 1917. His passion for this married woman, less than half his age, transformed the last decade of his life and spurred him on to greater heights of creativity. Donald Macleod introduces two works whose heroines were inspired by Kamila - a song-cycle in which a young farmer deserts his family to live with a beautiful gypsy girl, and an opera whose gentle heroine is unable to resist the temptation of an illicit affair with tragic consequences.


Donald Macleod explores Janacek's Sinfonietta - and two rarely heard curios.

Donald Macleod presents Leos Janacek's most celebrated - and spectacular - orchestral work: the Sinfonietta, inspired by military bands in Pisek, home town of the composer's muse Kamila. He also explores Janacek's trip to the UK in 1926, and dips into two of the composer's least-heard (and most peculiar) pieces; first, there's a handful of Nursery Rhymes for instrumental ensemble - full of surreal images of vegetables getting married and grandmothers in bushes - with the programme ending with the unique Capriccio for piano left hand, brass and flute.

Sinfonietta (1926)

Philharmonia / Simon Rattle

EMI CDC7475042 - Tracks 1-5

Nursery Rhymes, for nine singing voices and chamber ensemble, to the words of anonymous rhymes (1925-7)

Introduction - 0'30''

I. The beetroot got married - 1'19''

III. The Mole Creeps - 0'59''

IV. Karel Rode Off To Hell - 0'31''

VI. Franta the knacker's son played bass-fiddle - 0'59''

IX. The Old Woman Was Making Magic - 0'34''

XII. Granny's Crawling Into The Elder Bush - 0'22''

XV. A Goat Is Lying In The Hay - 0'36''

XVII. Frantik, Frantik - 0'22''

XVIII. Finale - The Bear Sat On A Tree Trunk - 1'33''

David Campbell, Ian Mitchell (clarinets), New London Chamber Choir and ensemble / James Wood

HYPERION CDA66893 - Tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 10, 13, 16, 18, 19

Capriccio (Defiance") for piano left hand, flute, two trumpets, three trombones and tenor tuba (1926, fp 1928)





Mikhail Rudy (piano)

Soloists of the Opera Nationale De Paris / Sir Charles Mackerras

EMI 237606 - Disc 2, Tracks 34-37."

03A Passionate Nature20140723

03A Passionate Nature20140723

One of Janácek's favourite places was the peaceful village of Hukvaldy where he'd been born and where, in 1921, he bought a cottage in which he could compose, away from the hectic life of Brno. Shortly afterwards he began work on the opera in which he was able to combine two of his passions - for the natural world which had always been an essential part of his life, and for Kamila Stösslová, the married woman with whom he became obsessed. Donald Macleod introduces this everyday tale of Vixen Sharp-Ears, and Janácek's next opera, whose enigmatic heroine was also inspired by Kamila. Elina Makropulos has lived for over three centuries and, as the elixir which has kept her alive begins to wear off, she realises that there's only one possible solution to her joyless existence.



Featuring Janacek's choral masterpiece, the Glagolithic Mass, and his Violin Concerto.

Had the weather had been good in the Czech Republic, circa July 1926, Janacek might never have written one of the most extraordinary choral works of the 20th century. Holed up in the spa town of Luhacovice with nothing to do, the composer set his mind to a setting of the Mass - but this was to be no ordinary one...

Donald Macleod introduces a performance of Janacek's remarkable Glagolitic Mass", uniquely written to words in the medieval language of Old Church Slavonic, and presents a work once thought incomplete at the composer's death: his Violin Concerto, subtitled "Wanderings Of A Little Soul".

Violin Concerto "The Wandering Of A Little Soul" (1926)

Ivan Zenaty (violin)

Brno State Philharmonic Orchestra / Frantisek Jilek

SUPRAPHON 1115222 - Track 10

Glagolitic Mass (1926, fp 1927)

Introduction / Úvod

Kyrie Eleison / Gospodi Pomiluj

Gloria / Slava

Credo / Věruju

Sanctus / Svet

Agnus Dei / Agneče Bo?ij



Felicity Palmer (soprano), Ameral Gunson (mezzo), John Mitchinson (tenor), Malcolm King (bass); Jane Parker-Smith (organ)

CBSO Chorus and Orchestra / Simon Rattle

EMI CDC7475042 - Tracks 6-13."



Donald introduces music from around the time of Janacek's 70th birthday.



Janácek's 70th birthday was celebrated with concerts in Prague and Brno, the publication of his biography and an Honorary PhD from Brno University, which pleased him most of all.

Donald Macleod introduces two remarkably youthful works Janácek composed around that time - an exuberant wind sextet and a group of choral settings of nonsense rhymes he came across in the children's supplement of his local paper, as well as a rhapsodic piece for cello and piano inspired by a Russian epic poem.


05 LAST20100226

Donald Macleod explores the music of Janacek's tragic last year.

After more than a decade of lusting after Kamila Stosslova, Janacek was finally ready to leave his long-suffering wife. But there was to be no Indian summer of happiness for the 74-year old composer...

Donald Macleod presents the music of Janacek's last 12 months, including the String Quartet Intimate Letters" - a musical evocation of the hundreds of letters the love-struck composer sent his muse over the course of his infatuation. He also presents music from Janacek's last - and bleakest - opera, "From The House Of The Dead".

A Recollection (1928)

Håkon Austbø (piano)

BRILLIANT 92295 - Disc 2, Track 16

String Quartet no. 2 "Intimate Letters" (1928)





Talich Quartet

CALLIOPE CAL 9333 - Tracks 5-8

From The House Of The Dead (Act II excerpt) (1927-8, fp 1930)

"A.a." - "Dear, Dear Alyeya."

"Alexander Petrovich, we've got the evening off."

"One day passed, a second, a third."

The Opera: "Kedril and Don Juan"

Pantomime: "The Fair Miller's Wife"

Jaroslava Janská (Alyeya)

Dalibor Jedlicka (Goryanchikov)

Ivo Zidek (Skuratov)

Jaroslav Sousek (Don Juan)

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and State Opera Chorus / Sir Charles Mackerras

DECCA 4303752 - Disc 1, Tracks 6-10."

05 LASTFinal Year20140725

05 LASTFinal Year20140725

Exploring the final year of Janacek's life, when he wrote two of his most popular works.

05 LASTFinal Year20140725

05 LASTFinal Year20140725

In the final year of his life, Janácek's love for Kamila Stösslova became ever more obsessive. He wrote letters to Kamila almost every day, and sometimes twice a day. The intense passion he felt for her found its culminating expression in his 2nd String Quartet. Donald Macleod introduces this most personal of his works, together with another of Janácek's best-loved pieces, prompted by the brilliant fanfares of a military band.