Leoš Janáček (born as Leo Eugen Janáček at Hukvaldy, Moravia on July 3rd, 1854 – died at Moravská Ostrava on August 12th, 1928) was a Czech composer of the first importance; despite his being performed somewhat less in the U.S., he is to be considered with Bedřich Smetana (1824-88) and Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904). His father and grandfather were prominent town musicians. Leoš was sent at age 11 to be a chorister at the Queen’s Monastery in Brno, where the choirmaster, Pavel Křížkovský, mentored him. After passing his final examinations and serving as a two-year teaching intern, he succeeded Křížkovský in 1872 as choirmaster and in 1873 also became director of a working men’s choral society, which he soon developed into a large mixed chorus of 250 to perform works such as Mozart’s Requiem and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. He came to know Dvořák, and together they made a walking tour of Bohemia in 1877. In 1879-80 he studied at Leipzig. Back in Brno, he married his 15-year-old pupil Zdenka Scholzová, and began to study Moravian folk music; he also began his opera Jenůfa, premiered in Brno in 1904. Revised, it achieved a triumphant performance in 1916. Further successes in Brno and Prague were his operas Cunning Little Vixen and Makropoulos Affair; worldwide fame finally came for Janáček as he turned 70 in 1925. In 1926 he wrote Sinfonietta, his major orchestral work, often heard today, and the Glagolitic Mass for soloists, double chorus, organ and large orchestra. He had always been prone to extra-marital affairs; he and Zdenka finally divorced in 1918. In 1917 he met Kamila Stösslová, a married woman 35 years his junior, and gradually their relationship developed. His second string quartet, Intimate Letters, celebrates their friendship, written in fire unlike earlier works “written only in hot ash,” as he put it. In 1928, at his new cottage in Hukvaldy, he was joined by Kamila, her young son, and, for a few days, her husband. After a summer walk, Janáček caught a chill; pneumonia ensued, and he was taken to the hospital at a nearby town, Moravská Ostrava, where he died on August 12th. His large public funeral in Brno included the final scene of the Cunning Little Vixen; shortly afterwards his second String Quartet was performed publicly, and two years later, in 1930, his last opera was premiered, From the House of the Dead.
Janáček’s Sonata for violin and piano was written in the summer of 1914 as the first world war began; he himself recalled, “in the 1914 Sonata for violin and piano I could just about hear the sound of steel clashing in my troubled head.” After corrections it was printed in Prague and first performed in 1922, at a concert of new Moravian music given by the Young Composers’ Club in Brno. In 1923 came the second performance in Frankfurt, where the violinist was German composer Paul Hindemith. There are four movements. The first is in a moderately fast 3/4 time, marked Con moto, with motion; but it keeps being interrupted by very slow passages, and there are a few passages as well of a very rapid tempo. It is very lovely, and a bit quixotic as well. The second, called “Ballad,” is again marked Con moto, in 3/8 time; a simple folk-song like melody winds its way through. The third movement, marked Allegretto, is mostly in 2/4 time, with a triple time meditative interlude; the principle melody is again folk like. The last movement, Adagio, begins with a slow, meditative melody interrupted with rapid outbursts from the violin; after a center section of further lovely melodies, some quite passionate, the opening material returns to create an unnerving, mysterious close.
August Friedrich Martin Klughardt (born at Cöthen on November 30th, 1847 – died at Rosslau near Dresden on August 3rd, 1902) was a German composer and conductor. He began piano and music theory lessons as a boy; his pieces were performed by a music club he had founded at school. In 1863 his family moved to Dessau, where he debuted as a pianist. After working as a theater conductor in Posen, Neustrelitz, and Lübeck, he was named court music director at Weimar in 1869. He became friends with Franz Liszt (1811-86), who exercised a great influence upon his musical development. In 1873 he returned to Neustrelitz to become chief conductor, and was appointed manager of that theater in 1880. He made his first visit to Bayreuth, where Wagner’s operas became another important influence, in 1876. From 1882 he was director of music for the court at Dessau, where he conducted Wagner’s Ring in 1892 and 1893. Appointed a member of the Berlin Academy of Arts in 1898, he was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Erlangen. He died suddenly at age 54, having written overtures, six symphonies, four operas, two oratorios, choral works, songs, and a good deal of chamber music. Only his Cello Concerto, song cycle Schilflieder (Reed Songs), and Wind Quintet are performed today.
His Wind Quintet in C major, op. 79, was written about 1898. The first movement is marked Allegro non troppo, fast but not too fast. But in fact there is much very fast playing to be done, as becomes clear after a quiet and reflective opening. This is a complex and elaborate movement; the midsection is really quite a ride, with rather wild diminished seventh harmonies. But after a final big moment, it all ends quietly as it had begun. Next comes an Allegro vivace scherzo-like movement, with more virtuosic writing. The third movement, Andante grazioso, is indeed gracious, charming and quite relaxed. The final movement begins slowly with a mysterious Adagio, and then continues in a very lively manner with an Allegro molto vivace. There are splendid technical displays from all the players, and it ends humorously after getting even faster.
Ernő Dohnányi was born on July 27th, 1877 at Poszony in the Kingdom of Hungary, which today is Bratislava in Slovakia; he died in New York City on February 9th, 1960. A Hungarian composer, pianist, and conductor, he generally signed his compositions with the German form of his name, the “von” a result of his family having been ennobled in 1697. His musical training in piano and theory began with his father, a fine cellist, and also with the cathedral organist in Poszony. He then went to the Budapest Academy for professional training, bringing with him his school friend Béla Bartók (1881-1945). He made friends with Johannes Brahms (1833-97), who arranged for the first performance in Vienna of Dohnányi’s Piano Quintet, op. 1. He was invited to teach at the Hochschule in Berlin (now a part of the Berlin University of the Arts), where he stayed for ten years. He returned to Budapest in 1915, and gained an enormous influence upon his country’s musical life. He was chief conductor of its Philharmonic Society for 26 years, and from 1921 to 1927 toured the US annually. Lengthy illnesses in the 1930s caused him to cut back on concertizing, and from 1939 he devoted himself to battling the Nazis. Finally he fled to Austria in 1944, undertook major performing tours in England in 1947-8, and then ended up in Florida in 1949 as pianist and composer-in-residence at Florida State. As a pianist, composer, and conductor, Dohnányi ranked among the very best; his pupils included Annie Fischer, Georg Solti, and Géza Anda. He died while recording at 83, at a time when once again he was beginning to receive invitations from all over the world.
The Sextet in C major, op. 37, was written in 1935 for the unique combination of violin, viola, cello, clarinet, horn, and piano. The first movement, Allegro apassionata, or fast and passionate, is fraught and turbulent, with frequent use of the unsettling interval called a tritone, for example C plus F#. The second movement, Intermezzo: Adagio, begins with a gentle version of the main theme from the first movement played by the strings, with a series of punctuating chords from the piano. Then comes a kind of march, highly dramatic and menacing, which eventually fades mysteriously back into the opening material, though the march returns for a moment towards the end. The third movement, Allegro con sentimento, is a set of Brahms-like variations upon a theme first played by the clarinet, accompanied by strings. Next the entire group plays an energetic variation, followed by something more tranquil. Then comes a delightful scherzo-like variation, followed by a lush and languid one. The horn bring backs the tritone laden theme of the first movement; this leads without pause to the fourth movement, Finale. Allegro vivace, giocoso, i.e. fast, lively, and humorous. Suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of European jazz of the 1930’s. An unnamed source has written that it sounds like a drunken Viennese hotel band trying to play Gershwin; and there’s also a bit of a waltz. The coda combines the jazz, the waltz, and the heroic opening theme of the first movement, complete with more tritone intervals before the final cadence, bringing us back abruptly and unexpectedly to C major. One can only be astounded that Dohnányi’s fabulous music has now become so rarely performed.
(These notes are written with the help of Grove’s Dictionary of Music on line, as well as learned articles on YouTube.)