The Famous Czech Composer
Czech composer Leoš Janáček, regarded as one of the foremost Czech composers, whose death 75 years ago will be commemorated in August of this ear, was also a life-long member of Sokol.
Born on July 3, 1854 in the small town of Hukvaldy in Moravia, Leoš Janáček showed exeptional musical talent as a young boy and at the age of 11 became a chorister at the prestigious Augustinian Monastery in Brno.
Following his formal musical education at Brno and at the College of Organ playing in Prague, Janáček settled in Brno and followed family tradition in becoming a music teacher. In 1878 he spent some time in Vienna for additional studies and upon his return founded and directed the Organ school and Conservatory in Brno. In 1896 he undertook his first visit to Russia and his studies of Russian literature influenced much of his subsequent work. However, the greatest influence on his work was his study of Moravian folk music; it led him to create a musical system of his own, derived from folk elements, which found its best expression in his greatest work, the opera Jenůfa (Její pastorkyňa).
In addition to operas, Janáček wrote orchestral, choral and chamber works. His first opera Šárka completed in 1887, was followed by Jenůfa (1903), The excursions of Mr. Brouček (1914), Káťa Kabanová (1921, The Cunning Little Visen (1923), The Makropulos Affair (1924), and his last, unfinished opera, From the house of the dead (1927–1928, completed in 1930 by Břetislav Bakala). His other works include two string quartets and other chamber compositions, orchestral music (chief among them Sinfonietta – 1926), choral works (best known Glagolithic Mass – 1927) and piano music.
Although much respected as a teacher and composer in Brno, the capital of Moravia, it was not until the Prague performance of his opera Jenůfa in 1915 that he became nationally and internationally known. The great creative upsurge of the last years of his life reflected this recognition as well as his pride in being able to contribute to the cultural heritage of a newly independent Czechoslovakia. In 1925 he received an honorary degree from the University of Brno and in the year of his seventieth birthday a cycle of his operas was performed in Brno. Two years after his death, in 1930, an extensive cycle of his operas was performed throughout Czechoslovakia.
Today Janáček enjoys ever greater popularity with music-loving audiences the world over.
Janáček joined Sokol at the age of 22 in Brno and remained a member of Sokol for 52 years, until his death on August 12, 1928. He followed all activities of Sokol with great interest throughout his life and dedicated several of his works to Sokol. He also composed music accompaniments to Sokol calisthenics exercises; best known among them was the accompaniment to calisthenics exercises with Indian clubs performed at the III. Alll-Sokol slet in Prague in 1895. This musical accompaniment became very popular; composer František Kmoch adopted it for his brass band, František Kozlík adopted it for brass instruments and used it as accompaniment for calisthenics exercises with wands. Later it was also adopted for a symphonic orchestra, played and broadcast under the name of Quadrille.
Being a great devotee of the Sokol idea, Janáček composed in 1926 a festive orchestral salute do Sokol for the VIII. All-Sokol slet in Prague which he named Slet Sinfonietta; its premiere, conducted by Václav Talich, dirigent of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, took place during the slet´s opening days on June 26, 1926. While watching calisthenics performances at the slet, he felt that the beautiful, dynamic and impressive calisthenic compositions deserved a richer musical content. He intended to produce a study with his thoughts on music accompaniments for mass calisthenics, but his untimely death two years later (at age 74) never allowed him to realize it.
His great interest in Sokol activities was testified by his frequent appearances at various local Sokol events as well as at the All-Sokol slets in Prague. In his seventies be became rather upset with Sokols when, as a mark of respect, they addressed him as an "Elder"; he reacted rather angrily at being so addressed.
His Slet Sinfonietta, later known only as "Sinfonietta", became one of his most popular orchestral compositions for its musical expression of strong flight, rhythmical strength and courage. It symbolized for him the essence of the Sokol idea as he envisioned and defined it in a letter to his Sokol unit, dated October 10, 1918, eighteen days prior to the founding of Czechoslovakia: "I always looked upon Sokol as being the Czech fist, necessary to us as much as the Czech heart…"
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