Leoš Janáček’s Sinfonietta
Notes by TŌN cellist Kelly Knox
A New Nationalism
In the wake of the dissolution of multiple empires and the subsequent creation of independent states across Europe and Asia as a result of World War I, a new brand of nationalism and cultural fortification flourished. In 1918, the First Czechoslovak Republic emerged from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, and a main driver of Czech nationalism came from the resurgence of the Sokol Gymnastics Organization. This organization was founded in the mid-1800s, was dissolved because of the war, reemerged and became a bastion of Slavic culture once again in the 1920s, and continues to the present day.
The Composer’s Commission
Leoš Janáček took after his predecessor-contemporary Antonín Dvořák in that he was also a Czech composer, musical theorist, folklorist, and teacher. Much of his work is influenced and/or based off of Czech folklore and folk tunes, so it was especially fitting when the organizers for the Sokol Gymnastics Festival approached him with a commission. The fanfare Janáček wrote for military brass band eventually became the first movement of his Sinfonietta, and the material influence is found throughout the rest of the five movements.
The Sinfonietta is written for full orchestra with the notable addition of a staggeringly large brass section: twelve trumpets, four french horns, four trombones, two bass trumpets, tuba, and two tenor tubas. The first movement fanfare features these brass players and the timpani in a militaristic and nationalistic call to arms. The subsequent movements are named after places in Brno, a large city in south Moravia, and showcase Janáček’s characteristic short, repetitive musical ideas, and his constant nod to rhythmic and melodic ideas inspired by the Czech folk tradition. The piece closes with the military band joined by the winds and strings in a triumphant and striking finale.