In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Leoš Janáček

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works and Catalogues
  • Collected Editions of Music and Writings
  • Janáček’s Correspondence
  • Volumes of Essays

Music Leoš Janáček
Geoffrey Chew
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0049


Leoš Janáček is arguably the most important 20th-century Czech composer of classical music. Before the Prague success in 1916 of his opera Jenůfa, whose first version was composed in 1904, he was best known to Czechs as a folklorist and teacher, but in his old age, between about 1917 and his death in 1928, he composed a series of important works—principally a series of operas as well as orchestral, vocal, and chamber works—that gradually established his international reputation. They are characterized by a direct, economical, and psychologically penetrating style, which often draws on his unique collections of nápěvky mluvy (“speech melodies,” in musical notation, showing the melodic shapes of language observed in conversational phrases) and sometimes draws on Moravian folk music. Many of his mature works were inspired by personal enthusiasms, such as the establishment of the First Czechoslovak Republic in 1918; Janáček’s adoption of Brno, the capital of Moravia, rather than Prague as his cultural base; his predilection for Russian literature and themes; and very particularly, his romantic attachment to his “muse,” Kamila Stösslová, whom he met first in 1917. Some of Janáček’s work, especially Jenůfa, was known in German-speaking countries as early as the 1920s and 1930s, and the composer visited England in 1926. However, his work did not become widely known further afield until after World War II and especially after the 1960s. (The acceptance of his work in his own country was hampered, although not in any decisive way, by the lifelong opposition to his work of the Czechoslovak Stalinist ideologue Zdeněk Nejedlý, a musicologist who became a Communist government minister after 1948; see Bek 2001–2002, cited under Critical and Political Reception.) The composer was also active as a writer and theorist, although his theoretical work is arguably still not adequately understood, despite the pioneering work by Michael Beckerman and others. Collected editions of Janáček’s works, both his music and his writings, are well underway although not without problems.

General Overviews

Any serious study of Janáček’s life and music will need at some point to consult Tyrrell 2006–2007, a comprehensive two-volume work in English based on a lifetime’s original research that supersedes all others in any language both in scope and in accuracy of detail. Of the shorter general introductions listed in this section, Zemanová 2002 is strong on documentation, Horsbrugh 1981 is still useful as a critical approach, and Saremba 2001 and the shorter Schwandt 2009 reflect up-to-date German-language scholarship. Vogel 1997 is still the most substantial Czech overview of the life and works and is worth consulting for that reason although now dated in many respects. Some older overviews (Brod 1924, Hollander 1963) are of interest mainly because of the stances of their authors: Max Brod was a personal friend of the composer who translated the texts of a number of his major works and was concerned to publicize his work; Hans Hollander was a German speaker who had worked professionally at Brno Radio and championed Janáček from enforced exile. The overviews in Reference Works and Catalogues should of course not be neglected.

  • Brod, Max. Leoš Janáček: Život a dílo. Translated by Alfred Fuchs. Prague: Hudební Matice Umělecké Besedy, 1924.

    Impressionistic account (including a work list evidently supplied by Janáček) intended to introduce a cultivated readership to a composer whom Brod thought neglected. Also published in the original German as Leoš Janáček: Leben und Werk (Vienna: Wiener Philharmonischer Verlag, 1925) and an expanded second edition (Vienna: Universal, 1956).

  • Hollander, Hans. Leoš Janáček: His Life and Work. Translated by Paul Hamburger. London: Calder, 1963.

    Published in English translation; an early attempt to expand the English-speaking public’s understanding of Janáček beyond the well-known operas. Also published in the original German as Leoš Janáček: Leben und Werk (Zurich, Switzerland: Atlantis, 1964).

  • Horsbrugh, Ian. Leoš Janáček: The Field That Prospered. Newton Abbot, UK: David and Charles, 1981.

    Nonspecialist survey of life and works concentrating on the late works from the point of view of a practical musician.

  • Saremba, Meinhard. Leoš Janáček: Zeit–Leben–Werk–Wirkung. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2001.

    General survey for a German readership by the author of the Janáček article in the standard German-language encyclopedia; of serious international significance.

  • Schwandt, Christoph. Leoš Janáček: Eine Biografie. Mainz, Germany: Schott, 2009.

    Short biography for a general German readership. The work list uses the standard numbering of the Simeone/Tyrrell/Němcová catalogue. Index of names only.

  • Tyrrell, John. Janáček: Years of a Life. 2 vols. London: Faber and Faber, 2006–2007.

    The standard biography, authoritative and indispensable, with extensive bibliography. Some chapters (a few by other authors, Czech and English) discuss related topics, musical and nonmusical, such as Janáček’s method of composing, his health, and his finances; some updated articles published elsewhere. The most serious gap is any adequate account of Janáček’s theory.

  • Vogel, Jaroslav. Leoš Janáček: A Biography. 3d rev. ed. Prague: Academia, 1997.

    Originally published in Czech as Leoš Janáček: Život a dílo (Prague: Státní hudební vydavatelství, 1963) and later in German, Polish, Russian, and English translations. The biography that was probably the most influential for half a century; the translations aimed to present Janáček authoritatively to a foreign public. Now dated, especially in the comments on the music.

  • Zemanová, Mirka. Janáček: A Composer’s Life. London: Murray, 2002.

    Useful short biography (originally written in English, not a translation) but without music examples. Draws on a sound knowledge of Janáček’s writings.

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