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The Symphonic Works of Leoš Janáček

From Folk Concepts to Original Style

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John K. Novak

This book investigates the spectrum of meaning inherent in six orchestral works by Leoš Janáček. It codifies his compositional style, first through a thorough examination of its origins in folk music and speech-melody, then in discussions of the features of its melody and motivic techniques. His harmonic style and multiple organizations of tonality are examined in rich detail. The analysis section consists of the examination of each musical work’s musical elements, its affective and programmatic associations, as well as four narrative codes through which the listener discovers further meaning in the work: the hermeneutic code (which governs enigmas), the semic code of musical motives, the proairetic (formal) code, and the referential code (which draws on analogous passages from other pieces of music).
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1. Introduction

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Introduction

“I do not love music just because it sounds.”1

Truth and Music: Janáček the Expressive

The Moravian composer Leoš Janáček (1854–1928) was a diversified man with many interests and passions. He was among the first ethnomusicologists anywhere. A prodigious essayist, he wrote on subjects as diverse as psychology, acoustics, birdcalls, folk dance and speech-melody. He conceived original theories on music and taught diverse musical subjects throughout most of his life. Acerbic with a pen, he was a candid music reviewer. Moreover, Janáček synthesized the language of his music, his greatest achievement, from his various interests, which included not only the above, but also drama, literature and nature. Although he composed most of his most distinctive music when he was past his fiftieth birthday, it is abundant in fresh ideas and is characterized by youthful vigor and passion. It stands alone in the repertoire as the product of an original and unique voice.

The scope of Janáček’s interests influenced both the way he perceived music and the way he composed it. It is, therefore, not surprising that he was not a musical absolutist. Janáček composed that which he believed had objective meaning. He was persuaded that music, especially vocal music, was a means by which the human race encounters what he called the “truth.”

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