Tune in at 1p.m. as we explore the orchestral music of composer, music theorist and folklorist Leoš Janáček in honor of his 170th birthday. 

Known as one of the most important Czech composers of the new generation, Janáček struggled to find success in his lifetime. However, his music was championed by his students and by conductors. As a result, Janáček is remembered today as a fresh new voice in Czech music post Dvorak and Smetana. 

There is a lot of incredible music that Janáček composed, but because of the Canada Day long weekend we will hear just a sample of his orchestral output. 

Tuesday, July 2: Idyll for String Orchestra (1878) 

The seven movement Idyll for String Orchestra is Janáček’s second surviving large-scale instrumental work. It was written by the 24-year-old composer in the summer of 1878 and completed on August 29. The work premiered on December 15th of that year in Brno under Janácek's direction with Antonín Dvorák in the audience. Dvorák had a profound influence on the young composer and on this piece specifically.   

Much of Janáček’s music is inspired by folk music, specifically Moravian and Selisian melodies. He was born in Hukvaldy in the Moravian-Silesian region of the Czech Republic. The sounds he heard as a boy would impact him throughout his life. 

The Idyll for String Orchestra is a fine example of this. The first movement opens with a strongly felt melody that suggests elements of folk music. The second movement Allegro in ABA form provides a delicate framework for a contrasting central Moderato. The third movement is broadly in the same form as the second, with a central Con moto, to contrast with the somber outer sections. This leads to a strongly rhythmical fourth movement Allegro. The fifth movement has Adagio outer sections framing a central Presto and the sixth movement, Scherzo and Trio, has a folk-style dance style scherzo, relaxing into the Trio at its heart, before the dance returns. The whole work ends with a movement in rondo form. 

Wednesday, July 3: Suite for String Orchestra (1877) 

This charming six movement suite is one of Janácek's early works and, unlike his later output, is devoid of large mood swings, instead reflecting a more Victorian mood with its refinement and lightness. 

Near the end of his studies at the Prague Organ School, Janácek  became the conductor of the Brno Music Society in 1876. Several months later, he presented the Suite to his close circle of friends, and on December 2, 1877, it was publicly premiered under the composer's direction. 

Thursday, July 4: Suite from The Cunning Little Vixen Arr by. Václav Talich, rev. Václav Smetáček  (1921-1923) 

Janáček's three act opera The Cunning Little Vixen is based a 1920 serialized novella called Liška Bystrouška, by Czech writer and journalist Rudolf Těsnohlídek 

The opera incorporates Moravian folk music and rhythms as it portrays the life of a clever fox and accompanying wildlife, as well as a few humans. It tells the story of their escapades while navigating their lives. 

The music for the orchestral Suite was adapted by the composer Václav Talich, with revisions done by Václav Smetáček. The suite consists of music from Act 1 of the opera. The music is full of beauty, but also has a suspenseful side to it. This quality in the music is meant to represent the fox. 

Friday, July 5: Sinfonietta (1926) 

The Sinfonietta’s origin came as a result of Janácek hearing a military band in the town of Písek at the beginning of 1926,  

Soon after, he was commissioned to write some fanfares for the opening of the Sokol Gymnastic Festival. He responded with an initial version of what became the Sinfonietta’s first movement. The piece morphed into what was initially titled ‘Military Sinfonietta’ and dedicated to the Czech army, but this title had been altered by the time of the première by Václav Talich in Prague on 26 June 1926. 

Despite its short length, the Sinfonietta is scored for one of the largest orchestras Janáček was to use. Notably, the brass required for the fanfare sections of the piece are large, consisting of nine trumpets, three trumpets in F, two bass trumpets, four horns, 4 trombones, two euphoniums and tuba.  

The Sinfonietta would be immensely popular and one of Janáček’s first works performed regularly in Western Europe. 

Tune in all week to hear this fantastic music! 

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