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Mark Morris’s Guide to Twentieth Century Composers

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The geographical area of the former Czechoslovakia has had a remarkable and long music history; the line Berlin-Prague-Vienna-Budapest has been the major location of new musical ideas from the 18th century onwards, only recently eroded by Paris and the disruptions of the Second World War and its consequences. The Czech musical tradition has been continued in the 20th century, and, like that of Hungary, is notable not just for the internationally-known composers, but for the quality in depth of its lesser figures, who, while never likely to achieve widespread attention, provide consistently satisfying and invigorating musical experiences little matched by countries of a similar size.

The recent division of the former Czechoslovakia has left many, though not all, of these composers to be claimed by the Czech Republic rather than Slovakia (q.v.), in part due to the prominence of the musical centres of Prague and Brno. The folk music of Bohemia and Moravia has been especially rich and fruitful to 20th-century composers, and it should be noted that the Moravian geographical sources of such folk music are now divided by the Czech-Slovak boarder. The other main legacy of popular music has been the tradition (dating back to the 15th century) of the chorales of the Hussites, who believed in the power of popular song and vernacular languages in religious worship.

Modern Czech music can traces its sources to the extraordinary resurgence of Czech music in the second half of the 19th century, connected with the rise of Czech nationalism within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The leading figure of this nationalist resurgence, in his tone poems and his operas, was Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884), whose tone poem cycle Ma Vlast (My Country, 1974) is the quintessential Czech nationalist orchestral work, while his The Bartered Bride (1866) is the classical Czech national folk opera. As important to Czech musical life, Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904) placed that nationalism into an international context, in such works as his Slavonic Dances, but even more prominently in his nine symphonies, a staple of the international repertoire, of which the Symphony No.9 `The New World' (1893) is one of the best known of all symphonies.

The significance of the two composers for Czech music was that, while following German models, they established an overall tone that is specifically and recognisably Czech, and which remains potent to this day: deeply rooted in the Czech and Slovakian landscapes, it is characterised by clarity and a joyful brightness, by a rhythmic surge and excitement of happiness, preferring the optimistic, and, even in tragic works, seeking the positive and the bright.

Their legacy was immediately taken up by three composers working in a late-Romantic chromatic idiom: Vítězslav Novák (1870-1949), best remembered for his orchestral works; Josef Suk (1874-1935), Dvořák's son-in-law and a celebrated violinist who, in addition to orchestral works inspired by nature, produced important chamber and violin works; and Josef Foerster (1851-1959) whose choral works are of significance in the Czech Republic. But by far the most significant Czech composer in the first three decades of the 20th century was Leoš Janáček (1854-1928), one of the four most important opera composers of the 20th century. His musical language, rooted in Moravian folk-music and patterns of speech, is completely idiomatic and individual, and all the more remarkable in that almost all his important works were written after the age of 60. With their social and psychological concerns, his operas belong firmly to the 20th century.

The reaction to late-Romanticism centred on Alois Hába (1893-1973) and his followers; Hába started with atonal techniques and athematic works (paralleling the path already taken by Schoenberg), but in the search for a new harmonic language quickly adopted micro-tones, intervals smaller than a semitone, while intentionally using overall forms (the string quartet, for example) that emphasised continuity. He then alternated works using elements of 12-tone technique and those with micro-tones. An alternative reaction to Romanticism was exemplified by Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1956), who with Janáček is the major Czech 20th-century composer of international import. Working in Paris, he absorbed jazz and neo-classicism, and then, from the middle 1930s, developed a powerful personal idiom that combined the characteristics of the Czech tradition outlined above with neo-classical elements. The overtly experimental was represented by Emil Burian (1904-1959) a theatre and film director, a magazine editor, and a jazz-band leader as well as a composer. After studying with Foerster, he founded the Prague theatre group 'D', directing it from 1939 until 1949, except for the war years when he was imprisoned by the Nazis. In 1927 he developed the 'voice-band' for choral recitation (speech set to music), composing works for the group, notably May (1936). His earliest music used Richard Strauss as a model, but he soon became more experimental, incorporating jazz, negro-spiritual, and Dadaesque influences. In turn, this gave way to a more obviously Czech style, absorbing folk music (folk play with music The War, 1935). With the post-Janáček opera Maryša (1938), and especially in the post-war period his language became more conventional, influenced by Martinů and Janáček, notably in the fine String Quartet No.4 (1947). Miloslav Kabelác (1908-1979) explored the influences of Oriental and primitive folk-music, combined with Gregorian chant and elements of 12-tone composition. The hallmarks of his symphonies and a mass of choral and vocal music are conciseness and economy. His instrumental skill is exemplified in the odd combinations that his symphonies use: No.1 for string orchestra and percussion (1941-1942), No.3 for organ, brass and timpani (1948-1957), No.5 `Dramatica' for soprano and orchestra (1960), No.6 `Concertante' for clarinet and orchestra (1961-1962), No.7 for speaker and orchestra (Old Testament texts) (1967-1968), No.8 `Antiphonies' for soprano, chorus, percussion and organ (1969-1970). He was influential in introducing younger Czech composers to electronic music and musique concrète.

Czech music was seriously disrupted by the German occupation (1939-1945), with some composers (notably Martinů) leaving, and others being imprisoned or killed, notably Pavel Haas (1899-1944), who had combined Hebraic and Moravian influences. But Czech music-making continued, often with overtones of a nationalist resistance (Hába even managed to continue teaching micro-tone music in Prague). The establishment of communist rule in Czechoslovakia in 1949 further cut Czech composers off from European developments: composers had to adapt to the demands of Socialist Realism, and a younger generation (exemplified by Petř Eben, born 1929) emerged unaware of serial developments, and thus continued a mainstream Czech tradition. However, Czechoslovakia slackened its cultural restraint earlier than many Eastern Block countries, and knowledge of Webern and the European avant-garde filtered through in the 1960s, so that Victor Kabeláč (1908-1979) could start teaching the principles of electronic music. The first electronic studios opened in 1964, following French rather than German lines. New music compositional groups sprang up, such as `Group A' in Brno, 1963, that included Ctirad Kohoutek (born 1929); the Prague New Music Group, 1965, that included Marek Kopelent (born 1932) and Zbyněk Vostřák (born 1920); and the multi-art group Syntéza (`synthesis') that included Václav Kučera (born 1929). Kohoutek published a survey of modern western European musical techniques in 1962. He employed a free tonality in the orchestral Velký přelom (The Great Revolution, 1960), and serialism to a children's work (Od jara do zimy [From Spring to Winter]) in the same year, and his interest in children's music led to the publication of his ideas on the application of modern musical methods to the genre in 1966. At the same time, he was developing his own methods of work, which he calls `project music composition', and which includes the pre-planning by graph of the formal structure, dynamics, and tone-colours, before any purely musical ideas or realisations. Memento (1967) for wind and percussion utilized this method, which he has since increasingly applied to large-scale orchestral pieces, culminating in the three-part Slavnosti světla (Festivals of Light, 1974-1975). This rather quirky piece, with an ideological base in revolutionary songs sifted through modern techniques, is full of interesting ideas, orchestral textures and bold effective colours that rescue moments of banality. Vostrák is one of the few Czech composers to be directly influenced by the German avant-garde, notably Stockhausen, and by the ideas of Boulez and Cage. In the 1950s he concentrated on stage works (four operas and four ballets) in a lyrical neo-classical style, but then started using serial and 12-note techniques in the early sixties. In 1965-1966 he studied at Darmstadt, and received wider attention with Zrozeni měsice (Moon Birth, 1967) for chamber orchestra. His interest in electronic music led to work in the Electronic Music Studio of Prague Radio from 1977. Kučera is a leading figure among Czech composers involved in electronic music and musique concrète. Whereas most electronic composers have followed German examples, the Czechs have been influenced by the French, and in particular the ballet works of Pierre Henry and his major collaborator, the choreographer Maurice Béjart. This is exemplified in Kučera's Kinetic Ballet (1968) - a major change from his earlier music, which had reflected the requirement for Social Realism, incorporating folk and neo-Romantic elements. His Obraz (Picture) for piano and large orchestra won a prize in Geneva in 1970, and Invariant (1969) for bass clarinet, piano and tape was heard at the London ISCM in 1971. Lidice, a `radio musical-dramatic fresco' for forces that include reporters and electronic sounds, won the Prix d'Italia in 1973 and is recommended. His recent works (for example, Maluje Maliř for a cappella children's choir, 1985, or the song cycle Hořké a Jiné Pisně [Bitter and Other Songs], 1987) have seemed dull and conservative in comparison.

Of the more conservative composers of this generation, Jindřich Feld (born 1925), initially influenced by Bartók, came to prominence with a radio opera, Pohádka o Budulinkovi (A Fairytale about Budulinkovi, 1955), which was followed by a children's opera Poštáchká Pohádka (The Postman's Tale, 1956). The Concerto for Chamber Orchestra (1957) incorporated serial and 12-tone techniques, though these have subsequently been assimilated into a fairly traditional style. From the Concerto for Orchestra (1950) he has specialised in the concerto form, and among his more recent works the Harp Concerto (1985) is particularly interesting for its integration of solo instrument and orchestra in a modern idiom, and is recommended. The accordion has figured prominently in a number of recent pieces. The earliest compositions of Jaromir Podešva (born 1927) follow the line of Novák and Janáček, and in the 1950s he wrote many popular songs and a three-part symphonic cycle on communist themes, while his concert music reflected an interest in poetry (culminating in the Symphony No.3, 1966, which is subtitled Parallels to ideas by M.Kundera and B. Hrabal). In the sixties he developed a more individual and dynamically vigorous style, with an element of introspection, progressing from a free tonality to combining tonality with 12-tone techniques, discussed in a treatise (The possibility of cadence in the dodecaphonic field) in 1973. This was expressed in the String Quartet No.5 (1965) and in a series of symphonies starting with No.2 (1960-1961) of which the recommended Sinfonia da Camera No.4, Hudba Soláně (Solan's Flute) is an individually atmospheric and largely lyrical reflection of the composer's native Moravia, laced with gritty harmonies and prominent parts for flute and harpsichord. The idea of extra-musical 'parallels' was further developed in the movement titles of Symphony No.7 (1984) and in the Symphonic Parallel, The End of War (1985). During the 1950s the music of Klement Slavický (born 1910, not to be confused with his son, Milan Slavický, born 1947) was influenced by Moravian folk-music, and its rhythmic subtlety and its sense of drama attracted considerable debate in Czechoslovakia. His fine Sinfonietta No.3 (1972) shows his expressive qualities and his use of modern techniques, with at times motoric rhythms and moments of hushed lyricism. It has recently (1984) been followed by a fourth sinfonietta for unusual forces - soprano solo, reciter, strings, keyboard and percussion instruments. Three of the meticulously crafted works of Vladimir Sommer (born 1921) have entered the regular Czech repertoire. The first was the melodic Violin Concerto (1950), followed by the dramatic tragic prelude Antigona (1956-7) for orchestra. But his best known work is Vokálni symfonie (Vocal Symphony, 1957-1958), setting Kafka, Dostoyevsky and Pavese. It is a dark, dramatic, sometimes harrowing, innovative work, and undoubtedly effective on first acquaintance, although on repetition its material is too limited for its stridency. His more recent work, such as the String Quartet No.3 (1981), is less dramatic and more introverted. The Cello Concerto (1977) is a thoughtful and affecting score, rather solemn and introspective, meticulously structured and with fine string writing.

Since the 1960s Czech music has fully caught up with European developments, and synthesised them with their own Czech traditions. One younger composer who deserves mention is Vojtěch Saudek, whose Piano Concerto `Na pamět Gideona Kleina' (`In Memory of Gideon Klein', 1987) is one of the most exciting of the second half of the 20th century, influenced by Messiaen, but of stunning impact in its use of virtuoso avant-garde piano techniques and in its depth of emotional expression.

This vitality has been supported by the considerable strengths of Czech music-making, from the major orchestras to the opera houses. Czech radio quickly established a wide network in the 1920s, and has been a major influence in the dissemination of new music, while the gramophone industry, nationalised as Supraphon (1946), has been exemplary in issuing new music. The Prague Spring has become a major new-music festival. The country has also been remarkable for its string players (of whom the most notable has been Josef Suk, born 1929, the grandson of the composer) and especially their string quartets. Also notable is the Czech Nonet (founded in 1923), and the very high quality of chamber music has partly been responsible for the extent and range of new Czech chamber works.

Czech Music Information Centre:

Ceského hudebniho fondu

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The Czech Republic

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born 22nd January 1929 at Žamberk (Bohemia)

died 25th October 2007 at Prague


Petř Eben is one of the better-known Czech composers of his generation, and is a practising pianist (especially in chamber music) and organist as well as a composer. He initially attracted attention in 1954 with Six Love Songs. His first major large-scale work, Sinfonia gregoriana for organ and orchestra (1954), later revised as an organ concerto, initiated a life-long interest in Gregorian chant. He then concentrated on vocal music (including children's songs and folk-songs, influenced by Silesian folk music), but turned to a Piano Concerto in 1961, which, within a conventional framework, has some powerful moments but a rather indistinct individuality. It was followed by another large-scale work, the oratorio Apologia Sokrates (1961-1967), based on Socrates' trial and defence. His style is modern without being extreme, with echoes of music of earlier periods; recent works have included Landscapes of Patmos (1984) for organ and percussion instruments. Recordings of his work have been regularly available outside Czechoslovakia, and are worth hunting out as representative of the general musical outlook of his generation of Czech composers. He was imprisoned by the Nazis, and many of his works reflect his strong religious faith; he has taught at Charles University, Prague, since 1955.


works include:

- symphony Nachtstunden (Night Hours) for wind quintet and chamber orch.

- 2 organ concertos; piano concerto; Vox clamantis for trumpet and orch.

- Prague Nocturne for orch.

- trio Opponents for clarinet, percussion and piano; string quartet; wind quintet; nonet; other chamber music

- harpsichord sonata

- organ music including Faust; The Windows for trumpet and organ

- vocal: Ovid's Epitaph, Apologia Sokrates (Socrates' Defence), 5 lyrical songs, Unkind Lieder, Ballades for mixed chorus, soloists and orchestra; songs

- ballet Curses and Blessings


recommended works:

oratorio Apologia Sokrates (1961-1967)

String Quartet (1981)



born 30th September 1935 at Prague

died 22nd June 1999 at Prague


Fišer is an interesting composer with a strong dramatic bent (even in such works as the fine, if conventional, Sonata for solo cello, 1985). His style shows an awareness of the modern techniques of such composers as Ligeti and Penderecki, but his music has also been influenced by Janáček's technique of building up by short, pithy phrases. His violin sonata Ruce (Hands, 1961) quickly entered the Czech repertoire, and his Fifteen Prints After Dürer's 'Apocalypse' (1965) brought international recognition; built on a six-note theme, it is constructed in fifteen related episodes, and has a rugged strength paired with a feeling of isolation or loneliness, especially in the use of harpsichord and wood-block against the massed orchestra. It formed the first of a triptych, of which the second part, Caprichos, is inspired by Goya. The final section, Requiem (1968) is a powerful work in its use of massed sound and clusters contrasted with simple, ritual textures. It opens with a long unaccompanied bass-baritone solo (creating the atmosphere of liturgical rite) followed by a very extended crescendo of superimposed choral clusters, creating an impression of hundreds of tortured voices. His choral interests continued in a large cantata, Nářek nad zkazow mesta Ur (Lament over the destruction of the city of Ur, 1969). Fišer is also noted in Czechoslovakia for his piano sonatas, and the sonata form was recently employed for more unusual forces in Sonata for piano, mixed chorus, and orchestra (1984).


works include:

- 2 symphonies

- piano concerto; concerto for two pianos and orch.; Albert Einstein for organ and orch.

- Double and Fifteen Prints After Dürer's 'Apocalypse' for orch.

- Riff for orch.; Report for wind orch.; Kreutzer Etude and Pietà for chamber ensemble

- sonata Ruce (Hands) for violin and piano; Crux for violin, timpani and bells; sextet for wind and piano and other chamber music

- piano sonatas

- Requiem; cantata Nářek nad zkazow mesta Ur (Lament for the city of Ur)

- television opera The Eternal Faust; opera Lancelot; musical Dobry voják Svejk (The Good Soldier Schweik)

- incidental music for film and stage


recommended works:

Fifteen Prints after Dürer's 'Apocalypse' (1965) for orchestra

Requiem (1968)


FOERSTER Josef Bohuslav

born 30th December 1859 at Detenice

died 29th May 1951 at Nový Vestec


Foerster, a pupil of Novák, has been overshadowed by his major contemporaries, (including Novák himself). But his fine music is very much in the Czech Romantic tradition, and worth the discovery, especially his masterpiece, the opera Eva. His early work (pre-1897) is unexceptional, but the very large corpus of music that followed (influenced by periods spent in Hamburg and Vienna, and the friendship of such composers as Mahler) combine a lyrical nationalism with late-Romantic ideas. His handling of material and orchestration is always thoroughly professional and sometimes inspired, with assured command of large or massed forces and often delighting in polyphony. His style remained essentially consistent during a long working life, though it takes on a new dimension in Eva, partly through the influence of Moravian folk-music; the theme of the power of love as a spiritual motivator appears throughout his work, expressed with an often elegiac lyricism.

In the Czech Republic his large number of choral works and songs for both professional and amateur singers, with a close integration of text and music, have been widely influential. Of these, his lyricism is exemplified in the slow and lovely introduction, viola and harp prominent, to the cantata Máj op.149 (May, 1936) for baritone, reciter, male chorus and orchestra. A setting of a section of the best-known poem by the most famous of Czech Romantic poets, Karel Mácha (1810-1836), it is the farewell of the condemned outlaw `the King of the Forest', who had become an outlaw after killing his lover's seducer only to discover that he had committed patricide. The cantata is dramatic (notably the orchestral march of the condemned man being brought out), warmly passionate, and combines a nationalist ecstasy with a sadness of farewell, especially in the farewell baritone solo. The Mass (1923) pre-dates Janáček's better-known use of the ancient Moravian language, Glagolitic.

Outside the former Czechoslovakia Foerster is probably more often encountered in orchestral works. Of these, the finest is the Symphony No.4 `Easter' (1904-1905). Its big, brazen opening movement, filled with Romantic tragedy, Czech lyricism, and a tumultuous joy, describes the feelings elicited in an adult by Easter (though the music has no particular need of a programme since the symphonic logic is perfectly well defined), and has a Mahlerian grandeur. The second movement (Easter through the eyes of a child) has a lithe and very Czech sense of the light and joyous dance, a natural continuation of the kind of orchestral painting at which Smetana excelled, building up into its own hymn-like grandeur. The slow movement (`in praise of solitude and magic') is expansive, with a sense of joyous triumph; the large and sometimes Mahlerian final movement, which swiftly and powerfully changes moods, is suddenly and unexpectedly illuminated by a solo organ playing a Czech chorale (`On the third day was the Lord arisen') before the final orchestral paean of praise. This symphony should be on the list of anyone exploring major 20th-century symphonies, and for those wishing to extend beyond Dvořák and Smetana there is no better place to start.

The other orchestral work most likely to be encountered is the symphonic suite Cyrano de Bergerac op.55 (1903). Inspired by the play by Edmond Rostand, it is divided into five movements describing various events in the play, the opening movement assigning themes to Cyrano and to his romantic ideal Roxana; if overlong, it is sometimes grand, often contemplative, and full of Czech colour and clarity. The Violin Concerto No.2 op.104 (1918-1926) is also attractive, and unusual for a Romantic concerto in that it has more in common with the form of the tone poem than with a virtuoso work; indeed, the violin line seems to spin a story in which it is only one of the characters.

Of Foerster's six operas, the third, Jessica, is based on Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, but the most important, and the only one to have remained in the repertoire, is Eva op.50 (1895-1897). It launched Czech opera towards the 20th century, for although the subject is a story of ordinary farming people, they are treated entirely from within, as deeply drawn and very real characters, in contrast to earlier `folk' operas (such as those of Smetana) where we are essentially looking on at a colourful story. This pre-dates Janáček's Jenufå, usually considered to be the earliest employing such natural portrayal (only the first act of Jenufå had been completed at the premiere of Eva). It also provides a musical link between Smetana and Janáček, and the similarities with the latter are considerable. The libretto is based on a play by Gabriela Preissova (as is Jenufå), and as in Janáček, the concentration is on the psychological drama; there is no attempt at a swathe of folk-colour or effect, although (again like Janáček) the music is imbued with the idiom of Moravian folk-music, which Foerster had collected. The crucial difference is that Foerster rewrote the prose of the stage drama into poetry, toning down the dialect, while Janáček in his folk-opera retained the prose and the flow of speech that went with it. The story is of a poor young woman, Eva, who is in love with a young man, Mánek, whose mother (who holds the inheritance of the family farm) does not think Eva is good enough for her son. Eva agrees to accept the love of another admirer, the furrier Samko. In Act II she is living with Samko, having had a baby by him that has died; she is however still in love with the now married Mánek, and he with her; they decide to leave together. In Act III they have moved away from the village and are living together beside the Danube, unmarried but happy except for Eva's doubts and premonitions, when Mánek's mother arrives to tell them that his petition for divorce and remarriage has been refused by the village council. Mánek must return, and Eva throws herself into the river Danube in despair. The core of the opera is the internal tension of the three main characters: Eva's constant turmoil, her shame over her unmarried state, and despair over her dead baby; Samko's infatuated love and eventual frustration at his sharing a life with a woman who does not love him; and Mánek's inability to take decisive action against his mother. These are strongly drawn in both text and music, with a free flow of action and interaction only occasionally broken for a more extended aria. Eva's final song of despair before she commits suicide is one of the finest passages in Czech opera. It builds in a constant flow, the orchestra reflecting each emotion, from a sad regret through remorse to a vision of redemption as she sees her child and her parents. The orchestra arrive at a great emphatic climax, and suddenly, accompanied only by an organ, Eva's voice soars twice on the words `I see paradise' as she dies, before Mánek returns for a final moment of self-realisation and a close of all passion spent. Not the least fascinating aspect of Eva are the many pre-echoes of Janáček, in the passages of dialogue, in the use of brass and brass phrases, and especially in the magnificent ending (which surely must have influenced the ending of Jenufå, and its climactic moment the ending of Janáček's Sinfonietta). It would be invidious to claim that Eva is of the same quality as Jenufå, except in its closing pages, for the more conservative Foerster did not have the inimitable idiomatic genius of Janáček, but it is a most convincing opera that deserves to be well-known outside the former Czechoslovakia; this should be possible now that surtitles can overcome the problem of the language, since the words are crucial in such a drama.

Foerster was an accomplished visual artist and music critic, and worked as a teacher and critic in Hamburg (1893-1902) and in Vienna (1902-1918) before becoming Professor and then Director (1922) at the Prague Conservatory.


works include:

- 5 symphonies (No.4 Easter)

- cello concerto; 2 violin concertos; Capriccio for flute and orch.

- Tragic Overture for orch.; 6 suites including Cyrano de Bergerac and 4 symphonic poems for orch. and other orchestral works

- cello sonata; 2 piano sonatas; 3 piano trios; 4 string quartets; wind quintet and other chamber works

- piano sonata and other piano music

- song cycles Clear Morning, Love Songs (of Tagore) and many other song cycles and songs; 6 cantatas including May for baritone, chorus and orch. and Mortuis fratribus; Stabat Mater; 4 masses including Mass in the Glagolitic language and many other vocal works

- melodrama Amarus

- operas Bloud (The Simpleton), Deborah, Eva, Jessica, Nepremonzeni (The Invincible), and Srdce (The Heart)


recommended works:

opera Eva op.50 (1895-1897)

cantata May op.159 (1935)

Symphony No.4 Easter op.54 (1904-1905)


HÁBA Alois

born 21st June 1898 at Vizovice

died 18th November 1973 at Prague


Alois Hába is one of those awkward but important figures whose place in the history of music is assured, but whose own works employing his innovations have never captured the public imagination. After an early interest in folk-music (his father was a Moravian folk-musician), he studied with Novák, and then in Vienna and Berlin with Schreker, whose ideas greatly influenced him, and through whom he learnt of Schoenberg's harmonic developments.

His early works, such as the Symphonic Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra op.8, explored atonality, but also athematicism (the lack of developed or repeated themes) which became characteristic of his work. For Hába the new musical ideas were associated with the philosophy of the theosophist Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), whose concept of `anthroposophy' sought (through cognitive development) to return people to the spiritual realities from which they had become divorced since the rise of ancient myth-making. This influence culminated in the symphonic fantasy Cesta života (The Path of Life, 1933) and in the still-unperformed anthroposophist opera New Earth. Hába saw thematic development and repetition as a legacy of primitivistic instincts that needed to be overthrown for full personal development.

At the same time, Hába continued to explore Moravian and Slovak folk-music not for their melodies and harmonic progressions, but for their use of micro-tones, intervals smaller than the Western semi-tone. Whereas for Schoenberg the natural development from atonality was the 12-tone system, Hába decide to integrate the use of such micro-tones in his own music, as intervals of equal importance to more usual intervals, and not (as so often in Moravian folk-music) as inflections or decorations to the main melodic line. This was developed in the quarter-tone String Quartet No.2 (1921) and String Quartet No.3 (1922), and then in the orchestral Symphonic Music for Orchestra (1922) and the Choral Suite on Onomatopoeic Folk Texts (1923). The culmination of this period was the quarter-tone opera Matka (The Mother, 1929-1930) and the sixth-tone opera Thy Kingdom Come (1938-1942). Matka is perhaps Hába's major work, and would be interesting even without the athematic progression and the use of quarter-tones (including a quarter-tone piano). The story, in ten scenes, is of the realities of farming life, influenced by Hába's own childhood experiences. It opens with the death of the wife of the farmer Křen, worn out by heavy work; he, burdened with six children, manages to find another wife, and these first four scenes the emotional requirements of the characters prevail. The rest of the opera concerns the growth of the family until a balanced family life is achieved, not without its tribulations and four new children; the motivator for this is the new wife, Maruša, the mother of the title, whose vocal characterisation is drawn with sympathy and psychological understanding. In the final scene the old couple look back over their life. The opera has an almost Expressionist intensity, launched by the orchestral opening, whose strange colours are created by the use of quarter-tones. The ear is quickly accustomed to these by a rising quarter-tone phrase or row in the strings, which, although the opera is otherwise athematic, returns from time to time and is eventually given in a full scale. The realistic intensity of the story is enhanced by the use of quarter-tones, as are the colours to match the darker sides of a farming life, and the combination makes this the most effective of his quarter-tone works.

In the 1930s Hába, while continuing to utilise micro-tones, also started to use elements of 12-tone techniques in such works as the Toccata quasi una fantasia (1931) for piano, and Cesta života (The Path of Life, 1933) for orchestra. This symphonic fantasy is in one movement, divided into seven sections; the 12-tone influence is mainly in the melodic progression, spinning a flow of lines of non-repeated notes, rather than in the accompanying ideas, where rhythmic vitality and repetition, reminiscent of the neo-classical Stravinsky, propels the momentum. The effect is of a rather angular and unsettled idiom, with lean textures and a variety of percussion, as if the traditional elements had been distorted by a concussion. The athematic Nonet No.1 (1931) also uses 12-tone melodies, and again is in one movement, divided into four sections corresponding to a classical four-movement structure, the pattern of the first corresponding (by use of a new theme at each traditional point) to the progression of sonata form. It is a lithe and engaging work alternating moments of dissonant harmonic tension with harmonic repose, but with the rhythms and the continuous new thematic material ensuring a more unsettled energy even in the sonorous slow section. The tauter one movement Nonet No.2, written in the same year (1931) uses 7-tone rows in a similar cast, which gives it at attractive oriental hue (Hába was aware of the affinities of his musical interests and his philosophies with those of the East).

In the 1950s Hába continued alternating 12-tone works (such as Violin Concerto, 1954, and Viola Concerto, 1956) and micro-tonal works, but also introduced more orthodox folk-music elements in such works as the Wallachian Suite (1952) for orchestra. The jaunty, jazzy and improvisatory little Suite for Solo Bass Clarinet shows a similar return to simpler idioms, while remaining athematic.

However, the bulk of Hába's micro-tonal ideas are to be found in the piano music and the string quartets. The micro-tonal piano music is virtually impossible to encounter, as special pianos are required to play it: Hába had three quarter-tone pianos especially constructed, as well as other instruments (brass, guitar, harmonium) to play micro-intervals. Of his sixteen string quartets, the first is conventional, some use 12-note rows (Nos 7, 8, 9, 13), some are in quarter-tones (2, 3, 12), others in sixth-tone (11), while No.16 is in fifth-tones. The works in conventional intervals present few problems, and are interesting for their athematic construction as well as their rugged, expressive qualities. The middle sections of the philosophically programmatic String Quartet No.13 `Astronautic' (1961), for example, draw melodic material in the continuously changing thematic lines from a 12-tone row, and the quartet draws on both tonal and atonal harmonic ideas. With the micro-tonal works problems do occur for listeners (as well as players required to play in sixth-tones). The danger is that the micro-tones are perceived as poor intonation, especially as, the micro-tones and the athematic treatment apart, the general layout, the melodic cast, the interactions of the instruments, the rhythmic processes, are relatively conventional. The opening movement of the String Quartet No.11 (1968) in sixth-tones illustrates these dangers, although the micro-tones add a colour shading to the slow movement. But in the fine String Quartet No.12 (1960) in quarter-tones, written in part in reaction to the international tension that led up to the Cuba missile crisis, such criticisms are less valid, as the micro-tones take on cluster-like effects in the opening, and moments of repose are created by moving away from the quarter-tones. The impassioned middle movement is especially effective, with its sonorous shades, chordal effects, and movements a quarter-tone away and back; this quartet looks forward to micro-tonal shadings of the avant-garde period.

Hába taught his micro-tonal and athematic principles at the Prague Conservatory (1924-1945) and the Prague Academy of Music (1945-1951), and headed the `5th of May' Opera company (1945-1948). He wrote widely on his musical ideas. His brother Karel Hába (1898-1972) was also a composer and violinist, and was influenced by his brother's theories.


works include:

- viola concerto; violin concerto; Symphonic Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra

- symphonic fantasy Cesta života (The Path of Life); Symphonic Music for Orchestra; Wallachian Suite for orch.

- Suite for Solo Bass Clarinet; Suite for Cymbalom; 16 string quartets; 4 nonets;

- piano sonata; Six Compositions for Piano; 6 suites for quarter-tone piano and other piano music

- Choral Suite on Onomatopoeic Folk Texts and other choral music

- operas Matka (The Mother), The New Earth and Thy Kingdom Come


recommended works:

opera Matka (The Mother, 1929-1930)

Nonet No.2 (1931)

String Quartet No.12 (1960)

String Quartet No.13 (1961)



born 2nd May, 1915 at Prague

died 30th July, 2004 at Prague


Jan Hanuš has been active in Czech music as an organiser (notably in the Prague Spring Festival) and as a musicologist (including work on the critical edition of Dvořák's music), as well as a composer, and after the collapse of communism he became head of the Czech League of Composers. His music has a direct appeal in an undemanding Czech idiom, full of light, colour and Czech melodic progressions in the tradition of Smetana and Dvořák. His harmonies are only occasionally touched by a more dissonant idiom, though he has more recently used modern devices (in such works as Poseltvi [The Message, 1969], for baritone, chorus, two prepared pianos, electric guitar, percussion and tape, and the Concertino, 1972, for two percussionists and tape). He is noted as a symphonist, exemplifying a continuation of a Czech idiom within conventional forms, although the Symphony No.6 (1979) shows a similar trend of introducing unusual instruments (including the flexatone and electric bass guitar) and sonorities within a traditional framework. He recently reconstructed the lost choral finale of the Symphony No.1 (1943) from memory. The Symphony No.2 (1950-1951), written during a period when Hanus was inspired by St.Francis of Assisi, has an infectious spring-time bounce and a very Czech lyricism within a conventional format. The lively and attractive scherzo employs a Bohemian folk-dance and has the vigour of similar works by Martinů, and while not traversing any weighty matter, this is an attractive work. Among his most recent large-scale works has been a major oratorio (1½ hours long) Ecce Homo (1977-1980) for soloists, reciter, choruses, orchestra, organ and electronics, and an admired Glagolitic Mass (1986). He has a special interest in music and musical studies for children (exemplified in the cantata, The Czech Year, 1949-1952). Recordings of his music have been quite widely available in the U.S.A.


works include:

- 6 symphonies

- Concertante Symphony for organ, harp, timpani and strings; double concerto for oboe, harp and orch.; concerto piccolo The Swallow for chorus, flute and cello; concertino for percussion and tape

- Variations and Collages for orch.

- Fantasy for string quartet and other chamber music

- songs and song cycles inc. Umbrella from Picadilly; oratorio Ecce Homo; cantatas and masses; choral music

- ballets including Salt is More Precious than Gold; operas including Plameny (Flames), Sluha dvou pánu (The Servant of Two Masters), Pochoden Prometheova (Prometheus' Torch), Pohádka jedné noci (A Night's Fairytale)


recommended work:

Symphony No.2 (1950-1951) (see text)



born 3rd July 1854 at Hukvaldy

died 12th August 1928 at Moravská Ostrava


Leoš Janáček was a composer of genius, whose operas, alongside those of Richard Strauss, Benjamin Britten, and Alban Berg, form the basis of the 20th-century operatic repertoire. His completely individual idiom is all the more remarkable because the music he composed before reaching the age of forty is relatively conventional, if well constructed, and most of his finest and most individual works were written after he was sixty.

Those earlier works were initially in a Romantic style, and then from 1888 came under the influence of Moravian folk-music, which he had begun to collect. But, heralded by the cantata Amarus (1897), the opera Jenůfa (c.1894-1903, later revised) introduced his personal voice, and after 1918 it became internationally recognized as a masterpiece, boosting Janáček's own compositional confidence.

The key elements of Janáček's mature style are tension, a sense of yearning, and a constant feeling of a momentum that is on the edge of unbalance. All the aspects of his idiom reflect these characteristics. Melodic lines are built up from short units, often shifted out of step with their accompaniment to create a tension in the flow. The harmonies increasingly omit key signatures, but while including whole-tone passages (an influence from the French Impressionists) and sometimes scales drawn from folk-music, are founded on a tonal base. The tension and edge that his harmonic colours so often invoke are created first by the characteristic melodic progression of 4ths, 5ths and 2nds, and second by pitting blocks of contrasting harmonies against each other, sometimes with dissonant elements.

His structures and rhythms follow a similar pattern. Janáček rarely used traditional forms or motifs, and there is little use of counterpoint. Instead, structural tension is created by the contrast of disparate ideas placed against the main blocks, and by the use of ostinati rhythms. Structural progression is achieved by changes in these contrasts, and by repetition with alteration to the material. Repeats of melodic ideas are often accompanied by changes of rhythm, which themselves are often mirrored (repeated back to front - a technique found in Moravian folk-music). The result is a constant shifting of the flow of similar material to give an urgent sense of progression.

His orchestration supports this approach. Blocks of the orchestra regularly overlay each other, with an intentional lack of merger. Further expressiveness is created by the use of instruments in their extreme registers. The use of those favourite Czech sections of the orchestra, woodwind and brass, is especially effective. His operatic structures reject the traditional aria, preferring dramatic progression through a flowing vocal line (foreshadowed in Czechoslovakia by Foerster's Eva, first performed in 1899, which anticipates aspects of Janáček's operatic idiom). This developed into an avoidance of overlapping voices, and the substitution of a realistic concentration on a single voice at any given moment, sometimes contrasting with a chorus who are often offstage. The most revolutionary aspect of this idiom is the use of what Janáček called `speech melody': the use of the irregular patterns and musical structures of everyday speech. This led to the use of prose (as opposed to the poetry that was then standard for librettos) and vernacular expression. Another characteristic that contributes to the sense of tension and flow is his habit of ending vocal phrases on a weak rather than an emphatic beat. All his operas are relatively short, a reflection of the taut dramas they employ and the high tension of so much of their material. An anomaly in his some of his operas is the presence of minor inconsistencies and contradictions in the plots, reflecting the concentration on the psychological and social comment rather than story-line. A personal stylistic device is the quick repetition of a crucial phrase (something Janáček employed in his own speech).

Janáček's exploration of Moravian folk-music was reflected in a series of collections of arrangements of folk-songs in the late 1880s and early 1890s, and emerged in an orchestral suite, the lively Lachian Dances (1889) for orchestra with organ. It is heavily influenced by Dvořák's Slavonic Dances, and not as accomplished; some of the dances were then incorporated into the ballet Rákocz Rákoczy (1891), which is designed mainly to showcase folk-dances. A similar influence runs through Janáček's various orchestral arrangements of Moravian dances.

Janáček had already completed his first opera, Šárka (1887-1888), based on a play (drawn from a poem) by Julius Zeyer. The story - of the love-hate of two enemies, Ctirad and the Amazonian Šárka - is a kind of Czech myth with Wagnerian overtones, and the failings of the libretto, as well as Janáček's inexperience, have relegated it to being completely overshadowed by the opera of the same title and subject by Zdeněk Fibich (1850-1900). His second, The Beginning of a Romance (1891), is also marred by its libretto, based on a short story by Gabriela Preissová. The folkish tale tells of the love of a shepherd's daughter and a Count's son, and is very much a 19th-century treatment, peasants viewed from the city, complete with the moral that people should marry their equals. Fortunately the best of the themes found their way into the Suite for Orchestra op.3 (1891), and this four movement work is a good introduction to Janáček's earlier style, especially as hints of the later maturity emerge (for example, in the haunting opening to the second movement). The third movement uses an extended version of one of the Lachian Dances. The major transitional work is the cantata Amarus (1897, revised 1901, 1906) for soprano, tenor, baritone, chorus and orchestra, which was simultaneously being set by Foerster as a melodrama. It tells of Amarus, forced as a young man to become a monk, who longs for a life beyond his vows. He is foretold the hour of his death, and arrives at it after following a young couple into the churchyard and seeing them embrace with the joys of love denied to him. It lacks the rhythmic pungency and rapid juxtaposition of orchestral blocks that makes his mature style so idiomatic, but the melodic lines anticipate his later work.

Nonetheless, the development of an original idiom in his next opera, Jenůfa (c.1894-1903), is remarkable. It was inspired by a folk play by Gabriela Preissová, who (in contrast to her earlier short story) presented the characters as real people, whose concerns and psychology involve us regardless of their origins, as opposed to the then-usual treatment of ordinary villagers as objects of a colourful, distant life-style (Eva, another of her plays, had similarly inspired Foerster, with equally emphatic stylistic results). Central to those concerns is the tension between social norms - or rather the patterns of thought they have produced - and the individual desire for self-fulfilment; here, and in other Janáček operas, this is connected to the constraints placed on women, and the social message batters at 19th-century morality to take us into the 20th. At the same time shows the redeeming power of the partnership of love based on that self-fulfilment, as opposed to the more archetypal Wagnerian conception of redemption through love. Jenůfa is in love with a young mill-owner, Števa, whose step-brother Laca is in love with her. Jenůfa's step-mother, the Kostelnička (a nickname reflecting her position as church-warden) forbids her to marry Števa without a year's engagement, unaware that Jenůfa is already pregnant by Števa. Jenůfa tries to hold Števa to his obligations, but he flirts with other women, and Laca, scorned by Jenůfa, slashes her cheek. In Act II Jenůfa has had her baby, and is ostensibly working as a maid in Vienna but in fact is being kept hidden away for shame by Kostelnička. Števa is told, in the hopes he will marry her, but is now not interested and anyway already engaged. Kostelnička tries to persuade Laca to take Jenůfa, but he is put off by the fact of the baby. Kostelnička tells him that the child has died, and to turn fiction into fact, and caught in the madness of her proprieties, she drowns the baby in the river, telling Jenůfa it had died while Jenůfa was herself bedridden with a fever. Jenůfa accepts Laca, but Kostelnička is haunted by her deed. Act III opens with the impending wedding, but at that moment the body of the baby is dragged from the river, and Laca has to save Jenůfa, who admits the baby is hers, from the fury of the villagers. Kostelnička steps forward to announce her guilt, Števa's fiancée rejects him, and at this moment in the opera Janáček builds the orchestra into a stunning, urgent, emphatic climax, and it seems quite clear that the curtain is about to fall. Instead, to delicate orchestral strains, completely changing the focus in one of the most moving moments in opera, Laca turns to Jenůfa and offers her his hand in spite of all that has happened. Jenůfa has learnt the true meaning of love, and the real close to the opera arrives, to music of magnificent warmth and fulfilment.

Janáček's next opera Osud (Fate, 1903-1906) is an oddity, being the rather bizarre story of an opera writer and his unfinishable opera, and was closely connected with actual events and people in Prague. Its verse libretto destroys its credibility as a stage work, in spite of later attempts to improve it, though the music shows many of Janáček's hallmarks. Janáček then turned to works that showed a growing political and social awareness. The rather unpianistic piano sonata Sonata 1.X.1905 `On the Streets' (1905) reflects the violent suppression of a Czech nationalist demonstration (the cycle On the Overgrown Path, 1901-1911, is a much more effective piano work). The third movement is missing as Janáček tore it up at the final rehearsal for its premiere. He then wrote three major short choral works of importance inside Czechoslovakia, but little known outside, all based on nationalist poems by Petr Bezruč attacking a thinly disguised Archduke Ferdinand. They are for unaccompanied male voice choir, an idiom at which Janáček excelled, with his sense of the impulse of rhythm and sonorous chordal polyphony. Kantor Halfar (Schoolmaster Halfar, c.1906, revised 1917) tells the (apparently true) story of an assistant schoolmaster whose use of Czech (as opposed to the required Polish) prevents him finding a full teaching position, and leads to his losing his fiancée and to his committing suicide. Maryčka Magdónova (1906, second version 1907) is about an orphaned woman whose miner father died in a drunken fall, and whose mother was crushed by a coal-wagon. She steals wood from the Baron's estates to keep warm, but is caught, and to avoid the shame of having to face the aristocracy, she throws herself into the river and is drowned. Seventy Thousand (Sedmdesát tisíc, 1909, rewritten 1913) is a revolutionary work, and perhaps the most effective of the three: the 70,000 are those left who have not abandoned their native language, but will have to if they are to survive. The text is direct and heavily spiced with irony, as are all three works, the music of hope and protest overlaid with a resignation, tenors at the top of their range adding anguished phrases, the words `seventy thousand' made urgent by repetition.

Janáček's next opera might have been expected to follow a similar socially potent subject, but instead he turned to a satirical work in which the target is a certain type of his fellow countryman. The Excursions of Mr.Brouček to the Moon and the Fifteenth Century (1908-1917, usually known simply as The Excursions of Mr.Brouček) has the element of fantasy and unusual mental and physical environments that were to be a feature of the last three operas. The story is based on a novel by Svatopluk Čech, and its complicated libretto history ended up with a work in two parts, with parallel subsidiary characters played by the same singers in each half, who are also contemporary characters in the tavern of the opening and close. The central character is a type unusual in opera, but no less cogent for that: an ordinary, self-satisfied, comfortably middle-class philistine, so apparently inimical to the vitality of any culture, Mr. Brouček himself. In the first part, Brouček, who has fallen into an inebriated sleep, is transported to the moon, where his materialistic outlook and stodgy mental views are the derision of the highly refined moon people. In the second half, dramatically more effective, Brouček is dropped into the middle of the Hussite rebellion, and finds himself expected to fight. The Excursions of Mr.Brouček has been overshadowed by Janáček's other major works, in part because of the oddity of the story, whose satire needs a close following of the words, but its neglect is not justified. The delightful music is wide ranging, from hard-hitting satire to the glory of the Hussite chorale, and the combination of fantasy and satire is dramatically effective, especially in recording where the fantasy can be visually conjured up by the listener. In particular, Mr.Brouček emerges as a character whom we can condemn, but for whom at the same time we can have a sneaking sympathy and elements of affection, as if Janáček, in spite of his avowed intent to satirize, could not help showing that all people, even the most philistine, are worthy of understanding.

However, Janáček did then turn to another patriotic subject in the tone-poem Taras Bulba (1915-1918) for orchestra with organ. In part inspired by the desire for Czech nationalism during the First World War, the grim story (based on Gogol) is of a Ukrainian Slav hero who loses his two sons, one by his own hand, in a siege of a Polish-held town, and is himself captured, nailed to a tree, and burnt. This storyline has more in common with a 19th-century aesthetic than his operas, and the symphonic fantasy is perhaps the last great surge of 19th-century Romanticism in Janáček's output, even if the means have many of the features of his mature style. Divided into three movements (the death of each son and the death of the father), the score is Janáček in his most pungent Czech idiom, graphically vivid, with tender love themes, judgemental or raucously martial brass, dissonant blocks, interjectory or ostinati percussion, and the gloriously uplifting, all cast within Janáček's ability to create a continuously tense flow.

The end of the First World War, when the composer was already 68, also marks the beginning of Janáček's final compositional phase of intensity and illumination, in part inspired by his love for a much younger married woman, Kamila Stösslova, which lasted from 1917 until his death. His love was not requited (though a close friendship was), but this does not seem to have been crucial: it was the intensity of loving that generated much of the following music. The first musical outcome was one of the finest of 20th-century song cycles, The Diary of One who has Disappeared (1917-1919) for tenor, contralto, three off-stage women's voices and piano. The 22 poems that form the diary were ostensibly by an industrious farmer, and were discovered after his disappearance; the actual authorship has never been conclusively determined. The poems, in a quasi-arch form, tell of the infatuation of the farmer for a gypsy, his torment in his desire, her seduction of him, and (in a poem consisting just of punctuation) their consummation. He is torn further away from his farmer's life by his continuing desire, and when she bears his child, he leaves, giving himself up to his fate. Janáček's treatment, especially with the extra voices, makes it a kind of compressed opera for the concert platform, and he provided instructions for darkened lighting and the entry of the alto onto the stage only in the seventh song. The tone is immediately set by the tense opening, describing the meeting, encapsulating the suppressed energy and physical excitement. The vocal lines are free, following the natural lines of the verse, impassioned, often full of pent-up agitation; the piano writing is mostly light and delicate in texture, sometimes word-painting (fire-flies, the wind in the cornfield, the cock's crow), but usually following or anticipating the vocal line. Some of the songs are grouped without interruption, and there are thematic links between various of the songs. The wordless thirteenth poem is set for piano alone, starting lightly, but becoming more earthy, disjointed, and urgent in describing the consummation. The song cycle encapsulates the passions of infatuation, the words providing the context and development, the music every nuance of the fervour and the torment.

The opera Katya Kabanova (1920-1921) is based on the powerful play The Storm by the Russian A.N. Ovstrovsky. Set on the banks of the Volga, it tells of a woman (Katya) married to a weak man and dominated by his mother. Suffocated by this situation, Katya falls in love with the cultured Boris, himself plagued by his drunkard uncle. However, she refuses to be unfaithful to her vows, in spite of the encouragement of a friend who is herself having an affair. When her husband goes on a business journey, and resists her pleas to take her along with him, she succumbs to her passion for Boris. But she is stricken by her conscience, and in the storm of the play's title, confesses, and commits suicide in the Volga. Thus the theme returns to Janáček's preoccupation with the tensions between personal realities and social requirements, and the ambivalent tug between a hollow duty and desire. Again, the plot is relatively simple, and the focus is on the psychology of the characters. Janáček's score is the most warm and lyrical of all his operas, with a flow of glowing colours, especially in the purely orchestral writing, where the strings are more in evidence and the brass less; the sound of the troika pervades the first act. This is combined with an intensity of vocal writing and characterisation: Katya is vividly portrayed, making this one of the great singing-acting roles. The intoxication of love and the counter-pull of a kind of spiritual duty suffuse the work, and time and time again the orchestral writing caresses and inflames the passionate vocal lines, and when they become so overwrought as to be on the verge of breakdown, the orchestra lets them sink back into the warmer flow. Knife-edged domestic tensions have rarely been so well caught as in the first Act, and the meeting of the lovers in Act III has something of the qualities of the end of Jenůfa with a sensuous edge.

Janáček then turned to a subject that was a combination of pure fantasy and down-to-earth symbolic reality, and dramatically one of the most magical of all operas, one of those rare works of art whose apparent simplicity appeals to children, and whose actual psychological complexity captivates adults. The Cunning Little Vixen (Liška Bystrouška, 1922-1924) is Janáček's tribute to Nature as the generator of all things, including human emotions. The libretto originated in a series of drawings by Stanislav Lolek in a newspaper, to which Rudolf Těsnohlídek wrote prose stories in the dialect of the local lumberjacks. The central character is the vixen of the title, living in a world filled by butterflies, crows, a dragon-fly, a mosquito, a frog, a badger, the forester, a game-keeper and his dog, and other creatures of the woods, all portrayed on stage. In the first Act this magic scenario is set, and the vixen as a cub is caught by the game-keeper as a pet for his children. The lonely vixen (missing her freedom) and the dog talk of love, and the vixen is hit by a friend of the son of the game-keeper. She bites him and tries to escape but is tied up and then teased by the farm-yard animals, especially the cock and hens. The vixen kills the cock, and manages to escape and run into the forest. In the second Act, the vixen tries to find a home in the badger's set, and a parson and a schoolmaster are introduced, themselves discussing lost loves. The gamekeeper shoots at the vixen, missing, and the vixen meets a fox, who tries to seduce her. He soon succeeds, and the woodpecker announces their forthcoming marriage. In the last Act, the vixen and her new cubs evade a trap set for her, but she is hit by a shot from the game-keeper and killed. The humans in the inn discuss these events, and in the last scene the game-keeper is alone, seeing a little fox-cub and reminded of the vixen, and catching a frog who is a grandson of the one in the first scene; he muses on the miracle of rebirth. Again, the central theme of a female caught in an inappropriate social situation (the farmyard) is reiterated, but here with the celebration of her freedom, even if it will lead to her eventual death, and of the continuing cycle of that freedom (the fox-cubs). Again it is a natural, realistic relationship that provides fulfilment. The animal figures and psychologies are closely intertwined with the human (the badger and the schoolmaster are sung by the same singer), and act as psychological archetypes as well as having their own sharply drawn characters. Musically, it is the opera in which Janáček most suffused into his idiom the Czech qualities of bright light and clarity, and the happiness of sunlight and nature pervade the score, the rhythms often gently lilting, the occasional moments of folk-song more direct than was his custom. It is also full of gentle humour and satire, from the gaggle of crows raucously commenting on events to the bantering and tipsy anxieties of the humans, but its primary emotion, which keeps recurring, is tenderness. The Cunning Little Vixen is not often staged, for it requires a large cast including children and brilliant set designs, and the writing for sopranos is often exceptionally high and demanding, but it is a magical experience not to be missed.

Janáček's next opera had another, but much more rigorous, sense of the fantastic. The Makropulos Case (Věc Makropulos, 1923-1925), is based on the play by Karel Čapek. It revolves around an inheritance litigation, Prus v. Gregor, which, if it turns out against the Gregor family, will leave Albert Gregor with no choice but to commit suicide over his debts, as his father had done. The verdict depends on a will lost a century ago, and a young and beautiful woman, Emila Marty, says she knows where it is; she wants some old Greek papers that were with it. The will is found, but mentions an illegitimate son, and Emila says she will prove that this is Albert's father. The details and complexities of this case are laid out in Act I. In Act II, the Prus claimant, who, like Albert, has fallen under Emila's spell, finds out the surname of the illegitimate son was Makropulos, and his mother Emila Makropulos. He also has the Greek papers, which he will give to Emila in return for her giving herself to him. In the beginning of Act II she has done so, ice-coldly, and the document identifying Ferdinand is discovered to be a fraud. Emila is the key, and her luggage is ransacked, and found to be full of letters addressed to various women with the initials E.M. Emila then declares the truth - she was born in Crete in 1575, and has been kept alive and young by a potion developed by her father. She has had to keep changing her name over the years, and she was Emila Makropulos, the mother of Ferdinand. She declares that such a long life has no meaning, and that she does not want the Greek papers with the formula; neither does anyone else, and they are burnt, as Emila rapidly ages and dies, at peace at last. This complex story (the above is only the outline) provided the framework for Janáček's most acid opera, exposing the petty meanness and avarice of the lesser characters, and the spiritual bankruptcy and cynicism of Emila, whose characterisation in text and music is so magnificent as to negate the story's dryness. The central theme, shown by its opposites, is of the sufficiency and wonder of life as it is; it also allowed Janáček to produce a portrait of a different kind of woman, more sophisticated, eventually world-weary, but in the end suffering a similar tension between natural fulfilment and the constraints of circumstance as his earlier portrayals. The ending, as Emila reveals her secret, stunning and subduing her listeners, and then, changing from a young and beautiful woman into an ancient and withered old lady, is of compelling force, turning into a kind of cathartic redemption, and the whole of the rest of the opera necessarily leads to this point. Such is its power that the grotesqueness of the basic tenet of story - a 300-year old woman - is completely forgotten.

Janáček's final opera, From the House of the Dead (1927-1928) has as its material one of the most unlikely of operatic sources, Dostoyevsky's novel of a prison camp, a work of epic scale and a very large number of characters. Yet Janáček's treatment turns it into one of the most harrowing and yet most uplifting of all operas. There are no concessions to the audience - this is not an opera to see for its story or melodies - with no plot as such and no single major character. Instead, it is a kind of extended musical portrait of the camp, in which, in short episodes, various prisoners recount their life experiences or tell apposite tales, and undertake camp tasks. Throughout is the spectre of the containment of freedom and man's inhumanity to man, but, in a most unusual fashion, for the music is not often lyrical and never sentimental, an extraordinary ethos emerges from this portrait, of the power and wonder of life even in the most adverse of circumstances, of the primacy of the human spirit. A good production (and for its full impact it needs to be seen as well as heard) is an uncomfortable, unforgettable and exceptionally moving experience by which few can failed to be affected. From the House of the Dead, with great prescience, stands as the opera which condemns so much of the worst of the 20th-century, while still celebrating hope and the power of the spirit.

The extraordinary vitality of Janáček's last two decades also produced four non-operatic masterpieces. The Sinfonietta (1925-1926) is Janáček's finest orchestral work, that developed from a set of fanfares into a full-length work ecstatically celebrating the force of life. The first movement is a series of fanfares that fold over each other, theme engendering theme, using nine trumpets, two tenor tubas, two bass trumpets and two pairs of timpani. The lighter second movement involves the whole orchestra, while the third is nocturnal, spinning short woodwind figures in a description of night around the old monastery at Brno. The fourth acts as a scherzo, while the final movement returns to the wonderful fanfares of the opening. Throughout, Janáček's technique of short phrases, switching around the orchestra, is used to pump power, momentum and excitement into the flow in a culmination of his orchestral technique. Equally remarkable are his two string quartets, especially as chamber music forms such a limited part of Janáček's output; as might be expected from a composer with such a dramatic instinct, both are programmatic in inspiration (though there is no direct correlation between programme and content) and passionate and expressive. The String Quartet No.1 (1923) - an earlier quartet of 1880 had been lost - was inspired by Tolstoy's story, Kreutzer Sonata, itself inspired by Beethoven's violin sonata (Beethoven's first-movement second theme is echoed in the slow movement of the quartet). The quartet had an intended message: Janáček said it was a protest against men's despotic attitude to women. It contrasts darker colours and tenser writing with a sense of the dance, the edgy with the uplifting, moments of aggression with passages of tenderness, and its ending is questioning. The String Quartet No.2 `Intimate Letters' (1928) is Janáček's most personal expression of his theme of the experience of love, given passion and unerring musical logic, and which encapsulates the emotions of love from anguish and nostalgia to great beauty, from turbulence to the joy of the dance. It is one of the finest quartets ever written, combining purely abstract musical satisfaction, notably the range of string colours and effects, with the most intense expression. The Glagolitic Mass (Glagolská mše, 1926) for four soloists, chorus, orchestra and organ, is a setting of the Mass in Old Slavonic, the five parts divided by orchestral interludes with a fanfare introduction and, to end, an Intrada preceded by an organ postludum. This highly-charged work is the choral equivalent of the Sinfonietta, in its general stylistic features, in its celebration of the Slav spirit, and especially in its atmosphere of fervent uplift; in it Janáček seems to be exalting not so much a specific religion as the joy of created nature itself. The ending is preceded by a thundering organ solo with furious pedal work, and then both orchestra and organ join forces in the final Intrada, whose tremendous excitement, as if a bright sun had blazed out, seems to renew the promise of the cycle of birth, indeed an `intrada'. Mention should also be made of the light-hearted and attractive wind sextet Youth (Mládí, 1924), and the equally happy Concertino (1925) for piano and six instruments, inspired by little incidents in the lives of the animals in Janáček's garden. Janáček's final work, Danube (1928) for orchestra, left incomplete and usually heard in the version by Osvald Chlubna, will be of interest to those who already know his work; the original version sounds unfinished, but is full of interesting ideas, notably the very high soprano vocalise in the third of four movements.

Some of the editions of Janáček's operas are problematic, the personal idiom of Jenůfa, for example, being smoothed out in some versions, and changes being made to the ending of From the House of the Dead. The original versions promoted by the conductor Sir Charles Mackerras are to be preferred.

Janáček conducted the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra, and was connected with the Brno Organ school (1881-1920), which he had helped found. But he is not associated with influential compositional teaching activities; of all the composers in this Guide, his very personal idiom is perhaps the least imitated, and the least imitable, even if occasional echoes of a phrase or idea of orchestration occur in later Czech music.


works include (titles as usually known in English):

- Capriccio for piano, left hand, and 7 instruments; Concertino for piano and 6 instruments

- The Ballad of Blaník, Danube, overture Jealousy, The Fiddler's Child, Sinfonietta, Six Lachian Dances, Suite, Taras Bulba and other works for orch.

- violin sonata; piano trio; 2 string quartets (early quartet lost, No.1 Kreutzer Sonata, No.2 Intimate Letters); Youth (Mládí) for wind sextet

- Sonata 1.X.1905 for piano; In the Mist, On the Overgrown Path, Reminiscence and Theme and Variations for piano

- song cycle The Diary of One who Disappeared for tenor, alto, three women's voices and piano; cantatas Amarus and The Eternal Gospel; Glagolitic Mass; Nursery Rhymes (Ríkadla) for 9 voices and 10 instruments; Seventy Thousand, Kantor Halfar and Maryčka Magdónova for male voice chorus and many other works for chorus; many arrangements of folk-songs

- operas The Beginnings of a Romance, The Cunning Little Vixen, The Excursions of Mr.Brouček, From the House of the Dead, Jenůfa, Katya Kabanova, The Makropulos Case, Osud (Fate) and Šárka


recommended works:

Seventy Thousand (1909) for male voice chorus

Concertino (1925) for piano and 6 instruments

song cycle The Diary of One who has Disappeared (1917-1919) for tenor, contralto, three off-stage women's voices and piano

opera The Excursions of Mr.Brouček (1908-1917)

opera From the House of the Dead (1927-1928)

Glagolitic Mass (1926) for soloists, chorus, orchestra and organ

opera Jenůfa (c.1894-1903)

opera Katya Kabanova (1919-1921)

String Quartet No.1 Kreutzer Sonata (1923)

String Quartet No.2 Intimate Letters (1928)

Suite for Orchestra op.3 (1891)

Taras Bulba (1915-1918) for orchestra

wind sextet Youth (1924)



M. Brod Leoš Janáček, His Life and Works, Prague, 1924 (r.Vienna, 1956)

E.Chisholm The Operas of Leoš Janáček, London, 1971

H.Hollander Janáček, His Life and Works, London, 1963

J.Vogel Leoš Janáček, London, 1962



born 16th July, 1920 at Prague

died 8th January, 2004 at Prague


Jirášek is known in Czechoslovakia for his operas (he conducted opera at Opava, 1946-1955) and for his vocal works. In the 1960s he concentrated on works for chamber-sized forces (Four Studies for string quartet, 1963-1966, Music for Soprano, Flute and Harp, 1967). His Stabat Mater (1968) is a powerful combination of a modern style mixed with a feeling of antiquity and aleatoric devices. It was followed by another major large-scale work, the Symphony (Mother Hope) (1973-1974, since revised to exclude the vocal part), a striking and urgent work in a mainstream European idiom. In a conventional four-movement structure, the opening adagio is brutal, uneasy, and sometimes motoric, contrasted by a thoughtful lento that breaks out into a turbulent, aggressive climax in the middle of the movement before closing in a lyrical, mysterious atmosphere. The powerful third movement opens with a motoric march with ostinati ideas handed around the orchestra, moves through a contrasting trio, re-establishes the mood of brutal aggression, and then reverts to the atmosphere that closed the second movement, before eagerly breaking out into a trusting idea reminiscent of the drive of Martinů and ending with a very beautiful and mysterious atmosphere of slow rising woodwind phrases against held strings. The finale only partially resolves this turbulence, and the symphony, if uneven, is well worth investigating. The Concertino for Harpsichord and Eleven Strings (1987) has a similar ruggedness, rhythmic energy, together with moments of string writing with a nostalgic hue, a satirical, slightly grotesque middle movement, and a rather quirky last movement. This is an interesting, if not startling, addition to the limited repertoire of modern concertante works for the harpsichord. Jirášek has also produced a number of humorous and ironic works, such as Hudba k odpoledni kávě (Music for Afternoon Coffee, 1972) for four clarinets. More recently he has concentrated on stage works. He is currently Director of Music Studio, Prague.


works include:

- symphony Mother Hope for baritone and orch., revised without vocal part; Concertante Symphony for violin and orch.

- concertino for harpsichord and strings

- 4 Dramatic Studies for orch.; Variations for orch.; Serenades for chamber ensemble

- 3 string quartets and other chamber music

- 3 cantatas; oratorio Stabat Mater; songs and vocal music

- operas And it was Evening and it was Morning; The Key; Medved (The Bear); Pan Johanes (Mr. Johanes); Svitáni nad vodami (Daybreak over the Waters)


recommended works:

Concertino for Harpsichord and Eleven Strings (1987)

Stabat Mater (1968)

Symphony Mother Hope (1973-1974)



born 27th February 1923 at Cerveny Kostelec

died 28th September 2006


While Viktor Kalabis' style has evolved from the mainstream evolutionary line influenced by Bartók and Stravinsky towards the use of some serial features, he has brought to it a tough and rigorous intellect, which shows, in a not unattractive fashion, in the music. It is exemplified in the impressive Violin Concerto No.1 (1958), whose explosive orchestral opening is immediately countered by a flowing lyrical solo violin line, as if the two were in debate, the orchestra angry, the solo line turning the material into a more considered and beautiful appraisal, mollifying the orchestra. The very beautiful, sometimes anguished, slow movement reconciles some of that orchestral anger, and if the finale is not as inspired, it makes an interesting work for those exploring the violin concerto beyond the usual repertoire. It was followed by a second violin concerto in 1978.

Kalabis's relatively small output has concentrated on symphonic and chamber music, the former including nine concertos (among the most recent being for piano and chamber ensemble, 1987). The Concerto for Orchestra (1966), with its explosive opening, a slow movement that starts in a lyrical vein but turns into an angry march, a sometimes perky, sometimes aggressive third movement, and emphatic finale that leads to a quiet close and a final moment of perkiness and orchestral outburst, is one of his better-known works, in a mainstream European style, strong in technique and orchestral effect, but short on memorable invention. The Symphony No.2 `Sinfonia Pacis' of 1960 was widely heard outside Czechoslovakia, while the fine Symphony No.4 (1972-1973) has the unusual shape of two movements. The first, in a loose rondo form, opens and closes with the strings in the mood and atmosphere of the slow movement of Shostakovich's Symphony No.5, but builds up inexorably to a great climax, its technique of surging forward following those of Martinů's symphonies, with ostinati bass pedal figures. The balancing but more frenetic second movement has a similar sense of progression.

The chamber music has reflected an interest in the neo-Baroque and includes a number of works that use a harpsichord (his wife is the well-known harpsichordist Zuzana Růžičková), such as the Concerto for Harpsichord and String Instruments (1975), and the Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord, 1967). Harpsichord players might consider investigating the Six Two-Part Canonic Inventions for Harpsichord (1962), especially the Bachian final invention.

From 1953 to 1972 Kalabis was manager of the music department of Radio Prague.


works include:

- 5 symphonies

- concerto for chamber orch. (Homage à Stravinsky); cello concerto; piano concerto; 2 violin concertos; concertino for bassoon and wind instruments

- Concerto for Orchestra; Symphonic Variation for orch.; Diptych for Strings

- cello sonata; clarinet sonata; sonata for violin and harpsichord; piano trio; 6 string quartets (No.4 In Honour of J.S.B.); Little Chamber Music for wind quintet

- 3 piano sonatas; Six Two-Part Canonic Inventions for Harpsichord


recommended works:

Violin Concerto No.1 (1958)

Six Two-Part Canonic Inventions for Harpsichord (1962)

Symphony No.4 (1972-1973)



born 12th March, 1914 at Prague

died 29th April 1988 at Prague


Kapr startled the Czech musical world in the sixties by changing his style from the nationalist school to a new personal system of composing that included serial procedures. His earliest works (String Quartet No.1 1937, Piano Concerto No.1 1938) had shown the influence of French music and Martinů, but during World War Two he concentrated on folk music. His works immediately after the war reflected the current climate in Song of my Native Land (1950) and In the Soviet Land (1950). But his eight symphonies, the first written in 1943, have shown a steady progression to simpler textures and harmonic styles, so that by the Symphony No.7 Krajina dětství (Country of Childhood) spare textures and serial techniques combine with a lyrical line for children's chorus into a moving and very accessible idiom, with a taut and economical structure. Symphony No.8 (1970) includes a chorus and taped bells. His change of style in the sixties, with such works as Chiffres (1965) and Oscillations (1966) attracted considerable attention among other Czech composers.

Kapr has been active as a music critic (1946-1949), a music producer with Czech Radio (1939-1946), as an editor with the publishing house Orbis (1950-1954), and as a teacher. His works have been heard quite widely outside Czechoslovakia (he won a UNESCO prize in 1968). As a leading figure of his generation, his music, especially that written after the middle 1960s, deserves more widespread attention. He must also be one of the few composers to list table tennis among their hobbies.


works include:

- 8 symphonies (No.5 Olympijská, No.7 Krajina dětství [Country of Childhood] for children's chorus and orch., No.8 Campanae Pragenses for chorus, orch., and tape)

- 2 piano concertos; violin concerto; viola concertino; Concertino for clarinet, cello, percussion and piano; Concertino for bassoon and wind instruments

- vocal symphonic score Mánes' Horolgue

- Anachron for chamber orch.

- 8 string quartets and many other chamber works, some with tape; Woodcuts for 8 brass instruments

- 3 piano sonatas and other piano music; 2 cantatas; choruses

- opera Muzikantská pohádka (Musicians' Fairytale); film music


recommended works:

Symphony No.7 Country of Childhood (1968)



born 28th April, 1932 at Prague


After his discovery of the techniques of Webern in the early 1960s, Kopelent has been at the forefront of the Czech avant-garde. His String Quartet No.3 of 1963 used serial techniques, non-periodic rhythms, and an element of performer choice - a far cry from Czech music of only a few years earlier - and subsequently gained wider attention at the Stockholm ISCM of 1966. The atmospheric and effective (if not highly individual) choral piece Matka (Mother) of the following year, pitting modern vocal textures against a solo flute and employing 12-tone rows and performer rhythmic choice, was also heard outside Czechoslovakia. The String Quartet No.4 of 1967 uses theatrical gestures, an interest reflected in music for experimental films, radio plays, poetry recitals, and other multi-media events. In 1969 he received a grant from the German Academy of Arts in West Berlin to concentrate on his compositional activities. From 1956-1971 he was editor of contemporary music for the publishing house Supraphon, and in 1965 became director of the ensemble Musica Viva Pragensis. He is interesting as a Czech composer who has decided not to encase his modern ideas in more traditional forms. Perhaps because of this, his music is woefully neglected in recordings, in spite of the fact that many pieces have been heard in Western Europe. His recent works have been for more conventional forces, while retaining their modernity. They include the Toccata (1978) for viola and piano, the unusual and appealing Concertino (1984) for cor anglais and chamber ensemble, taking full advantage of the timbre of the solo instrument, and the astringent String Quartet No.5. His individual approach has been recently exemplified in the Agnus Dei for soprano and chamber ensemble, which moves from astringent atonalism to a moving tonal close.


works include:

- 3 Movements for string orch.; Hrátky (A Cozy Chat) for saxophone and orch.; Accord and Disaccord for 12 soloists and orch.; And she really exists... for voices and orch.

- 5 string quartets and Play for string quartet; wind quintet; In Honour of Vladimir Holan for Nonet; sonata for 11 strings Veroničina rouška (Veronica's Veil) and other chamber music

- Bludný hlas (The Wandering Voice) for actress, chamber ensemble, tape, ad lib film, and light projector; works for voice and various ensembles including Agnus Dei; Matka (Mother) for flute and chorus


recommended works:

Concertino for cor anglais and chamber ensemble (1984)

Matka (Mother) fresco for flute and chorus (1964)



born 10th July 1904 at Prague

died 6th March 1968 at Prague


Krejči was a leading Czech neo-classicist, and a member of a group of composers associated with Martinů before the Second World War. Neo-classical ideas are particularly marked together with a lively sense of joy in the Cessation for orchestra (1925), the Symphony No.1 (1954-1955), the opera Pozdviženi v Efesu (Revolt at Ephesus (1939-1943) and in the five string quartets. The Symphony No.2 (1956-1957) is an undemanding and vivacious work that should appeal to many with its classical elements, strong echoes of Prokofiev and Shostakovich in a light vein, and deft scoring tinged with unmistakable Czech elements. He also absorbed influences from Czech folk music, especially the chorales of the Bohemian Brethren, together with an interest in ancient classical culture (opera Antigone 1934, song cycle Antické motivy [Ancient Motifs], 1936). His influence was widely felt through his other musical activities. He was conductor of the Bratislava Opera (1928-1932), music director and conductor of Prague Radio (1934-1945), artistic director of Olomouc Opera (1945-1957), and conductor and dramaturge at the Prague National Theatre (1957-1968).


works include:

- 4 symphonies, sinfonietta

- concertinos for piano and wind, violin and wind, cello

- Serenade and 14 Variazione sul un canto popolare for orch.

- 3 trios (Piano Trio with female voice); 5 string quartets; nonet and other chamber music

- operas Antigone, Pozdviženi v Efesu (Revolt at Ephesus)


recommended works:

Symphony No.2 (1956-1957)


MARTINŮ Bohuslav

born 8th December 1890 at Policka

died 28th August 1959 at Liestal, Switzerland


If there is a 20th-century composer whose mastery has still to be discovered by a wider public, that composer is Martinů, although there are at last signs that the situation is changing. It took 40 years for the music of Janáček to become well-known; perhaps the same fate awaits Martinů, whose compositions after the mid-1930s (like those of Janáček after 1905), if developing no startling innovations, show a uniformity of a totally individual voice, instantly recognisable.

The situation has been exacerbated by his huge output (over 400 works, mostly written before this period), by his reputation as a leading composer in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s (most of his works that appear in concerts come from this period), and by claims of his unevenness (although this is applicable only to those works written before the mid-1930s). Allied to this, his mature style, for all its elements of power and deep tragedy, is founded on the basis of expressing joy, and at times ecstatic pleasure in life and nature. His predominant tone extends the Czech tradition in a fundamentally new direction. His formal structures, founded on a mastery of counterpoint, look back to the free forms of the Baroque. All these elements have been unfashionable in the musical world of the last three decades.

Born in a bell tower, he was expelled from the Prague Conservatory for `incorrigible negligence' - he was stifled by the prevailing German Romanticism - and after playing second violin in the Czech Philharmonic (1918-1923) he found his milieu in Paris in 1923, studying with Roussel. His String Quintet (1927) won a Coolidge Prize in 1932, and his String Quartet No.2 was heard at the ISCM of 1928. The most striking pieces of this period are influenced by jazz, sometimes overtly, as in the marvellous Revue de Cuisine (1927, written as a short ballet), sometimes as an element, as in the instantly attractive Concertino for cello, wind instruments and piano (1924), important as the first of 33 works using the solo cello, and including musical fingerprints that are to be found throughout his output, such as the characteristic side drum and the use of a four-note rhythmic device.

Martinů then continued to experiment in a number of stage works, with a particular gift for musical comedy, using advanced dramatic techniques and sometimes surrealist subjects. At the same time, he started to incorporate Czech elements into his music, in a wide variety of genres. In parallel with this appeared a number of orchestral and concertante neo-classical works which reflected the influence of his teacher Roussel and looked back to the Baroque forms in a cast of 20th-century polyphony (e.g. the Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra, 1931, and the Sinfonia Concertante for two orchestras, 1932), with development by ritornello or by treatment that is episodic rather than thematic.

At the end of the thirties Martinů fused the neo-classical elements (notably the influence of the concerto grosso), the Czech melodic tinges, and technical devices learnt from his earlier music (especially germinal development from cells of ideas gradually extending to become the motivating impulse of the music, first tried out in the Piano Trio No.1 `Cinq Pièces Brèves', 1930) into a totally individual style, and his music takes on a new authority. The Double Concerto for two string orchestras, piano and timpani (1938) has all the characteristics of the works that were to follow; a simplified melodic vocabulary, an intense rhythmic momentum, with `sprung' rhythms, heightened by the germinal development of melodic ideas, and strong Moravian folk intervals. Combined with his natural lyricism is a powerful musical awareness of the tension of the times, both immediately before and during the Second World War (most consciously in the Polni mše [Field Mass], 1939 and in Památnik Lidicem (Memorial to Lidice, 1943), when he fled Paris for the States via Lisbon in 1940. This gives his music an extra dimension, but (again like Janáček) with the final tone of joy and revelation.

Between 1940 and 1953, he concentrated on a series of six symphonies, in which the principle of developing cells reached a culmination in the Symphony No.3 (1944), and in what many regard as his masterpiece, the Symphony No.6 (Fantaisies Symphoniques, 1951-1953), when his voice is to be heard at its most natural and spontaneous. His luminous orchestration also reached its culmination in this period, with blocks of solo instruments (especially wind) pitted against the general orchestra, octave doubling, and the use of the piano as a colour instrument. In 1945 Martinů suffered a serious accident, cracking his skull, and this affected the quality of his output in the immediately subsequent years.

But after 1953, his final works show a more conscious return to the atmosphere of his Czech homeland, which, with the arrival of the communist regime, he never revisited. This culminated (in spite of its touches of Greek colour) in the opera The Greek Passion (Recké pasije, 1956-1959). From this period also come two major works with voices, looking to new sources of inspiration, Gilgames (The Epic of Gilgamesh, 1954, on the most ancient surviving written text) and Proroctvi Izaiásovo (The Prophesy of Isaiah, 1959).

These, then are the general outlines of Martinů's development, and within these lines his works are best discussed by genre (titles are given in the form they are best known in the English-speaking areas). Chief among these are the group of five symphonies, all composed between 1942 and 1946, and joined by a sixth in 1953. Although still relatively unknown, they are among the finest symphonies of the century, consistent and completely individual in idiom; in technical terms they represent, even more than those of Shostakovich, a regeneration of the form, building on Sibelius's concept of growth from germ-cells, and on the idea of progressive tonality (ending in a key different from the opening). Their sound-world (the piano and often the harp prominent in the orchestration) has no parallel in the symphonic repertoire, one of the advantages of coming to the genre at the age of 52, when Martinů needed no models other than his own. The first two symphonies represent the development of his symphonic idiom. The Symphony No.1 (1942) is the most classical in construction, the principle of development by germ-cell used only in the first two movements. It is largely lyrical in conception, its atmospheric opening using the Bohemian St.Wenceslas chorale that recurs in Martinů's work and which is of Czech nationalist significance; the symphony also uses a Moravian cadence, first heard in the opera Julietta, that recurs in Martinů's later work. The scherzo has an arresting syncopated lilt, and a trio without strings; there is a sense of Mediterranean colour in the slow movement, and of folk-song in the finale. The Symphony No.2 (1943) is more chamber-like in character, aptly described as his `pastoral' symphony, and is cast in three movements, with a boisterous march and a brief quote from the Marseillaise in the third. With the emotionally more searching Symphony No.3 (1944) Martinů found his individual voice of symphonic genius. Apart from his own two earlier symphonies, there is nothing in the symphonic repertoire to herald it, and its only antecedents are in the symphonies of Sibelius, and then only distantly. The entire orchestra is used as a huge organic complex, generating germ cells and growing them with passionate logic and marvellous clarity of orchestral texture, flowering when the growth is momentarily complete and major chords arrive. The orchestra is used in step-like blocks, the generating impulse passed from block to block, and then opened out in more flowing, lyrical culminations. Whenever such moments of relative stasis are reached, a new ostinato phrase with its own particular colours inevitably, and so appropriately in the overall logic, starts up again. Suddenly in the final movement, in the midst of this wonderful and sometimes troubled organic progression, the entire canvass is taken onto a different plane, with shimmering orchestral textures as if the world had suddenly been hushed and held still - surely Martinů at this moment was thinking of his homeland. This is one of the finest symphonies of the century, quite unlike those of any other composer in construction, its tone - deeply rooted in the Czech tradition of brightness and hope - so completely alien to so much of 20th-century music that it has been completely overlooked: yet that very message of organic growth, of the interconnectedness of all natural things, now seems so prophetic and so apposite. The Symphony No.4 (1945) returns to the lyrical, its happier tone announced by the light textures and boisterous opening. In the scherzo and again in the finale Martinů's use of swirling ostinato figures reaches its most sophisticated development, whirring around like little dust-devils across a field. The slow movement opens with complex slow-moving chromaticism, like a fog in which the chromatic drops are held in suspension. Gradually this clears, and turns into the spirit of Dvořák redefined in 20th-century terms, an ambience continued into the finale, which has thematic connections with Julietta and the third symphony. The Symphony No.5 (1946) is the most difficult and complex of these symphonies, continuing the general idiomatic cast, but as if fragmenting both the idiom and the moods; it includes moments of a grandeur not often found in his output. The culmination of this symphonic experience is the Symphony No.6, subtitled Fantaisies symphoniques (1951-1953), currently the best known of these works. In this extraordinary score, which defies conventional analysis apart from its division into three movements, the element of fantasy of the title is given free reign in that the construction and choice of musical event seems to be based entirely on instinctive response, which at this stage in Martinů's career was of unerring surety, using as its means the sound patterns and techniques he had developed in the earlier symphonies. Martinů's symphonies bear a similar relationship to the Czech symphony as Janáček's operas do to Czech opera; their idiom, while maintaining a tonal base, is still sufficiently unusual to require adjustments by listeners unused to it, but it can only be a matter of time before the third and sixth symphonies in particular are very widely known and appreciated.

Of his other orchestral works, the brilliant, sometimes harsh Sinfonia Concertante (1932) pits two orchestras antiphonally, while the Concerto Grosso (1937) for wind, brass, string, and two pianos exemplifies his modernization of Baroque principles, alternating solo and tutti passages, and using a short germ-motif. The Tre Ricercari (1938), the piano prominent in the orchestra, is a culmination of his neo-Baroque period, combining baroque elements with suggestions of his later style in a generally bright and uplifting tone. In Frescoes de Piero della Francesca (1955), a three movement work inspired by three of the 15th-century artist's paintings, there is a marvellous melding of Impressionistic Mediterranean colour and Czech yearning and drama, Martinů's tribute to the joys of the creative spirit. All these works show Martinů at his best.

Concertos formed a considerable part of Martinů's output, often harking back to the baroque concept of the concerto grosso, rather than to the Romantic conflict between soloist and orchestra. Of his concerto works for piano, the Sinfonietta Giocosa (1940) was written while Martinů was waiting in Nice to escape Vichy France, mostly while travelling by train and tram in an attempt to get exit visas; his happy anticipation of leaving is reflected in the perky score. A more stunning work in an equally extrovert mood is the Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra (1943). From its emphatic opening, full of urgency and rhythmic drive, it presents vivid solo writing, a sense of pent-up excitement, and in the central adagio glittering colours evolving from the Impressionistic opening. Throughout it explores the possibilities in sonority of the two solo instruments (sometimes with a sense of devilry, the two clashing in keys with apparently natural spontaneity). This work should be much better known, but the necessity of two soloists precludes regular performance. The rather grand Piano Concerto No.3 (1943-1946) perhaps reflects the circumstances of its writing, long delayed by Martinů's accident, for it is less convincing than either of these two works. The Piano Concerto No.4 `Incantation' (1955-1956), is his finest work for piano and orchestra. In two movements, it expresses the composer's search `for truth and the meaning of life', and is complex but flowing in its coalescence of a multiplicity of ideas, colours, and timbres, with a wide range of effects for the largely percussive piano writing, including the depression of silent chord clusters to add sympathetic colours. Its moods are equally wide-ranging, with an element of imaginative and meditative fantasy that preoccupied Martinů in this period; the second movement is a series of variations of different colour casts, different incantations. This is not the easiest Martinů work on first encounter, but it is one of the most satisfying. The Piano Concerto No.5 (1957, titled Fantasia concertante) also has fine passages in a more conventional structure, the fantasy elements being suggested in the brittle piano writing of the opening. Uncharacteristically virtuoso passages combine with ideas of tenderness and simplicity, with a slow movement whose haunting textures suggest a nocturne.

The two violin concertos are contrasted in idiom and tone. The Violin Concerto No.1 (1932-1933, but not performed until rediscovered in 1973) is dominated by the jerky, nervous, constantly agitated but nonetheless lyrical solo line, permeated by technical challenges and syncopated and additive rhythms, and comes from the composer's neo-Baroque period. The Violin Concerto No.2 (1943) is a yearningly lyrical work reflecting Martinů's own considerable gifts on the instrument, with a much more Romantic interplay between soloist and orchestra, pitting solo line against transforming but heavily textured orchestral sonorities. The predominant mood is one of a rhapsodic nostalgia, in which echoes of the folk-music of his native country are never far away. With characteristic surges built on his repetitive principles, a lithe, dancing finale that returns to the understated grandeur of the opening of the concerto, and a hazy, unsentimental intermezzo for a slow movement, this is one of Martinů's finest works.

Of Martinů's four concerted works for cello, the influence of jazz predominates in the little Concertino for cello, wind instruments, piano and percussion (1924), but mixed with a cantabile lyricism for the soloist. The Cello Concerto No.2 (1944-1945) is in a similar idiom to the second violin concerto and shares its qualities, although it is perhaps a little long for its material. His other concertos include two related concertinos for the unusual combination of piano trio and string orchestra (the suggestion is that Martinů mislaid the commissioned score of the first, and had to swiftly compose another). The lithe and vital Concertino for Piano Trio and String Orchestra No.2 (1933) is in four movements, with a neo-classical rhythmic urgency initially reminiscent of Stravinsky and with skilful use of the available forces, the piano being used mainly in short notes, reminiscent of harpsichord writing, with and a joyous, folk-like lilt to the finale. The Concerto for Harpsichord and Small Orchestra (1935) belongs to the period when Martinů was exploring the form of the concerto grosso, and is a piece full of charm and interest in the piano obbligato foil to the soloist, if without the depth of similar pieces by Martin or Poulenc. More effective and biting, until the more playful final movement, is the Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra (1931). The short Oboe Concerto (1955), for a small orchestra that includes piano, suffers from over-thick orchestration (Martinů had intended to revise it), but has a rustic simplicity to the solo writing in the first movement (belying the technical difficulty), and a slow movement of magical textures and a very beautiful main theme.

Unlike the symphonies, the seven string quartets span Martinů's compositional career, and therefore provide an overview of his changing styles and concerns within one medium. They have been difficult to encounter, and do not often plumb the depths of emotion; perhaps because of this they have been generally dismissed. They are much finer than such a reputation would warrant, full of the vigour of life while never being lightweight, and are marked by their use of counterpoint to thrust the music forward. The long String Quartet No.1 (1918, revised 1927) is Romantic in style and inspiration, imbued with a gentle Czech 19th-century lyricism, influenced by both Dvořák and Debussy, but the String Quartet No.2 (1925) is idiomatically more ambitious, built around a weighty and dark central andante, flanked by two movements that oscillate between lightheartedness and rhythmic aggression. The String Quartet No.3 (1929) continued the exploration of sonority initiated in the slow movement of its predecessor, and is of interest in his development, having features in common with his later concerto grosso style (in the driving sonorous logic of progression); it is far weightier than the bright work suggested by some commentators. The String Quartet No.4 (1937) is subtitled Concerto da camera, and anticipates the early symphonies, especially in the short phrases of the opening, darting between instruments. This fine quartet has drive and bright vigour in the first two movements and the last, with a more contemplative slow movement to counter this, of an almost religious cast, solo cello lines like a cantor being answered by the quartet. The more anguished String Quartet No.5 (1938) was the response to a passionate love affair, and is tragic in tone, the general style of the previous quartet taken to new depths by the addition of much more dissonant and fragmentary writing, a wider range of string effects, and an angry intensity, Martinů exploring an inner emotion rather than an outward response. This is the only Martinů quartet to receive a general recognition for its Bartók-like powers of expression. The fast-paced and often restless String Quartet No.6 (1946) is also introverted, but in a very different fashion, and is the quartet in which Martinů seems to be expressing his longing for his homeland, using his technique of long, developing repeated rhythmic phrases that thrust towards luminosity. After two such personal quartets, the last, the graceful String Quartet No.7 (1947), also subtitled Concerto de camera, is a more abstract delight in the form. It combines Martinů's technique of short abutting phrases in the outer movements with the strong influence of Haydn, especially in the lovely andante, a kind of tribute to the 18th-century composer and quite unlike any of his earlier quartet slow movements in its idiom and sense of deep pleasure in music-making. Of his other chamber music, the form of the madrigal is sometimes to be found in his later works, notably in the attractive Madrigal-Sonata (1942) for flute, violin and piano, which has become popular with performers, as have the Three Madrigals (1947) for violin and viola, combining virtuosity with depths of expression. The circumstances of the composition of the Bergerettes (1939-1940) for piano trio, written as Martinů was leaving for the U.S.A., completely belie their bubbling, sunlit atmosphere; the turbulent Piano Quartet (1942) reflects the actual upheaval of the period.

Martinů's extensive piano music is of lesser interest, and mostly consists of miniatures, usually with a distant basis in folk-music rhythms, but with a full range of pianistic technique, exemplified in the three books of cheerful Etudes and Polkas (1945); the longest piece is under three minutes.

Martinů wrote fourteen operas (a further two are incomplete), and it is still difficult to get an overall assessment of their worth, particularly with the earlier experimental works, which often use techniques and styles easier to achieve with modern technology than at the time of their writing. The Soldier and the Dancer (Voják a tanečnice, 1926-1927) to a libretto by J.L. Budín based on Plautus, is a riot of crazy incidents parodying the artistic idioms of the 1920s, involving audience, critics, moon, stars, knives, forks and spoons, a Dixieland jazzband (to name but a few). Les Larmes du couteau (The Tears of the Knife, 1928), to a libretto by Ribemont-Dessaignes, is a 20-minute Dadaesque tale of horror, necrophilia, and erotic violence. Les Trois Souhaits (The Three Wishes, 1929) also to a libretto by Ribemont-Dessaignes, applied film techniques to operatic structure, with an actual film-crew as part of the action, showing glamorous actresses, warts and all, and questioning the dichotomy between actual events and the filmed dream; it uses jazz among its musical elements. In complete contrast, The Miracle of Our Lady, more correctly titled Plays of Mary (Hry o Marii, 1933-1934) is an attractive and deliberately simplistic trilogy of miracle plays based on three legends about Mary, using dance, narration, mime, and a commenting chorus; Martinů was consciously trying to create a more popular, folk-based music-theatre (as Britten was later to do), and succeeds. Hlas lesa (The Voice of the Forest, 1935), to a libretto by Vítežslav Nezval, was one of the first operas written especially for radio, using a folk story as its basis. More effective was his next one-act radio-play, Comedy on the Bridge (Veselohra na mostě, 1935), in six linked scenes based on a classic Czech play by Václav Klicpera, again with a slightly fantastic situation, but one resonant to this day. Neighbours try to visit each other across a bridge, but the two river banks are in different and now mutually hostile territories. The various characters have exit visas from their respective sides, but no entry visas, and so find themselves stranded in the middle of the bridge, and there, in fear of their lives, make various personal confessions, until with the victory of one side they are pushed off the bridge to make way for troops. The bright, lively music, with martial overtones, and often passionate vocal lines, uses a chamber ensemble. It is one of his better known works in the States, having won the New York Critic's prize for the best new opera in 1951, following its American premiere (the American critics also tried to give Klicpera personal recognition for the libretto, unaware that he had been dead for 92 years). It was followed by Martinů's operatic masterpiece, the surrealistic and full-length Julietta (1936-1937), where his powers of fantasy and the fantastic, and their relationship to the actuality of existence, found a perfect text in the French play Juliette ou le clé des songes by Georges Neveux. A book salesman revisits a town where he once been captivated by the sight of a young woman, Juliette. However, this time everyone has lost their memory; their awareness is only of the moment, with many disconcerting consequences, such as a fortune-teller foretelling the past, an engineer who gazes at the blank pages of a photo-album, a memory seller who invents journeys. The book salesman gradually gets sucked up into this real, yet unreal world, with the affair with Juliette weaving a linking thread (she is apparently shot at one point, but this too hovers between reality and fantasy), and the ending (invented by Martinů) is inconclusive, as all that has happened turns into a dream which itself restarts the action. This profoundly disturbing drama explores the edge of the reality of perception, and of a particular kind of sanity; Martinů treats it very directly, letting the music build character and the fantasy speak for itself, often with warm, yearning music (especially in the interaction with Juliette), and with strong musical characterisation of the many protagonists. Its structure is happily set up by the arch-form of the actual play, ideal for musical treatment. This profound, questioning, and yet affirming work has few parallels in the operatic repertoire. What Men Live By (1952), based on a version of the legend of St.Martin by Tolstoy, is an opera for television (one of the first), but neither it nor its successor, the television opera The Marriage (1952) after Gogol, really make use of the new medium. The comedy Mirandolina (1954) is based on Goldoni. The title-role of Ariadne (1958), to a libretto in French by the composer based on a version of the Greek myth by Neveux, was inspired by Callas, and includes baroque elements (a prologue and three scenes divided by orchestral sinfonias, and a final aria). The compressed, swift-moving story seems deceptively simple, but hinges on verbal and psychological ambiguities which gradually unfold into a complex and disturbing metaphor. Ariadne has a fantasy-love for the Minotaur (she has heard his voice, but never seen him); Theseus also has an appointment with him. The two recognise their common cause, and are engaged following an unexpected decree from the King of Crete; Theseus therefore sets aside his quest in favour of love. When one of his companions is killed, Theseus is stirred into action: the Minotaur appears as his own double, the Theseus who loves Ariadne (who says she knew the two would be alike). Theseus has to kill the Minataur, and in doing so kills his relationship with Ariadne, who is left abandoned, watching the departing Greek ships. Martinů's score to this swift one-act opera starts in an equally disarming fashion, bouncy and lyrical (not unlike the folk-inspired works discussed below), but gradually gets more complex and dark, culminating in a beautiful extended aria for Ariadne, whose fey changes of mood and intuitive knowledge have been subtly portrayed throughout the work. This opera is much more weighty than it first appears, raising uncomfortable psychological questions and letting the ambiguities stand for themselves, right down to the perky closing notes.

However, the best known of the later operas is the grand opera The Greek Passion (1956-1959), based on Nikos Kazantzakis' novel Christ Recrucified. It uses a play within a play: the Greek villagers are staging their Passion play, with competition in the village to play the parts, and an overall plot of interaction between the characters that parallels the crucifixion story. Added to this is a third layer, that of a refugee group (Greeks fleeing the Turks) who, with their priest, seek shelter in the village. It is a flawed work - the reduction of the novel to operatic length makes for a bitty sequence of scenes - but it contains some of Martinů's finest music and most affecting character portraits, combined with the influence of folk and Greek Orthodox music, and its strengths make it an effective stage work.

Of Martinů's many other works, mention should be made of three very attractive scores deliberately based on the colours and relative simplicity of folk-music, in which his own original ideas are inextricably intertwined with actual folk elements. The undemanding but enchanting ballet Špalíček (Little Block, 1931-1932, revised 1940 and arranged as two suites) uses fairy tales and nursery rhymes, and the cantata Bouquet of Flowers (Kytice, 1937) for four soloists, children's chorus, chorus, and orchestra with two pianos and harmonium, uses echoes of a wordless cry or greeting called across the Bohemian-Moravian mountains within the folk texts. The Songs of the Highlands (1955-1959), four chamber cantatas using soloists, chorus, and chamber forces, to words by the poet Miloslav Bureš, and better known by their individual titles (The Opening of the Wells, The Legend of the Smoke from the Potato-tops, Dandelion Romance, for soprano and chorus a cappella, and Mikeš from the Mountains), are the culmination of Martinů's nostalgia for his homeland. In all these unaffected works the colours are vivid, the zest of life shines bright, and they will be enjoyed by listeners with a wide range of tastes.

Martinů's idiom is not a difficult one, though the very individual cast of the later works may require familiarity for their strengths to emerge. The problem with encountering his music is the sheer bulk of his output, and avoiding the many works of lesser merits (reflecting his habit of writing fast and revising little). Generally, readers are advised to avoid works not mentioned in this outline, at least until they have experienced those works which reveal the full range and scope of the appealing, life-affirming idiom of this most underrated of all major 20th-century composers.


works include: (from over 400)

- 6 symphonies (No.6 Fantaisies symphoniques); 2 cello concertos

- harpsichord concerto; 5 piano concertos (No.4 Incantations); two-piano concerto; Rhapsody Concerto for viola and orch.; 2 violin concertos; concerto for string quartet and orch.; numerous other concertos and concertinos

- Les Fresques de Piero della Francesca for orch.; Memorial to Lidice for orch.; Sinfonie Concertante for two string orch.; Tre Ricercari for orch.; numerous other orchestral works, overtures, etc. for full and chamber orch.

- 3 cello sonatas; 5 violin sonatas; Madrigal Sonata for flute, violin and piano; 2 string trios; piano quartet; 7 string quartets (No.7 Concerto da camera); string quintet; wind quintet; 2 piano quintets; string sextet; numerous other chamber pieces for various forces

- sonata for piano and other piano pieces

- cantatas Gilgames (Gilgamesh), Kytice (Bouquet of Flowers), Proroctvi Izaiásovo (The Prophesy of Isaiah); Polni mse (Field Mass) and numerous other works for accompanied and unaccompanied voices, especially part-songs

- 13 ballets including Istar, La Revue de Cuisine and Špalíček

- operas Alexander bis, Ariadne, Divaldo za bránou (Surburban Theatre), Hlas lesa (The Voice of the Forest for radio), Hry o Marii (The Miracle of Our Lady), Julietta, Les Larmes du couteau (The Tears of the Knife), Mirandolina, Recké pasije (The Greek Passion), Trois Souhaits (The Three Wishes), Veselohra na mostě (The Comedy on the Bridge), Voják a tanečnice (The Soldier and the Dancer), What Men Live By (for television) and Zenitba (The Marriage for television)


recommended works:

opera Ariadne (1958)

cantata Bouquet of Flowers (1937)

Cello Concerto No.2 (1944-1945)

opera The Comedy on the Bridge (1935)

Concertino for cello, wind instruments and piano (1924)

Double Concerto for two string orchestras, piano and timpani (1938)

cantata Epic of Gilgamesh (1954-1955)

Field Mass (1939)

Les Fresques de Piero della Francesca for orchestra (1955)

opera Juliette (1936-1937)

opera The Greek Passion (1956-1959)

Memorial to Lidice (1943) for orchestra

opera trilogy The Miracle of Our Lady (1934)

Piano Concerto No.4 (1956)

Rhapsody Concerto for viola and orchestra (1952)

ballet La Revue de Cuisine for chamber orchestra (1927)

Sinfonie Concertante for two string orchestras (1932)

ballet Špalíček (1931-1932 rev. 1940, arranged as two suites)

String Quartet No.4 Concerto da camera (1937)

String Quartet No.5 (1938)

String Quartet No.6 (1946)

Symphony No.3 (1944)

Symphony No.4 (1945)

Symphony No.5 (1946)

Symphony No.6 (Fantasies symphoniques) (1951-1953)

Tre Ricercari for orchestra (1938)



B. Large Martinů, 1975

J. Milhule Martinů, 1972

M. Safránck Bohuslav Martinů: his Life and Works, 1962


NOVÁK Vitězslav

born 5th December 1870 at Kamenice

died 18th July 1949 at Skutec


Vitězslav Novák is, with Suk, the most important Czech composer of the generation that followed Dvořák (with whom he studied) and Janáček. Coming from a poor background (and hating his forced music lessons as a small child), he studied jurisprudence and philosophy as well as music to fulfil the terms of a scholarship. His early works are in the style of German Romanticism (Brahms recognised his talent, and introduced him to his publisher). Then, following a study of Moravian and Slovak folk music discovered when on holiday (and with the encouragement of Janáček), he suddenly found a nationalistic voice based on the colours and rhythms of Slovak folk music. The results of this change of style were initiated in the large Sonata Eroica (1900) for piano, which in spite of its length is monothematic, and then reached maturity in three orchestral works. The vividly atmospheric symphonic poem V Tatrách (In the Tatras, 1903-1905 - Novák himself made the first ascent of the difficult Ostry peak in the Tatra mountains) showed Novák's powers of musical landscape painting, and Slovácká svitá (Slovak Suite, 1903), where the small orchestra is used with restraint but a strong sense of colour, his growing awareness of nationalist themes. The third work in this group, the symphonic poem O vecné touze (About the Eternal Longing, 1908) applied the same descriptive techniques to a Hans Christian Andersen tale, in two sections. This vivid tone-poem combines Impressionism with the power of the late-Romantic orchestra, using a wide palette of orchestral colours and effects, often with a mystical atmosphere.

At the same time he produced a number of song arrangements and chamber works with characteristic Slovak folk elements, notably bare fourths and fifths; while sometimes using actual folk melodies or themes, Novák preferred to invent his own in a similar style. To the natural sensuality of his music was added an erotic element in the tone poem Toman a lesni panna (Toman and the Wood-Nymph, 1906-1907), the overture Lady Godiva (1907) and, combined with his feel for the emotive aspects of nature, in a piano cycle (later orchestrated) with strong dramatic elements, Pan (1910), in the form of monothematic variations in five movements. The culmination of this period is perhaps Novák's finest work, the powerful and beautiful cantata Bouře (The Storm, 1908-1910), for soloists, chorus and orchestra, which has been aptly described as a sea symphony with obbligato chorus. The scoring, including a piano for effects, is especially vivid and controlled. Characteristically, much of the material is built on thematic fragments heard at the opening.

Novák, at the age of 45, then turned to opera. Zvikovský rarášek (The Imp of Zvikov, 1913-1914) was unexpectedly a comic-ironic opera, as was Karlštejn (1914-1915, again with erotic elements), but his most striking opera is the nationalist fairy-tale Lucerna (The Lantern, 1919-1922), reflecting the sufferings of the Czechs. Dědův odkaz (Grandfather's Legacy, 1922-1925) is about a man who inherits a violin (the legacy) and becomes a virtuoso, and satirizes the hypocrisies of a virtuoso's life and audience. From the same period comes a major orchestral work, highly regarded in Czechoslovakia, Podzimni Sinfonie (Autumn Symphony, 1931-1934) for chorus and orchestra. The final flowering of his symphonic talent is in the surprisingly effective De Profundis (1941) for orchestra and organ, a patriotic assertion of eventual victory over the Nazis, that starts with a long, dark and foreboding search for harmonic resolution, turbulently building over a long time-span to a climax during which bright ideas slide in among the darkness. This opens out to an unmistakably Czech landscape of chamber proportions, which in turn builds to a huge climax, the organ prominent, of hope and joy. During this last period folk influences were largely replaced by Hussite chorales, reflecting his recognition of the threat current political events posed to his country.

Throughout his life Novák was fascinated by nature, and depictions of mountains, forests and water abound in his music. His work, full of polyphonic skill and interlacing textures and melodic ideas, is primarily an expression of the emotions engendered by that fascination. Such an approach has long been out of fashion, but his high standards (he was intensely self-critical) will be appreciated and enjoyed by those who are not expecting music of great intellectual depth, and his work has been unjustly neglected outside Czechoslovakia.

Novák taught at the Prague Conservatory (1909-1920) and was professor of composition at the Czech State Conservatory (1918-1939), and the legacy of his teaching was almost as great as that of his music, with many of the next generation of composers as his pupils, including Hába, Kapr and Suchon. With Suk he helped found the Society of Modern Music.


works include:

- Podzimni sinfonie (Autumn Symphony) for chorus and orch.; Májová symfonie (May Symphony) for soloists, chorus and orch.

- piano concerto

- symphonic poems De Profundis, O věčné touze (About the Eternal Longing), Toman a lesni panna (Toman and the Wood-Nymph); V Tatrách (In the Tatras); suites Jihočeská svitá (Bohemian Suite), Slovácká svitá (Slovak Suite); Svatováclavsky triptych (St. Wenceslas Triptych) for organ and orch.

- 3 string quartets; piano quartet; piano trio; piano quintet and other chamber music

- Pan for solo piano and other piano music

- cantata Bouře (The Storm); choral works and songs

- ballet-pantomimes Nikotina and Signorina Gioventu

- operas Dědův odkaz (Grandfather's Legacy), Karlštejn, Lucerna (The Lantern) and Zvikovský rarášek (The Imp of Zvikov)


recommended works:

symphonic poem About the Eternal Longing op.33 (1903-1905)

tone poem De Profundis op.67 (1941)

symphonic poem In the Tatras op.27 (1902)

Slovak Suite op.32 (1903)

cantata The Storm for soloists, male chorus and orchestra op.42 (1908-1910)


bibliography (In English):

Vladimir Lébl Viteslav Novák, 1968



born 7th May, 1947 at Prague


Milan Slavický, son of Klement Slavický (see introduction), is one of the most interesting of the younger Czech composers. He has concentrated on orchestral and chamber music, and won acclaim outside Czechoslovakia, including a UNESCO prize and the Prix d'Italia. He studied with Kapr and Kohoutek, and gained attention with an orchestral work, Poctat Saint-Expérymu (Homage to Saint Exupéry). It was followed by an arresting one-movement violin concerto, subtitled Ceste srdce (The Way of the Heart, 1978). It is a taut and dramatic work, with the linear and harmonically unsettled solo line passing through a number of fragmentary episodes, almost chamber in feel. Percussion and insistent, sometimes violent, rhythms are much in evidence, and a deft, individually pointed use of the limited colours available (wind, percussion, celesta and harp). The symphonic triptych Terre des Hommes (1979-1983), grander in conception, descriptive in its scoring, followed a similar pattern without being so immediately alluring. It has been followed by another triptych, Sinfonia mortis et vitae (The Well of Life, 1986). The darker, almost violent moments of these works are also observable in the chamber music, exploring expressive effects from the brooding piano trio Brightening I (1986) to the dark colours of Dialogues with Silence (1978) for string quartet. In these works his approachable, non-tonal harmonic palette is founded on a sense of tonal centres. The interest in colours and rhythms has been explored in Tre Toccate (1964) for percussion instruments. He has also been active as a recording producer in Czechoslovakia.


works include:

- violin concerto Ceste srdce (The Way of the Heart)

- symphonic triptychs Terre des Hommes and Sinfonia mortis et vitae; Pocta Saint-Expérymu (Homage to Saint Exupéry) for orch.

- Tre toccate for percussion; Invocation for violin and other chamber and instrumental works; Brightening I for piano trio; Colloquium I and Dialogues with Silence for string quartet; Brightening IV for oboe and string quartet; Brightening III for flute, oboe and string trio; Articulations for brass quintet

- piano sonata

- song cycle Stay with us, Sweet Loving


recommended works:

Violin Concerto The Way of the Heart (1979)

Dialogues with Silence for string quartet (1978)


SUK Joseph

born 4th January, 1874 at Křečovice u Neveklova

died 29th May, 1935 at Beneřov (Prague)


Joseph Suk was both Dvořák's favourite pupil and his son-in-law. With Novák, he is the most important Czech composer in the generation following Dvořák and Janáček. However, whereas Novák found his voice through Moravian folksong, Suk largely avoided folk influences (although he used Bohemian rhythms), extending the tradition of Dvořák mainly through chamber music (including freer forms such as ballads and rhapsodies) and a number of orchestral works - there are very few songs or choral works, and he wrote no operas. Much of his music is programmatic, but its programmes are of inner emotions and personal events, rather than external inspirations. The sonorities of his string writing reflect his own exceptional abilities as a violinist (he was also a fine pianist). He was the second violinist of the famous Czech Quartet, giving over 4,000 performances before his retirement in 1933. The violin virtuoso tradition has been carried on by his grandson, Josef Suk (born 1929).

The earliest works of his small output (39 opus numbers) show the influence of Dvořák, and his Serenade for Strings (1892) has remained one of his most popular works. But it was the discovery of Julius Zeyer's stage fairy-tale Radúz and Mahulena, with its theme of faithful love and the triumph of good over evil, that started a period of Romantic and lyrically happy works. It remained an influence throughout his life, and themes from his rich music to the play (Radúz and Mahulena, 1897-1898, suite titled A Fairy Tale, 1900) regularly recur in his later music. From the same period come a number of works with limpid and singing solo violin writing, notably the Four Pieces (1890) for violin and piano. The culmination of this period is first the Fantasy (1902-1903) for violin and orchestra, a most attractive work in which he avoided concerto form in favour of a free fantasy, with common motifs in each of the three movements, and second the symphonic poem Prague (1904).

The death of Dvořák in 1905 affected him deeply, and it was followed in 1906 by the death of his wife. From that point his music has a sterner, more tragic element, and he moves from a Romantic feel to a more complex polytonal idiom, with dense harmonies. The immediate result was the tragic and powerful symphony Asrael (the Angel of Death, 1907), with linking thematic motifs, including one of Fate and the Death motif from Radúz and Mahulena, a score of great emotional impact and structural mastery with an ending of reconciliation; this long symphony represents the culmination of the late-Romantic tradition in the Czech symphony. It was followed by an Impressionistic and beautiful meditation on nature, the symphonic poem Pohádka léta (A Summer's Tale, 1907-1909), and the best of his piano music, the introspective cycle Things Lived and Dreamed, 1909, with irregular rhythms and rich and ambiguous harmonies. Pod jabloní (Under the Apple Tree, 1911) for contralto, chorus and orchestra is drawn from the music for a play by Zeyer (1902), and has no plot as such, but three ecstatic poems concerning nature and heaven, the last a chorus of angels guarding the Garden of Eden. It opens with a long and gorgeous Romantic orchestral introduction, full of light and happiness, solo violin prominent in delicate textures that gradually thicken; the vocal writing ranges from a similar delicacy to the uplifting nobility of the close, in a work that would be ideal for larger choral societies. The War Triptych consists of three separate works drawn together under the same opus number (35). The first part, Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale St.Wenceslas (usually known as Meditation, 1914) is a beautiful and intense version of the chorale for strings (originally string quartet), and has become one of Suk's best known works. Legend of the Dead Victors (1919) is rather bombastic (it was commissioned as an official commemoration), but has moments of quiet luminosity, especially at the close. The third part, the infectious Festival March Towards a New Life (1919), has become one of the best known of all Czech marches.

Suk's masterpiece is the symphonic poem Zráni (The Ripening, 1913-1918) for orchestra with wordless chorus, with a personal programme indicated in titles of its five sections (youth, love, pain, quoting from the piano cycle Things Lived and Dreamed, determination, and victory). The thematic structure matches the title, with seeds of ideas growing and coming to fruition in a rich web of complex harmonies, and with an intense message describing both the brightness and the tragic shades of life. It opens and closes with trumpet fanfares, and the last movement - victory - includes a fugue followed by near silence and then a final hymn. Throughout the sense of germination and fulfilment is palpable. His last major work, Epilogue (1920-1932), for soloists, chorus and orchestra, expresses Suk's vision of Love, and is almost as fine.

Suk became professor at the Prague Conservatory in 1922, and was its director from 1924-1926. Among his many pupils was Martinů, and his teaching, especially of his concepts of freer forms and his ideas of thematic growth, had an abiding influence on the next generation of Czech composers.

Suk's later works represent one of the final flowerings of the Romantic tradition, but in a more pastoral idiom than the late-Romantic German works more usually encountered. They are imbued with an intensely personal expression both of the tragedy of life and the power of reconciliation, rebirth and love, in an increasingly complex, individual and effective language. With the immediate attractions of the earlier and less profound works, it seems surprising that his music, revered in Czechoslovakia, is so neglected outside.


works include:

- symphony in E; symphony Asrael

- symphonic poems Pohádka léta (A Summer's Tale), Prague, Zráni (The Maturity); Serenade for Strings

- Fantasy for violin and orch.

- Four Pieces for violin and piano; piano trio; piano quartet; 2 string quartets; piano quintet and other chamber music

- piano cycle Things Lived and Dreamed

- Epilogue for soloists, chorus and orch.; Pod jabloní (Under the Apple Tree) for contralto, chorus and orch.; Křečovice Mass and other choral works

- incidental music to Radúz and Mahulena


recommended works:

Epilogue for soloists, chorus and orchestra (1920-1932)

suite A Fairy Tale op.16 (1900 from Radúz and Mahulena, 1897-1898)

Fantasy for violin and orchestra op.24 1902-1903)

Four Pieces for violin and piano op.17 (1890)

Meditation on the Old Czech Chorale St.Wenceslas (1914) for orchestra

symphonic poem The Ripening op.34 (1913-1918)

symphonic poem A Summer's Tale op.29 (1905-1906)

Symphony No.2 (Asrael) op.27 (1905-1906)

piano cycle Things Lived and Dreamed op.30 (1909)

cantata Under the Apple Tree (1911) for contralto, chorus and orchestra



Jiři Berkovec Joseph Suk, (in English, French, German & Russian), 1969



born 28th May, 1923 at Prague


The composer and musicologist Jiři Válek is one of Czechoslovakia's major symphonists, although the word should be taken with a note of caution. For in common with many other East European composers, the primary stimulus for his symphonies has been extra-musical, and those expecting abstract symphonic developments and structures will be disappointed - they are best treated as symphonic poems. His major inspiration has been from history, and at best he has the capability to conjure up a vivid musical picture using a smattering of modern techniques and effects. The Symphony No.6 (1969), for flute and chamber orchestra, is an atmospheric meditation on Herakleitos, and exemplifies his approachable atonality and his spare use of harder sounds (percussion, percussive piano) and short woodwind phrases against a wide orchestral background, notably strings. The less effective and more rambling Symphony No.7 on Pompeii introduced an element of violence, and in subsequent symphonies the uninteresting structures and elements of banality (heard at their worst in the ballet music from his opera Hamlet our Contemporary, 1984) outweigh the elements of expressive interest. At the same time, he has produced chamber works in parallel with the symphonies (Villa dei misteri for violin and piano matching the Symphony No.7, fragments of ancient Chinese chants in Symphony No.8 being echoed in the song cycle La Partenza della Primavera, 1970-1971, etc.). With the reservations outlined, his music is interesting as an example of modernism officially acceptable during the Communist period, which has undoubted moments of atmospheric effect.


works include:

- 14 symphonies (No.6 Ekpyrosis, No.7 Pompejské fresky [Pompeii Frescoes], No.8 Hic Sunt Homines, No.9 Renaissance, No.10 Baroque, No.11 Revolučni, No.13 Gothic)

- Concerto Burlesco for cor anglais and chamber orch.; Concerto giocoso for flute, marimba, harp and orch.; Concerto notturno for string trio

- 2 nonets (No.2 Evviva la Musica)

- song cycle La Partenza della Primavera

- opera Hamlet our Contemporary


recommended work:

Symphony No.6 Ekpyrosis (1969)




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