Josef Suk Towards a New Life, a ceremonial Sokol march

Leoš Janáček Amarus, cantata for solos, mixed choir and orchestra

Na Soláni čarták, cantata for tenor, male choir and orchestra


conductor Gabriela Tardonová

Soloists Peter Berger, Jiří Brückler, Daniela Straková-Šedrlová

Choir and Orchestra of the Janáček Opera of National Theatre Brno


How do I get to Brno Exhibition Centre (Pavillon P)? Map HERE

The orchestral concert presents two compositions inspired by the phenomenon of the Czech gymnastic association Sokol, and two rarely performed cantata pieces by Janáček. The excellent choir of the Janáček Opera of the National Theatre Brno will perform at the concert, together with an opera orchestra which has already performed these pieces many times with success. In fact, they even performed the premiere of some of the works when Janáček was alive.

The festive Sokol march Towards a New Life is closely connected with the tradition of the Czech Sokol movement, which reaches back to the 1860s. Even though the founders of this important gymnastic organization strived for apoliticality, the organization later became unavoidably embroiled in the national emancipation process. Its political influence reached its peak in the days of the creation of the Czechoslovak Republic and over the following two decades. The personalities that formed the elite of the Czech nation were often Sokol members; for example, Janáček, Suk and T. G. Masaryk all belonged to Sokol. Josef Suk (1874 –1935) considered composing a march for the great mass gymnastics festivals held by Sokol even before World War I, but it wasn’t till 1919 that he finally got down to work on sketching out the piece. In 1920, a contest for composers was announced for the occasion of the 7th Sokol gymnastic festival. It was the first to be held in the new republic, and a march was required for the parade of the sportspeople into the stadium. Suk registered his composition under a pseudonym and won the competition in the end. Even though the Sokol officials were rather hesitant about using his march, they eventually did so. Suk subsequently added fanfares to the composition and instrumented the original four-hand piano composition for a symphonic orchestra. The march was exceptionally well-received, and so poet Petr Křička and his brother the composer Jaroslav Křička added lyrics so that the popular march could be accompanied by singing. This version, which had the approval of the composer, was later forgotten and therefore the festival concert will offer a unique opportunity to hear it again.

Leoš Janáček´s (1854–1928) Sinfonietta is also closely connected to the Sokol movement. At the beginning of 1926, the composer was asked by the editors of the newspaper Lidové noviny if he could write “some music” as a salutation for the 8th gymnastics festival in Prague, which was then under preparation. Janáček decided to go for fanfares, drawing inspiration from an experience he’d had two years before. In 1924, after some tiring work as a member of the examinations committee at Prague Conservatory, he experienced “three days which had no shadow” in Písek at the family home of his girlfriend and muse Kamila Stösslová. It was here, during an afternoon walk, that he visited a promenade concert of military brass music at Palacký Park. He wrote down the motif of the fanfares he heard there in a notebook. The military band of František Palacký’s 11th infantry regiment had fanfare marches in their programme during which, when admired by the audience, “a solo player or group of players trumpeting would get up and raise the ends of their instruments, which were decorated with flags, high into the air so as to make a greater impact.” It is clear that the composer must have been looking back to this pleasant memory two years later when he started sketching the fanfares for the Sokol gymnastic festival. He started his work in March 1926 and the fanfares expanded to form a whole symphonic composition, which he called the Military Sinfonietta due to the presence of military music. It was offered to the organizers of the festival and subsequently included in the programme of a concert given by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra dedicated to Sokol juniors. The composer´s new piece was performed in concert on 26th June 1926 for the first time and it was also transmitted by radio. Members of the Prague military band took part alongside players from the Czech Philharmonic and the concert was a great success. However, the Military Sinfonietta was inadvertently presented with the name Sokol Festival, prompting Janáček to express his extreme disapproval. Shortly afterwards, Fanfares from the Military Sinfonietta was published in Lidové noviny as a salutation and could be heard from the Týn Church on the occasion of a “parade of guests and Sokol members through Prague”. The first printed issue of Janáček´s famous composition was published by Universal Edition in 1927 simply under the name Sinfonietta, as we still know it today.

“Amarus? That royal monastery in Old Brno, its gloomy corridors, ancient church, extensive gardens, my poor, youthful life spent in it, loneliness and yearning, all of these were so close to Amarus.” Janáček found surprisingly many similarities with his own life in the poem Amarus by Jaroslav Vrchlický, which speaks of childhood in a monastery, without a mother or love. Janáček completed the lyrical cantata for solos, mixed choir and orchestra at the beginning of 1897. He immediately sent the score for evaluation to his friend Antonín Dvořák, and even though Dvořák apologizes in a letter that he didn´t have much time to look through the piece, he praises Amarus and finds “clear progress in every aspect”. Cantata Amarus is the climax and conclusion of the romantic line of Janáček´s artistic development that began with his first opera, Šárka (1887–88). On the other hand, it also marks the beginning of Janáček´s new musical style, which he went on to develop fully in Her Stepdaughter. The cantata was performed completely for the first time by Ferdinand Vach with the Moravian mixed teacher’s choir on 25th February 1912.

The cantata Na Soláni čarták for tenor, mixed choir and orchestra with lyrics by M. Kurts (real name Maxmilián Kunert) was created to order for Vilém Steiman, the choir master of a Prostějov choir, Orlice. He approached the composer in 1910 asking for a composition for the fiftieth anniversary of the choir. Janáček worked on the piece in 1911 and its premiere took place in Prostějov on 23rd March 1912, in a performance created by Vilém Steinman, the Orlice choir, the players of Brno´s eighth military regiment and the orchestra of National Theatre Brno.

Jiří Zahrádka