July 3 birthday of Leos Janáček: Taras Bulba–Rhapsody for Orchestra (1918)

Leoš Janáček (1854 – 1928) is the second most famous Czech composer after Dvorak. I’m a bigger fan of his “Sinfonetta,” but Taras Bulba showcases his syncretism of classical, folk and 20th century musical currents.

June 21. Pavel Haas’ Birthday: A Study For Strings

Another victim of the goddamned Holocaust.  Czech composer, Pavel Haas, was one of the most successful of Leoš Janáček‘s pupils.  This piece was written in Theresienstadt, a concentration camp located in former Czechoslovakia where he wrote the piece.  This camp was the one that was dressed up for a visit from the International Red Cross to prove that no Jews were suffering.  A film was made of this by a director hired by the camp’s commandant.  It showed a children’s choir singing one of Haas’ works.  After the film was finished, 18,000 inmates were transferred to Auschwitz where they were gassed in 1944.

It is hard to believe that 72 years later, acts of terrorism, hate crimes against gays, and murder of people of color, and massacres by one religious faction of another, still have not abated.  No lessons learned from WWII?

Here’s his wikipedia entry.

Leos Janacek: Sinfonietta

Brass music rarely does it for me. Janacek’s “Sinfonietta,” however, full of brass and timpani crashes, really stirs me. Composed for a gymnastic festival in 1926, when the composer was 72, it is filled with themes, moods, and colors that evoke the passion and pride of the Czech people. Some parts are bombastic, others have passages filled with shimmering violins that fill the piece with light. It also contains a number of peasant-inspired passages, which shows in a way that Janacek was a forerunner of Bartok, who studied and expanded Western music with the introduction of complicated “primitivistic” harmonies and rhythms.

Janacek experienced a second spate of creativity toward the end of his life, from which “Sinfonietta” comes. Supposedly that phase was inspired by a married woman, 38 years his younger with whom he formed a passionate, but platonic, relationship. A new lease on life. We don’t always know it, but often receive the opportunity to have new leases on life. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to find people who can point out when it’s necessary to abandoned old forms of thought or behaviors in favor of new and fertile ones.

Buy MP3 or CD of Sinfonietta on Amazon

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