JANÁČEK Leoš, Concertino

For piano, two violins, viola, clarinet, horn and bassoon

Più mosso
Con moto

Janáček started his Concertino after hearing the pianist Jan Heřman playing his song-cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared in November 1924. The composer told Heřman that he’d played it ‘magnificently, like no one else’, and he soon set to work on a piece for him. The first sketches are dated ‘Prague, 1 January 1925, by the Vltava’ and ‘11 January 1925, on the train from Prague’, but this piece recalls not the nation’s capital where it was conceived, but the Moravian countryside where Janáček grew up and where, in fact, the work was finished: the manuscript is dated on the title page ‘Hukvaldy, 29 April 1925’. Though not stated on the score, the Concertino is programmatic. Janáček wrote to Heřman that ‘it arose from the youthful mood of the sextet Mládí’ and in a letter to Kamila Stösslová he told her that he had composed ‘a piano concerto – Spring. There’s a cricket, midges, a roebuck, a torrent – yes, and a man!’ In a later description from 1927, the theme of spring remained, but Janáček assigned a specific animal character to each of the first three movements: a hedgehog for the first, a squirrel for the second, and various nocturnal animals for the third. According to a note on the autograph manuscript, the fourth movement represents a rushing torrent. The result is one of Janáček’s most enchanting and untroubled chamber works, notable for some typically inventive scoring as well as its great charm. Much to Jan Heřman’s understandable irritation, he didn’t give the first performance of the Concertino that Janáček dedicated to him. In a letter of 1 July 1925, Janáček agreed to let the young pianist Ilona Štěpanová-Kurzová give the première, which she did on 16 February 1926, at a concert of the Club of Moravian Composers in Brno.

Nigel Simeone © 2011


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