13. 10. 2020, 7 pm

Mozart Hall, Reduta Theatre

Piano: Jan Bartoš

Leoš Janáček (1854–1928): 1. X. 1905 (From the Street, 1st October 1905), JW VIII/19

On an Overgrown Path, series 1, 2, JW VIII/17

Thema con variazioni, JW VIII/6

In the Mists, JW VIII/22

A piano recital by one of the most gifted pianists of the younger generation is always one of the highlights of festival concerts. Jan Bartoš recorded and published Janáček´s complete piano works with Supraphon in 2019, and immediately received accolades from foreign reviewers, such as the prestigious Editor´s Choice award from Gramophone magazine.

The composition 1. X. 1905 (“From the Street, 1st October 1905”) was created spontaneously as a reaction to a tragedy which took place during demonstrations for a Czech university in Brno. After years of efforts to establish a Czech higher education institution in Brno, the government agreed that Brno citizens should be allowed to decide for themselves about whether a Czech university should be created or not. However, as Brno was predominantly German, the German representatives of the city were afraid of Czechs gaining greater influence and so convened a “Volkstag” in Brno on 1st October 1905. German associations and organizations from far and wide were invited to demonstrate their opposition to the foundation of a Czech University in Brno. In response, the Czech citizens of the city organized a large anti-German demonstration. Street fights took place between the two camps, and the police and subsequently also the army were called in. During one of the battles, a young Czech worker named František Pavlík was killed. Filled with impressions from this tragic event, Janáček sat down to write the originally three-movement composition From the Street, I. X. 1905. However, shortly before its premiere on 27th January 1906 he burnt the last movement, and after another performance in Prague he even threw the whole manuscript into the Vltava River. Fortunately, the first performer of the composition, the pianist Ludmila Tučková, kept the original copy and made it public quite some time later, in 1924. Thanks to her, this piano piece, forgotten by Janáček for many years, has been preserved.

The piano cycle of poetic compositions On an Overgrown Path was created gradually during 1900, 1908 and 1911. Janáček wrote the first five compositions of the first series of the cycle in 1900. They were published by a teacher from Ivančice, Emil Kolář, as small compositions for the harmonium in several books for music students entitled Slavonic Melodies. The editor, Jan Branberger, played a role in popularising the cycle when he arranged for the compositions to be printed by a Prague publisher, Bedřich Kočí, in 1908. The interest of publishers in the compositions led Janáček to the creation of other parts, and so the cycle grew to comprise a total of ten pieces, to which the composer assigned poetic titles. On 30th September 1911, shortly before the first series of the cycle was published by Píša´s publishing house, Janáček released the first composition from a new series of the cycle On an Overgrown Path in the Večery fiction section of the Lidové noviny newspaper, this time without a poetic name. The printed source was based on Sedláček´s undated copy containing a total of three numbered compositions, all without a name, the last of which is basically a sketch that Bartoš, for obvious reasons, did not include in the second series.

Janáček greatly valued the piano compositions Thema con variazioni (or also Zdenka Variations) at the time of its creation, and he even labelled them Opus No. 1, even though he had composed many other pieces before. The creation of this composition dates to the beginning of 1880, i.e. to the period when the composer was studying at the Conservatory in Leipzig. He wrote the piece under the direction of his professor, Leo Grill, and dedicated it to his fiancée Zdenka Schulzová. For the young Janáček it was an important work in which he tested his ability to compose in the style of Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Liszt or Brahms.

Janáček completed his piano cycle In the Mists in April 1912. Not a long time before, in 1910, he had moved to a new house in the garden of Brno’s organ school with his wife and maid, and there, hiding from the world, with broken self-confidence and in a melancholy mood, he composed his last more extensive work for solo piano. He worked on it shortly after listening to piano compositions by the French composer Claude Debussy, and it is no coincidence that his dreamlike melancholic work contains elements of musical impressionism. The cycle In the Mists won the first prize in a contest for composers run by the Club of Friends of Art, which was supposed to publish the winning work. However, Janáček left the opportunity to have a composition published to his pupil, Jaroslav Kvapil, who came second in the contest. In the Mists was played for the first time by Marie Dvořáková in Kroměříž on 7th December 1913.

Author: Jiří Zahrádka