Leoš Janáček

(1854—1928) Czech composer

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Czech composer. Best known for his operas, Janáček was deeply influenced by native folk music and the rhythms of Czech speech.

One of fourteen children of a village schoolmaster, Janáček was born in Hukvaldy (Silesia). At the age of eleven he was sent to the Augustine monastery at Brno, where for eight years he was taught as a chorister by Pavel Křižkovský (1820–85), who also conducted the school orchestra. When Křižkovský left, Janáček was given his post, but, recognizing the inadequacy of his training, he went to the Prague Organ School in 1874, where he survived in the utmost penury. He returned to Brno a year later. In 1876 he was appointed conductor of the Brno Philharmonic Society, but as he still lacked confidence in his musical education he spent a further period studying in Leipzig and Vienna (1879–80). In 1881 he was appointed director of the newly formed Brno school of music. In the same year he married one of his students, with whom he had a son and a daughter. After both children had died tragically, the marriage broke up and Janáček was left grief-striken.

During this period he became increasingly active as a composer; his first work to be published professionally was a set of four choral pieces for male voices (1886). With the establishment of a Czech theatre in Brno, Janáček became interested in opera, and in 1887 completed Šarka (not performed until 1925). In 1904 he resigned his teaching appointment in order to devote more time to composing. In 1916 his opera Jenufa (1894–1903) was performed at the National Theatre in Prague to wide acclaim; Janáček was then over sixty. In the next twelve years he produced another five operas: Mr Brouček (completed 1917), Katya Kabanová (1919–21), The Cunning Little Vixen (1921–23; inspired by a strip cartoon in the local paper), The Makropoulos Affair (1923–25), and From the House of the Dead (1928; based on Dostoyevsky). Janáček's other compositions include the choral Glagolitic Mass (1926), the Slavonic rhapsody Taras Bulba (1918), and the popular Sinfonietta (1926). Of his chamber works, the two string quartets (1923; 1927–28) are outstanding. The two sets of pieces, By Overgrown Paths, are examples of his piano music.

Subjects: Music.

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