July 2 Composer Birthday: Leos Janacek

July 2 Composer Birthday: Leos Janacek featured image

Janacek, along with Dvorak, were the two composers who put the Czech stamp on classical music. Mainly an opera composer, Janacek incorporated Moravian and Slovak folk music into his works, even going so far as to incorporate a musical assimilation of rhythm, pitch contour, and inflections of the Moravian dialect of the Czech speech pattern. His music, especially in his later years, seriously expanded tonality, unusual chord structures, and experimented with modes as opposed to traditional keys. Along with folk music, he drew inspiration from hearing Tchaikovsky’s music performed in Prague (and met the composer, much to his excitement), and fellow Czech composer Dvorak.

Janacek’s music was influenced by his personal life; his marriage wasn’t going so great, and Janacek often developed infatuations with other women. Since divorce would be a huge social disgrace for his wife, they agreed to lead separate lives while sharing the same home. He was obsessed with Kamila Stosslova, a married woman nearly 40 years his junior. Her husband was an acquaintance of Janacek’s, which is how they met. Despite her ongoing indifference to him, Janaceck wrote her over 700 love letters and in the last decade of his life, found a muse in her (much to his wife’s distress). Kamila inspired characters in three operas, and other works, too. It didn’t matter that she was like, “meh”. He kept writing her, thinking about her, and finding inspiration in her.

Janacek’s music can be a challenge. It’s not “immediately likeable” in the way Mozart or Chopin is. Yet it’s not too far “out there” either, like some contemporary music is for more conservative listeners. But his music is definitely compelling, and challenges you to give it a try.

Here’s the final scene of “The Makropulos Affair”, sung by Anja Silja with the London Philharmonic, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.

Leos Janacek was born July 3, 1854 in Hukvaldy, Moravia, and died August 12, 1928, in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

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