“Not elderly, not a believer” was 73-year-old Janácek’s vehement and passionate response to a critique that described his “Glagolitic Mass” as the ingenious work of an elderly believer. And perhaps this very personal assessment of himself is indicative of the whole of Janácek’s oeuvre – surprising, blunt, striking, forceful, passionate, ever young. The composer, who had remained practically unknown for the first 62 years of his life, suddenly burst out in full bloom and created an abundance of spectacular compositions that continue to amaze with their originality to this day.
Janácek is closely connected to Brno, where he lived and worked almost all his life. It is thus no wonder that for decades he was misunderstood and regarded as a mere local eccentric. His zealous efforts to organise the Brno music scene were interspersed with rambles through the villages of Moravia, where he recorded folk songs and dances in the endeavour to capture life as it is. He then went even further and began making note of everything he heard around him: people shouting, urban noise, and animal sounds. In his so-called speech tunes, he even recorded the voice of his beloved daughter Olga on her deathbed: “Daddykins, play me that opera of yours, I won’t hear it otherwise.” It was with that very opera, “Jenufa”, that Janácek first made a name for himself on the stages of the world in 1916 and achieved lasting international renown.
Although it is now 90 years since Janácek’s death, his style of composition continues to astound us with its modernity. Janácek never forsakes melody, but he approaches it in a supremely original way, segmenting it, layering it, pasting it into collages; this all with an overarching sense of drama. This compositional method and the composer’s extremely complicated manuscript style necessitates the very best editorial care in high-quality editions. This is why for several decades now Bärenreiter has diligently worked on the vast undertaking of the Complete Critical Edition of the Works of Leos Janácek, besides publishing new Urtext editions, performance materials, and arrangements of Janácek’s oeuvre.
Janácek’s sudden death on 12 August 1928 shocked all who knew his energy and zest for life. In his obituary, the Czech author Karel Capek wrote: “When we throw those three clumps of soil with a sigh, it will not be just for a great musician, but for that great, miraculous youth.