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The Symphonic Works of Leoš Janáček

From Folk Concepts to Original Style


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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12. Postscript



As a composer of programmatic music, Janáček is complex. Although he championed drama and/or realism in virtually all of his twentieth-century works, he did not, as the foregoing analyses have revealed, take pains to portray the stories with great precision. In fact, one might say that Janáček’s approach to program music is akin to Mahler’s, who stated that his own way of composing:

had not the least bit to do with that insipid erroneous way of beginning, which is to choose for himself a limited, narrowly circumscribed incident, and to follow it programmatically step by step.1

Janáček embellished and altered all of the stories of the works we have investigated, usually for identifiable purposes. Since Janáček presents his own version of each story, the study of his music ought to make recourse to his essays and other information that he has supplied in addition to the literary program itself.

Moreover, Janáček’s approach to the application of the program in his music makes the study of its affective element imperative. Rather than attempting to represent each action of the plot, Janáček more often depicts the ambiance of the story’s settings, as well as the changing emotions of the characters. Thus, that which Wehnert calls “psychological semantics” abounds in Janáček’s music.2 For this reason, it is essential to consider Janáček’s dramaturgy and realism alongside his impressionism and expressionism.3

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