Composer, teacher, conductor, pianist, writer and folklorist Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) was one of the 20th century’s most remarkable creators of music. Even though he belongs more to the generation of Antonín Dvořák in terms of his date of birth, his compositions lie among the most progressive works of music created during the last century. At the age of almost seventy, Janáček rightfully stood shoulder to shoulder with composers one or even two generations younger, such as Arnold Schönberg, Alban Berg and Igor Stravinsky. Even though he became one of the most popular composers towards the end of his life, Janáček maintained his connection with Brno. He had a close relationship with this city, not only because he spent the majority of his existence here, but also because he contributed to the significant development of Brno cultural life thanks to his tireless organizational, conducting and pedagogical activities, and thus influenced it for many years beyond his own lifetime. If we add the fact that the majority of the composer´s works had their premiere here in Brno, it is obvious how close the symbiosis was between the composer and his town.
Leoš Janáček came to Brno from his native Hukvaldy in 1865 as an eleven-year-old boy. His father sent him to the foundation of the Augustinian Abbey of St. Thomas in Old Brno.
At that time, enlightened abbot Cyril Napp was the head of the abbey and personalities such as the composer Pavel Křížkovský, the founder of genetics Georg Mendel and the philosopher, poet and journalist František Matouš Klácel were active there. Musically gifted boys who were accepted to the foundation were called “blues” according to the light blue uniform they wore. They received an excellent musical education at the abbey so that they could take part in its productions and concerts.
Later, Janáček continued his studies at a German secondary school which focused on humanities and sciences, and then at the Brno teaching institute.
After graduating in 1874, he remained at the institute as an assistant teacher. Aside from this, he was also engaged in activities as a choirmaster and conductor at the Svatopluk Artisan’s Association (1873-76) and at the Beseda brněnská Philharmonic Society (1876-88). During his era, Beseda brněnská evolved into a large cantata choir with which Janáček could perform works such as Mozart´s Requiem, Beethoven´s Missa Solemnis and Dvořák´s Stabat Mater. At that time, the young Janáček had already started composing and he began to drift away from the career path of a teacher. He strove to deepen his musical education further. In 1874 he was accepted as a student at the Prague Organ School. In 1879-80 he studied briefly at the Leipzig and Vienna conservatories but found that, as he said himself, “there was nothing else to learn”.
Not long after his return from Leipzig, Janáček got married to Zdena Schulzová, the daughter of the director of the teaching institute. The marriage wasn´t a very happy one, with the first serious crisis arriving not long after the wedding and remaining unsettled even after the birth of their daughter Olga. At that time, Janáček was already very busy with work. He added duties at the Association for a Czech National Theatre in Brno, the Russian Circle and the Club of the Friends of Art to his many activities. He founded and published the first musical periodical in Moravia, Hudební listy (The Music Pages), and contributed to the Lidové noviny newspaper with reviews and columns. From 1888 he was intensively involved in the study of folk songs and dances, which he often collected and recorded directly in the field. He wrote several dedicated theoretical works and published the collection Bouquet of Moravian National Songs in collaboration with František Bartoš.
In 1890, Janáček and his wife were faced with tragedy in the form of the death of their two-year-old son Vladimír. At the beginning of the 1890s, Janáček´s work was devoted to Moravian folklore. Many of his adaptations of folk songs and dances, the stylized orchestral Wallachian Dances, the “scene from Moravian Slovakia” Rákos Rákoczy and the one-act opera The Beginning of a Romance were created at that time. Apart from his examination of folk songs, Janáček also started to be interested in psychology and its expressions via the spoken word, which he considered to be some kind of “windows into the souls” of people. The melody of speech, or in other words the melodic elements of speech, constituted (according to Janáček) the expression of the character as well as the immediate frame of mind of a person. He was convinced that human speech could be recorded objectively using notation. Janáček was devoted to the recording and collection of such melodies from 1897 onwards for more or less the rest of his life. However, he didn´t only stick to the melody of human speech: the more than three thousand recordings he made include the barking of a dog, the whine of a mosquito, the creaking of parquetry and the buzzing of a bee.