Music of Leoš Janáček : program notes

Friday 15th March at 7.30pm, St Philip's Church, cnr Moorhouse and Macpherson Streets, O'Connor.

The Diary of one who disappeared | Zapisnik zmizelého

Song cycle, JW V/12 (1917–1919, re. 1920) for tenor, alto, three female voices and piano.


Some time ago, in an East Moravian highland village, J.D., a law-abiding and industrious youth, the sole object of hope for his parents, disappeared from home in a mysterious way. At first an accident or even a crime was suspected and the imagination of the villagers was kindled. Some days later, however, a diary was found in his room, which disclosed the secret. It contained several short poems that eventually provided the key to the mystery. His parents had at first thought that the poems were folk songs and soldiers' songs that he had copied. But a court investigation later revealed their true content. If only for their moving and sincere atmosphere, they deserve to be saved from the dust and oblivion of court files …

This description was attached to twenty-three anonymous poems entitled From the Pen of a Self-taught Peasant, which appeared in the Brno daily paper, Lidové noviny, on 14 May 1916. Composer Leoš Janáček read the verses, apparently took them on his annual holiday in July 1917, and began to compose a song cycle for them.

Zapisnik zmizelého not only depicts moods and impressions but also tells a story: the characters Janik and Zefka are specified, dialogue is employed and the score readfiles simple stage directions.

The main character is a farmer's teenage son named Janik, who has met a young gypsy girl named Zefka. At first he resists her tempting, beautiful, eyes by sending her away. Late one day he wanders into the woods to cut a peg for his cart and finds Zefka. She teases and seduces the shy youth by showing him that "not all her skin has been darkened by the sun." He succumbs and makes love with her in the forest. He is angry with himself for betraying his moral beliefs and bringing shame to his family by falling in love with a lower class woman, yet he looks forward to every night when he can go to the woods and be with Zefka. When Janik realizes that Zefka is bearing his son, he decides to leave his family to live as a gypsy with her.

During his 1917 holiday, Janáček met Kamila Stösslova, who had a great influence on his works in the later part of his life. Kamila regarded him as a friend and fatherly figure, but Janáček fell deeply in love with her; they exchanged over 700 letters, in which Janáček associates Stösslova with the character Zefka.

Composition of the song cycle was slow. Begun in 1917 and much revised, Janáček pronounced it finished on 6th June 1919, but it was revised again later.

Janáček neglected finished manuscript until a pupil, Bretislav Bakala, discovered it and with his friend, tenor Jaroslav Lecian, gave a private performance for Janáček in 1920. Zapisnik zmizelého was premiered in Brno on 18 April 1921. The December 1921 the Prague premiere was a huge success, and led to recognition of the work outside Czechoslovakia.

Everyone—including Janáček—thought an obscure "unlettered son of the soil" had written the poems, but in 1997 a historian discovered a letter in which the obscure Moravian poet Josef Kalda bragged that he had penned them. In a sense, the text is a library hoax. No matter, for Janáček's crafting of these romantic songs of yearning is brilliant.

The movements are:

1. Potkal jsem mladou cigánku | One day I met a young gypsy girl
2. Ta černá cigánka | That dark-skinned gypsy girl
3. Svatojánske mušky | The glow-worms are dancing
4. Už mladé vlaštúvky | The young swallows
5. Tĕžko sa mi oře | Ploughing is heavy work]
6. Hajsi, vy siví volci | Hey, you grey oxen
7. Ztratil isem kolíček | Now I've lost the little pin
8. Nehled'te, volečci, tesklivo k úvratím | Don't look so sadly after me
9. Vítaj, Janíčku | Welcome, Janíčku
10. Bože, dálný, nesmrtelný | God in heaven, eternal one
11. Táhne vůňa k lesu | The sweet smell of ripening wheat
12. Tmavá olšinka, chladná studénka | The shady elder-grove
13. Klavír solo | Piano solo
14. Slnéčko sa zdvihá | The sun climbs high
15. Moji siví volci | My grey oxen
16. Co jsem to udĕlal? | What have I done?
17. Co komu súzeno | What has been ordained
18. Nedbám já včil o nic | Nothing matters to me
19. Letí straka letí | The magpie flies away
20. Mám já paneku | I have a true love
21. Můj drahý tatíčku | My dear father
22. S Bohem, rodný kraju | Farewell, my own country

Along an Overgrown Path | Po zarostlém chodníčku

Piano suite by Leoš Janáček, JW VIII/17 (1901-1908)


Janáček probably began preparing his first series of Moravian folk melodies in 1900. At this time, the cycle had only six pieces for harmonium. These melodies were the foundation of the first volume of "On an Overgrown Path" and we're premiered in 1905 at the Besední dům Hall in Brno.

The cycle had grown to nine pieces by 1908 (by then intended for piano) and the definitive Book I was published in 1911. Also around 1911 Janáček completed Book II, which was not printed until 1942.

Less experimental than his later works, these miniatures are reminiscent of Schumann and Grieg, but with the composer's own unique style evident. They are among Janáček’s most understated yet emotional pieces.

The movements to be played are:

1. Naše večery | Our Evenings
2. Lístek odvanutý | A Blown-Away leaf
3. Pojďte s námi! | Come With Us!
4. Frýdecká panna Maria | The Madonna of Frydek
5. Štěbetaly jak laštovičky | They Chattered Like Swallows
6. Nelze domluvit! | Words Fail!
7. Dobrou noc! | Good Night!
8. Tak neskonale úzko | Unutterable Anguish
9. V pláči | In Tears
10. Sýček neodletěl! | The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away!


Piano sonata in E flat minor, JW VIII/19 (1905) "From the Street"


1.X.1905 is a tribute to František Pavlík (1885–1905), a young wood worker bayonetted on 1 October 1905 during demonstrations in support of a Czech university in Brno. The premiere was played by Ludmila Tučkováat a concert of the Brno Friends of Music Club in January 1906.

The two movements are:
1. Foreboding | Předtucha - Con moto
2. Death | SmrtAdagio.

Janáček also wrote a third movement, a funeral march, which he removed and burned shortly before the first public performance. He was dissatisfied with the rest of the composition as well and impulsively threw the manuscript into the river Vltava, later to regret his action.

The work was not recovered until 1924 when pianist Tučková announced that she had a copy. On 23 November 1924 there was a second 'premiere' in Prague under the title 1. X. 1905. Janáček incribed the score, published in 1924,

"The white marble of the steps of Besední důmhere in Brno. The ordinary labourer František Pavlík falls, stained with blood. He came merely to champion higher learning and has been slain by cruel murderers."