"What We're Listening To:" Leoš Janáček Violin Sonata
Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) was a Czech composer, folklorist, music theorist, publicist, and teacher. His early musical works were heavily influenced by his folklore research and his contemporaries such as Antonín Dvořák. His later works still incorporated national folk music but in a more modern and original way. This mature style of his was first represented in his opera, Jenůfa, which premiered in 1904. Janáček’s later works are his most admired, included various operas, string quartets and chamber works. Along with Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana, he is considered one of the most influential Czech composers.
Janáček’s Violin Sonata was written in the summer of 1914, but it was not his first attempt to write this piece. He had already tried writing a violin sonata as a student at the conservatoire in Leipzig in 1880, and again during his time studying in Vienna. His early sonatas today have been lost. It took about thirty-five years for Janáček to try composing for this instrumentation again, but he himself is quoted saying, “…in the 1914 Sonata for violin and piano I could just about hear sound of the steel clashing in my troubled head…” Its first performance was by violinist František Kudláček and pianist Jaroslav Kvapil in 1922 in the Czech Republic. Its first performance abroad took place in Germany a year later, and was played by renowned German composer Paul Hindemith.
Included below is a performance of this Violin Sonata by violinist Christel Lee. She is accompanied by pianist Juhani Lagerspetz.