HOW JANÁČEK CREATED

  • INSPIRATION
  • SPEECH MELODIES
  • CREATIVE PROCESS 


INSPIRATION

In the case of Leoš Janáček, the concept of inspiration is somewhat misleading, as the composer's musical language is inextricably linked with his thinking in a broad sense, and is thus a direct expression of his view of the world, his values, etc. Nevertheless, some moments are more important for his work. 

Leoš Janáček with members of the Working Committe for Czech National Song of Moravia and Silesia in Strání (1906) © Moravian Museum

He himself connected the roots of his music, much like Béla Bartók, a composer of a younger generation, with the folk music he studied and collected. This interest probably began to show around 1888 and lasted practically until the end of his life. Janáček was a leading organizer of the collection of folk songs and dances and also collaborated with the Academy of Sciences; he was the chairman of the Working Committee for Czech National Song in Moravia and Silesia and thus participated in the project Das Volkslied in Österreich. He not only wrote down the songs, but also recorded them on a phonograph. He was the co-author of several collections, the most important of which is Moravian Folk Songs Newly Collected, which he published together with František Bartoš in 1901. Janáček's musical work was more significantly influenced by folk music especially in the beginning, when he was engaged in response work, stylization, but also, for example, composed accompaniments to songs. Let us recall Valachian Dances, the ballet Rákos Rákoczy, the opera The Beginning of a Romance or Moravian Folk Poetry in Songs. He gradually abandoned this position in the mid-1890s, but even in his newly emerging musical language, folk music retained a deep and solid foundation. 

Relation to Russian culture was also important for Janáček. This was given by the contemporary Pan-Slavic tendencies of Czech intellectuals, especially in the mostly German city of Brno. In 1869, when performing in musical productions celebrating the 1000th anniversary of the death of St. Cyril, the fourteen-year-old Janáček burned for the Slavic cause and almost ecstatically awaited the Velehrad festivities, for which he demanded from his uncle Jan Janáček a Slavic dress made of "Russian canvas". We can observe a closer relationship to the Russian culture and language, which grew into enthusiastic Russophilism, from the early 1870s. Young Leo used the form of the name Lev, to which an interest in the Russian language and literature was probably added around 1873. In the first year of his choirmaster work in Beseda brněnská in 1876, he performed his melodrama for recitation and orchestra on Lermontov's poem Death. This is accompanied by a friendship with the strongly Slavic-oriented Antonín Dvořák, as well as an admiration and desire to study with the pianist Anton Rubinstein. He also admired the work of Tchaikovsky. Janáček also demonstrated his Russophilism when choosing the names of his children: Olga and Vladimír.

Janáček's interest in Russia was further strengthened by the departure of his brother František to St. Petersburg, with whom he corresponded in Russian and whom he visited three times in Russia. He was also in close contact with the women's educational association Vesna, which bought Russian literature mainly thanks to the Russophile-oriented director František Mareš and which also organized Russian language courses from the mid-1890s. 

Dear brother! You'll be surprised when you get this letter from here! Did my friend Mareš the director visit you? I gave him your address. We concluded the Пушкиновою celebrations in style. Greetings to you both.

Леошъ

A letter from Leoš Janáček to his brother František in St Petersburg (9. 6. 1899)

This orientation of Vesna, which was in the closest connection with the Brno Czech elite, led to the establishment of the Russian Circle in 1898. Leoš Janáček was, of course, a founding member. Throughout the existence of the association, he held various positions in the board of directors, even serving as chairman in the years 1909-1915. The Russian circle declared as its main activity the teaching of the Russian language with the following means: "grammar exercises, reading declamation, singing, newspapers, journals, library, membership meetings, fun (tea) evenings, lectures on Russian grammar and literature, publishing relevant forms and teaching aids" and, of course, with the necessary stipulation: "Conversations about politics are excluded." Janáček was satisfied in the Russian Circle, he supervised the teaching, provided guests for lectures, etc. Certainly not by chance, most of the works inspired by Russian literature were created during the 15-year period of the association's operation. These were Piano Trio after Tolstoy's "Kreutzer Sonata" (1908), later reworked into String Quartet No. 1 (1923), Fairy Tale for cello and piano based on Zhukovsky's The Tale of Tsar Berendey (1910-1913), the rhapsody Taras Bulba on Gogol's short story of the same name (1915, 1918). However, his masterpieces of music drama, such as the opera Káťa Kabanová (1920) based on Ostrovsky's drama The Thunderstorm or the opera From the House of the Dead based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's novel Notes from the House of the Dead, are motivated directly by their source material, rather than being a manifestation of Russophilism, which partially disappeared from Janáček's work after the war. Russian literature appealed to him not only in its plot, but also in its realistic nature and the elaborated psychology of its characters.

Leoš Janáček with members of the Russian Circle from around 1910 © Moravian Museum
Leoš Janáček with members of the Russian Circle from around 1910 © Moravian Museum

Autograph of the chorus for male voices The 70, 000 to a poem by Petr Bezruč © Moravian Museum 

The social aspect and his exceptional ability to empathize were also crucial to Janáček. He was strongly impressed by social and societal injustice and reacted to them with often very tense works, such as choral works based on poems by Petr Bezruč from 1906-1912, which bear the hallmarks of Expressionism.

However, all these could more accurately be seen as stimuli that influenced the composer's thinking, and thus his work. Women were the real inspiration, or rather the trigger for the emotional perception that was necessary for Janáček as a creator. When the composer was enamoured or entranced, his work was very focused and was created in a short time. Where such an emotional donor was absent, the work took much longer. Of course, this cannot be applied literally, because the length of the work was obviously influenced by other factors as well. The truth remains that he worked on Jenůfa for eight years and on the The Excursion of Mr. Brouček to the Moon even nine years, in contrast to the second part of this work, The Excursion of Mr. Brouček to the 15th century, which he composed in nine months - at a time when he was enchanted by Gabriela Horvátová, the singer who portrayed Kostelnička in the first Prague production of Jenůfa. It did not take much longer to compose Fate, which was written in the emotional longing for Kamila Urválková, who was twenty years his junior. However, undoubtedly the most important woman in Janáček's life (besides, of course, his wife Zdeňka) was Kamila Stösslová. Cheerful, uncomplicated, twenty-eight years younger, Kamila had been his real muse and friend since 1917. Janáček's relationship with her is one of the answers to the question of his incredibly productive "great old age". Without Kamila, we could hardly imagine Káťa Kabanová, The Diary of One Who Disappeared or the second string quartet "Intimate Letters". 

Kamila Urválková © Moravian Museum
Kamila Urválková © Moravian Museum
Gabriela Horvátová © archiv JZ
Gabriela Horvátová © archiv JZ
Kamila Stösslová with her son Ota in 1917 © Moravian Museum
Kamila Stösslová with her son Ota in 1917 © Moravian Museum

SPEECH MELODIES

As a lover of Russian literature, Janáček promoted realism, which was intrinsically close to him. From 1897 until the end of his life, he collected and recorded excerpts of human speech in various situations, including in musical notation, the so-called speech melodies. Over more than thirty years, he made several thousand records - on the street, at the market, on the train, in the park, at social events, etc. He considered speech melodies to be "windows into the human soul."

This knowledge combined with the study of modern schools of psychology brought a thorough understanding of human characters, situations and their manifestations to Janáček's work. It could be said that the inspiration for Janáček was the human being, a unique individual, with his or her thinking, joys and sorrows, which he studied through speech. Janáček did not directly incorporate the collected melodies into his work, but his experience with them allowed him to musically portray the characters very naturally, in a non-stylized manner. It is therefore a form of creative truthfulness, and it is why his musical language is so close to us and clear in content. He was also interested in the expressions of animals, especially birds, but also in the sound of strange objects or natural phenomena. The onomatopoeia of animal sounds is evident, for example, in the piano composition The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away! from the cycle On the Overgrown Path or in the score of The Cunning Little Vixen. 

Speech melody: Brno, Špilberk; 25/ January 1925. A female passer-by: "... my, isn’t it lovely here?“ © Moravian Museum
Speech melody: Brno, Špilberk; 25/ January 1925. A female passer-by: "... my, isn’t it lovely here?“ © Moravian Museum

Several thousand speech melodies have been preserved, and most of them contain, in addition to the music notation, also basic information about the object of observation and the context of the whole situation (date, place, age, social status, description of the situation, mental state and description of the event). Janáček was convinced that this was a serious scientific method, so he acquired a so-called Hipp chronoscope through the Academy of Sciences, which made it possible to accurately measure a given time period, such as the length of words. Therefore, the melodies are also marked with this information. In his will, Janáček even bequeathed a considerable amount to Masaryk University on condition that the university establish a discipline to study this issue, which, however, it did not. From today's point of view, although Janáček's method and the idea itself were remarkable, they were not scientifically objective. And especially in terms of the actual recording of speech melodies, that is, in the form of music notation. 

Speech melodies? For me the music that you hear from instruments, from literature, whether it's by Beethoven or whoever, there's not much truth in it. You see, it was rather odd - whenever someone spoke to me, I might not understand the words, but that tonal cadence! I immediately knew what was inside him, I knew how he felt, if he was lying, if he was agitated. And if someone was talking to me in a conventional manner, I felt I heard that this person was weeping inside. The tones, the tonal cadence of human speech, of all living creations, contain the most profound truths for me. And you know, that was a great need in my life. I've been collecting speech melodies since 1889 [sic] - I have an enormous collection of them, and I'd like to emphasize that they are of great importance for dramatic music.

Interview for Literární svět magazine (1928)


CREATIVE PROCESS 

Autograph of the chorus for male voices The Wandering Madman. The stave was made using a rastrum. © Moravian Museum
Autograph of the chorus for male voices The Wandering Madman. The stave was made using a rastrum. © Moravian Museum

Janáček's compositional approach did not change much in principle, but with increasing success he was forced to make more copies of individual compositions. When composing, he initially used printed music paper, but over the years he increasingly replaced it with ordinary office paper, which he lined with special rakes, so-called rasters. He wrote with a pen with a handle and black ink. 

Before the work itself, Janáček wrote notes in a notebook or on cards and also determined, mostly using the source material, the structure of the work (the number of acts or parts), which, however, often did not correspond to the final work. The text for an opera, which he had adapted himself from a play or novel, would be further adjusted before he began composing, but the final selection and editing only occurred during work on the composition itself.

The fist Czech edition of Ostrovsky’s play The Storm with Janáček’s notes for Káťa Kabanová © Moravian Museum
The fist Czech edition of Ostrovsky’s play The Storm with Janáček’s notes for Káťa Kabanová © Moravian Museum

He first created the autograph, and many cancelled or reworked pages can be found on the back pages of the sheets. After composing a longer section of the composition (such as a movement or an act), he performed the first revision. It happened that in this way, for example, a third of the pages would disappear from the original version, because Janáček was able to scrap entire sections of the composition without any qualms if it favoured the flow of the plot and the tone of the whole composition. After the completion of the manuscript of the work and the first revision of its parts, he revised the whole composition. He then handed the manuscript to the copyist, who made the first copy. In the case of his operatic masterpieces, it was the copyist Václav Sedláček who made a copy of the score for Janáček, and therefore for the publisher. However, the composer then often significantly adjusted the copy, especially the instrumentation, using a pencil. The copyist then rewrote these amendments with ink and erased the pencil. At this stage, a second copy was created according to the first, to be used by the theatre in preparation for the première; this was mostly produced by the copyist Jaroslav Kulhánek. The second copy of the score provided the template for writing out the orchestral and choral parts. Conversely, the first copy was used to create the vocal score. Numerous changes and adjustments often occurred during and shortly after the first production of the work. In collaboration with the conductor, Janáček worked out the dynamics or instrumentation in detail. He then recorded the changes in his (that is, the first) copy of the score in red ink, to provide an overview of the changes compared to the orchestral parts, for example. Then Janáček thoroughly inspected his score once again and sent it to the publisher (to Universal Edition in Vienna in the case of operas). He then gradually sent more and more corrections and adjustments to the publisher. Therefore, the first and second copy, the print edition or the publisher's copy often differ from each other. On the other hand, Janáček was rather lax about pre-print proofreading and left it to some of his students. Usually this was mainly because he was already working intensely on his next composition.

Janáček’s autograph of the score for the opera Káťa Kabanová © Moravian Museum
Janáček’s autograph of the score for the opera Káťa Kabanová © Moravian Museum
The first copy of the score for the opera Káťa Kabanová transcribed by Gustav Homola © Moravian Museum
The first copy of the score for the opera Káťa Kabanová transcribed by Gustav Homola © Moravian Museum
The second copy of the score for the opera Káťa Kabanová transcribed by František Nešuta © Moravian Museum
The second copy of the score for the opera Káťa Kabanová transcribed by František Nešuta © Moravian Museum

Text by Jiří Zahrádka. Extracts from the publication Famous Czech Composers. Published by the National Museum, 2020.