Leoš Janáček 1854-1928

Leoš Janáček was born on July 3, 1854 in Hukvaldy in the family of a teacher and musician. He went to the elementary school in his native place where he soon learnt not only about the nature beauties but also about the hardness of life in the region of Lachia. Thanks to Pavel Křížkovský, a former pupil and supporter of Janáček’s father, he was admitted to the Old Brno Monastery foundation. The monastic atmosphere confirmed the national consciousness of his defiant, stubborn spirit and the first little flames of his future love to the Slavonic East leapt out. There he acquired a profound music education under the close supervision of Pavel Křižkovský. He studied the municipal grammar school of Old Brno (1866-1869), afterwards he continued at the Teaching Institute where he graduated in 1872. In the same year he was appointed an assistant teacher and he also taught music at the practice school of the Institute. In 1873-1884 he took lecturers from Czech language and literature by Antonín Matzner at the then called Moravian Regional Academy. In Brno he also passed the exam of teaching capabilities of lingual and historical subjects for elementary and secondary schools. He went on studying music at Prague Organ School under František Blažek and František Zdeněk Skuherský. Having passed the state exam from singing and piano and organ playing (1875) he was appointed a temporary music teacher for the Teaching Institute in Brno.

As a choirmaster he started to work in the artisans’ choir Svatopluk in 1872. He stayed there until October 1876. When Pavel Křížkovský left for Olomouc in 1872 he substituted for him at the choir of Old Brno Church and he worked there as the choir director until 1885. Between 1876 and 1888 he conducted, with a two-year interruption, the Beseda brněnská Choir; he established himself as an outstanding and temperament conductor. He followed the tradition of Křížkovský and aimed the choir to large interpretational tasks. Janáček’s restless and inquiring spirit, already interested in the problems of music aesthetics, could not be satisfied with the narrow horizons of Brno social environment. Janáček longed for a complete music education and thus he left for the conservatories in Leipzig (1879-1880) and Vienna (1880). After return he was appointed a permanent music teacher at the Teaching Institute (1880) where he worked until 1904. Between 1886 and 1902 he taught singing at the grammar school in Old Brno. In the middle of his activities of that time, Janáček appears as an enthusiastic admirer of Dvořák’s works. He laid permanent grounds for the cult of Dvořák in Moravia.

When the newly founded Union for the Exaltation of Church music established the Organ School in Brno Janáček was appointed its director and stayed in the function until August 1919. He endeavoured to change the Organ School into Conservatory. In the Organ School Janáček developed his individual and versatile pedagogical activities and spread his pushing theoretic ideas which he used also in his critical activities, namely when he was publishing the magazine Hudební listy between 1884 and 1888. He worked not only as a composer but he raised attention by distinctive literary sketches and music theory writings in which he published the results of his artificial and folk music studies. He built theory which tried to trace the genetic origin of melody and rhythm in speech melodies. Janáček’s theory of speech melodies became the source and starting point of his music drama style.

Together with dialectologist František Bartoš Janáček studied and collected Moravian folk songs and was recognized as a prominent expert on Moravian folk music. In cooperation with Martin Zeman he put together a Moravian Slovak folk ensemble for the 1891 Jubilee Exhibition in Prague. In 1895 he became chairman of Moravian working committee for the Czech Folk Culture Exhibition in Prague where he among else introduced Moravian dances together with Lucie Bakešová. For his credits of Moravian folk music he was elected chairman of the Working Committee for Czech National Song in Moravia and Silesia (1905) and after the revolution (1918) chairman of the Moravian Committee of the State Institute for Folk Song. Soon he developed rather extent activities in organization, national revivalism and music education. In 1898 he established a circle for the support of symphonic orchestra and took part in establishing music section of Music Friends’ Circle in Brno which he had presided since 1910. He endeavoured of National Theatre artistic purgation. He demonstrated his interests in Russia and Russian language as a founder and chairman of Russian Circle. He led courses of Russian language, visited Russia three times (1896 and 1902) and took part in the preparations of the Pan-Slavonic Exhibition in St. Petersburg (1903). He sent his daughter Olga (died 1903) to his brother František, who was living in St. Petersburg, to study Russian. After the revolution he was named a professor at the Master School of the Prague Conservatory. He became a member of the Advisory Committee at the Ministry of Education and National Enlightenment, member of the Czech Academy of Sciences (1912), Prussian Academy of Arts (1927), corresponding member of The School of Slavonic Studies in London, chairman of Moravian Composers’ Club (1919), member in most of the important Czech music clubs and institutions. His most outstanding works were awarded national awards and prizes of the Czech Academy of Sciences. In 1925 he received an honorary doctorate of the Masaryk University in Brno, which was one of the highest honours for his whole life’s work. A memorial plaque was revealed on his native house in Hukvaldy and a memorial was built in Štramberk. Leoš Janáček died in the sanatorium of Dr. L. Klein in Moravian Ostrava on August 12, 1928.

During Janáček’s life his work successfully penetrated to the world’s prominent music centres, in particular to England and the German speaking countries.  

(materials of Janáček’s Study and Information Centre)
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