Discovering Leos Janacek Anew

Misty fall 37
Diffuse elegance. © Charles Thibo

Many years ago I got lost in a patch of fog. I had gone for a Sunday morning walk along the Mulde river in Eastern Germany. I was familiar with the place, but over time what had started as a haze became a dense, opaque fog. Gradually all the landmarks I needed for my orientation vanished, and at some point I reckoned that I was walking in circles. I couldn’t see the sun, I saw no trees, just green fields, the grey fog and occasionally the river or one of its dead branches. I heard no sound. Panic struck me, my heart was beating fast, and I imagined all kind of horrific and absurd scenarios, one of them being killed and dragged into the river.

Crazy, isn’t it? Fear is a powerful, overwhelming emotion, blocking rational thought and often leading to a dreadful self-fulfilling prophecy. I sensed some of that in Leos Janacek’s piano cycle “In the Mists” (V Mlhach, JW VIII/22), recorded by the Luxembourg pianist Cathy Krier. The fog hovering over the landscape, the feeling of being lost and forgotten, the panic over one’s anticipated death – it’s all there. Or so at last it seems to me.

Janacek wrote very little piano music. Nevertheless he left behind several unique and valuable pieces in this genre and “In the Mists” is one of them. The publisher Bärenreiter speaks of “a highly personal reflection of [Janacek’s] inmost feelings”. It consists of four pieces or sections: Andante, Molto adagio, Andantino and Presto. Janacek wrote it in 1912, it was published a year later. “In the Mists” was Janacek’s entry for a competition sponsored by the Club of the Friends of Art in Brno. Following the first performance of the work in Prague by the pianist Stepan Vaclav in December 1922, the composer and interpreter jointly undertook a revision, which was published in 1924.

The French musicologist Jérémie Rousseau sees in Janacek’s works the perpetual quest for musical truth, pure expressivity, and the mysterious glow around the four pieces of “In the Mists”, it’s impressionist language, reminding me of Claude Debussy, may reflect some of the tragedies in Janacek’s life. in 1903 his daughter had died, his relationship with bis wife was an ongoing crises and the composer suffered from the lack of recognition for his works in his home country. “In the Mist” is marked by dramatic contrasts of gentle melodies and “foggy” sound clouds on the one hand and sharp breaks and violent eruptions on the other hand.

Janacek is one of those composers I have to discover anew each time I listen to them. Far from the main stream of classical music, each time I listen to one of his pieces I seem to discover them for the first time and echo time I am delighted about the subtlety of Janacek’s works.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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