Leoš Janáček and the Avant-garde of the Twenties

  • Miloš Štědroň


A brief consideration of Janáček's connections with the modernist trends in the music of the twenties involves an exact analysis of his later work. In the work of this composer who was born in the fifties of the last century we find a number of the fundamental problems of modern music, such as melodies and chords of the forth, the whole-tone scale, the loss of tonality and tonal centre, some characteristics of tetrachordal groups, the beginnings of bitonality, an original use of macro- and micro-techtonics often operating with the so-called constant montage, and finally the beginnings of working with two desparate layers at the same time. The author tries to show the relation of Janáček, composer and man, to the avant-garde of the twenties. His relation to Schönberg was intensest in 1920 when he studied his »Harmonielehre« in detail; later, however, it assumed a critical aspect, as can be seen from his observations on the book mentioned and on certain compositions of Schönberg (Serenade in Venice 1925). After the encounter of both composers in Berlin (1926) Janáček wrote to Max Brod: »Schreker and Schönberg came to me to compliment me on the opera Káta Kabanova. This gave me the greatest pleasure . . .« He emphasized consciously his relation to the avant-garde in the speech on the occasion of his promotion on January 28tn, 1925, when he said: ». . . The moderns Schreker, Schönberg, Debussy feel in the same manner as I . . .« In the last two years of his life Janáček came to know the work of Berg also. He realised intuitively the profound significance of the genius of the Austrian musical dramatist and commented in the following manner: ». . . He is a dramatist of astounding significance, of deep truth. Let him speak! . . . his every note has been steeped in blood . . .« The author draws attention to the apparent ideological similarity of »Wozzeck« and of Janáček's last opera »From the House of the Dead«. The paper brings some additional evidence of Janáček's connections with the avant-garde. The author points out that Paul Hindemith first performed Janáček's violin sonata in 1923 and that he prepared some further performances. His relation to Béla Bartók is indicated by the concert arranged by Janáček in Brno on March 3rd, 1925. Janáček heard, analysed and criticised also a number of compositions by Igor Stravinsky. Further the enthusiasm of the younger generation for Janáček's work is documented: the two letters of Paul Dessau, the visit of the American experimentalist Henry Cowell who later nominated Janáček together with Bartók, Hába, Křenek, Berg and so on as honorary members of the New Music Society of California, the sincere relation of the Prague Society for Modern Music to the composer who had been its honorary member since December 16th, 1924. Finally the author outlines the most important characteristics of the music of the twentieth century in Janáček's work, which clearly forshadow the sphere of European music of the twenties and thirties.


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How to Cite
ŠtědroňM. (1968). Leoš Janáček and the Avant-garde of the Twenties. Musicological Annual, 4(1), 88-97. https://doi.org/10.4312/mz.4.1.88-97