Leoš Janáček: Background information when reading 1Q84

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1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2011, 944 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2013, 1184 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Beyond the Book:
Leoš Janáček

Print Review

Most of Haruki Murakami's novels reference Western music, and 1Q84 is no exception. Czech composer Leoš Janáček's symphonic poem Sinfonietta features prominently throughout.

Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) was born in Hukvaldy, Moravia, in what was once known as the Austrian Empire. He is considered one of the early Czech nationalist composers, following in the footsteps of Bedřich Smetana and Antonin Dvořák (with whom he was close friends).

Leos JanacekMost of his work has its roots in Slavic folk music, although his style is celebrated as highly original. His first compositions were choral, and he is known primarily for his vocal works, including nine operas. Jenůfa (1904), his most celebrated opus, is often referred to as the "Moravian national opera."

Although he produced significant works in his 20s, Janáček's music wasn't accepted by the critics (or the public) until he was in his 50s, when performances of Jenůfa spotlighted his talent. Sinfonietta - perhaps the best known and most popular of Janáček's works - was completed in 1926, when he was 72. Originally composed as a series of brass and percussion fanfares for a gymnastics festival in early 1926, it was later expanded into a fully-orchestrated work in five movements. The piece is dedicated to the Czechoslovak Armed Forces, and Janáček often referred to it as a "military Sinfonietta," symbolizing "contemporary free man, his spiritual beauty and joy, his courage, strength and determination to fight for victory."

The work is brass-heavy, requiring fourteen trumpets (most professional orchestras only have four trumpet players on full salary at any one time), four trombones, and three tubas - plus a lot of percussion - and it's considered a very complex and difficult piece to perform. Its five movements (Fanfares, The Castle, The Queen's Monastery, The Street, and Town Hall) refer to the recently liberated city of Brno, Janáčeks adopted home town, and the mood of the piece is predominantly celebratory.

Sinfonietta was very popular from the onset and it rapidly gained widespread acclaim. It was performed in New York, Berlin, and Brno in 1927 before premiering in London, Vienna, and Dresden in 1928, the year of Janáček's death.

Click on the video below to hear the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra perform the 1st and 2nd movements of Janáček's Sinfonietta, or visit www.leosjanacek.co.uk to learn more about this fascinating composer's life.



Article by Kim Kovacs

This article was originally published in November 2011, and has been updated for the January 2013 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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