Saturday, August 23, 2008

5 Days Left to Meet Your Fate

Czech composer Leos Janáček is the patron saint of late bloomers. As Pierre Boulez noted in a recent BBC interview, if Janáček had died at sixty-one he would remembered, if at all, as a marginal provincial composer. It would not be until his next year, with his opera Jenůfa, that he had his first major success.

Then, in 1917, Janáček met Kamila Stösslová, an attractive married woman some forty years his junior, and he went a little funny in the head. His love for her dominated the remainder of this life - at least 700 letters between them survive - despite the fact that she's described as remaining "aloof", with all indications being that the relationship remained completely platonic, which is probably just as well when you consider this was in a time long before the miracle of Viagra.

In Janáček's obsession, however, he had found his muse, and in little more than five years, he created an explosive output of some of the greatest - and most distinctive - works of 20th century music. His five-movement Sinfonietta, with it's primal brass fanfares and fever-pitch passion, is 25 minutes of aural ecstasy. Janacek studied Moravian and Slovak folk music, and the phrasing of his music deliberately reflects the rhythm, pitch and inflections of the spoken Czech language. His music sounds no one else, and there's never been anything quite like it since.

The BBC Prom's is offering an opportunity to hear one of Janáček's least heard operas, 1907's Osud (Destiny), which Janáček, himself, never saw performed in his lifetime. It features a composer, his great lost, regained, and lost again love, and a mother-in-law from hell. This past Thursday's fine performance, with Jiri Belohlavek conducting the BBC symphony, can, for the next five days, be heard streaming here.

Last year, Pierre Boulez conducted what he has announced is his last staged opera performance, Janáček's shattering From the House of the Dead, a production captured on DVD. Earlier this month at the Proms, Boulez, conducted an all Janacek program that begins with a performance of Sinfonietta that grows on me each time I listen to it. It's followed by another Janáček rarity, the engaging 1926 Capriccio for piano left hand and an ensemble that includes a flute, two trumpets, three trombones, and a tenor tuba(!)

The concert concludes with a performance of Janáčeks massive (260 performers) Glagolitic Mass. In an extended intermission interview, Boulez talks in depth about Janacek's music, and how he discovered his love for it in a loaned out London apartment in the 1970's. Boulez notes that in the Glagolithic Mass, Janáček sets the text in an archaic church Slavonic, making the aura of the music even more timeless.

Not to be missed, and for the next six days, you can listen to it here, and Osud here.

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