Janácek, Idyll for Strings
Leós Janácek, Idyll for Strings
Today I begin what I expect will be many posts dedicated to Czech music. We expect great music from great nations—Russia. France, England, Germany, Italy, Spain, America, India, China, Japan: they do not disappoint. But the prodigious and gorgeous output from the small Czech Republic ranks as their equal. It is a marvelous achievement, and one I want to celebrate in these pages.
In the decades before I stopped listening to music, I spent time with Dvorak and Smetana. I knew of Leós Janácek (and I own an old LP that includes Taras Bulba); I knew that he was a nationalist, and that he had spent years collecting folk music with Béla Bartók: but I was mostly unfamiliar with his work. It was a pleasure tonight, therefore, to first hear his Idyll for Strings.
An idyll is a peaceful contemplation of an idealized past. Janácek's Idyll for Strings is written in seven parts. Part 5 is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful compositions of High Romanticism.
Here is Pierre Cao conducting the Ad Artem Orchestra of Lorraine in Janácek's Idyll for Strings:
I photographed "Not from the Past You'll Come," the flowers above, on Temple Square in Salt Lake City (2006). The title is from the British World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon, and his poem "Idyll":
In the grey summer garden I shall find you
With day-break and the morning hills behind you.
There will be rain-wet roses; stir of wings;
And down the wood a thrush that wakes and sings.
Not from the past you’ll come, but from that deep
Where beauty murmurs to the soul asleep:
And I shall know the sense of life re-born
From dreams into the mystery of morn
Where gloom and brightness meet. And standing there
Till that calm song is done, at last we’ll share
The league-spread, quiring symphonies that are
Joy in the world, and peace, and dawn’s one star.