Composer Profile: Leo Janácek, The Czech Master

By David Salazar
(Credit: Michal Manas)

There is no other Czech composer with as much import to the opera repertory as Leo Janácek.

Born on July 3, 1854, he started his musical career playing the piano and organ before devoting himself to the art of composition. His musical style is best known for its emphasis on folk music, which he researched heavily throughout his ife.

In addition to his numerous operas, he left behind a number of major chamber works as well as orchestral pieces. He was also a noted musicologist with his music theory works and essays published and distributed widely.

He held a post at the Brno Conservatory for many years and in 1925 he retired from teaching, earning his first honorary doctorate from the Masaryk University shortly thereafter.

He died on August 12, 1928 in Ostrava and was given a large public funeral that featured a performance of the final scene from his very own “The Cunning Little Vixen.”

Major Works

The opera repertory has always had a place for such operas as “The Cunning Little Vixen,” “Jenufa,” and “Kat’a Kabanová,” but “From the House of the Dead” and “The Makropulos Affair” have also become increasing fixtures of the operatic repertory.

Overall, “The Cunning Little Vixen” is perhaps his most popular opera, which is often performed by musical institutions.

Watch and Listen

Here is a performance of “The Cunning Little Vixen.”

And this is an iconic recording of “From the House of the Dead.”

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