Leoš Janáček


Op. 60, JW6/18, JWvi/18 • “Military sinfonietta”

About this work

In 1925, Leos Janacek sat in an idyllic park on a sunny day and listened to a full-dress military band deliver a lovely performance. Afterward, he became intrigued with the idea of composing some military band fanfares of his own; when the organizers of the Sokol gymnastic festival asked him for "some music," he took the opportunity, and wrote a work entitled Military Sinfonietta and dedicated "To the Czechoslovak Armed Forces." Later, Janacek dropped the "Military" designation, and the work is now simply known as the Sinfonietta. The great conductor Vaclav Talich led its premiere performance in Prague on June 26, 1926. The patriotism that the military band had inspired found expression in the program Janacek eventually devised for the work, which depicts various scenes from Janacek's adopted home city of Brno in the aftermath of the declaration of Czech independence on October 28, 1918. The first movement features fanfares for orchestral brass; there are actually several increasingly quick themes which develop out of the original fanfare before the Maestoso conclusion, but all of them use the interval of the fifth prominently enough to be instantly recognizable as fanfares. The second movement depicts the castle Spilberk, with its underground dungeons, now controlled by the Czech people. It begins with a dance theme on oboes, accompanied by swirling 32nd notes, but soon introduces a lyrical theme. Both themes are sent on a wild ride of a development which unexpectedly comes to rest, with quiet, pastoral murmurings in the strings and harp supporting lyrical melodies. The dance theme returns to close the movement. The third movement, a depiction of Brno's monastery, features a lyrical theme, but this is interrupted as it is being passed around the orchestra by grim trombone fanfares and arching sprays of notes in the piccolo and flute. The trombone seems to triumph with a burlesque version of the lyrical theme, but the lyrical theme makes one last appearance, delicate and serene. The streets of Brno after liberation are the subject of the fourth movement; Janacek uses a fanfare-like theme as a call to virtually nonstop motion, broken up only by humorous tempo shifts and early entrances in the brass and bells. Brno's town hall is depicted in the triumphal fifth movement. Three flutes play a sad variant of the first fanfare, which is then developed slowly in the winds over a contrasting accompaniment of rushing strings. The work ends with a massive return of the fanfares and a gigantic coda, the brass accompanied by ecstatic orchestral swirls, proclaiming the joy of Czechoslovakia. The Sinfonietta is perhaps Janacek's finest orchestral work, and one of the most vibrant and life-affirming works ever written.