20. 11. 2021, 7 pm

Besední dům

Prague Philharmonic Choir

Choirmaster: Lukáš Vasilek

Soloists: Kateřina Kněžíková (soprano), Jana Hrochová (alto), Jiří Brückler (baritone), Boris Stepanov (tenor)

Piano – Stanislav Gallin, Marcel Javorček, Martin Levický, Lenka Navrátilová

Josef Bohuslav Foerster (1859–1951): Die Weihe der Nacht, Op. 87/I

For female choir and piano

Leoš Janáček (1854–1928): Wolf´s Footprints JW IV/39

for soprano and tenor solo, female choir and piano

Josef Bohuslav Foerster (1859–1951): Abendlied, Op. 89/b

for male choir a cappella

Leoš Janáček (1854–1928): The Wandering Madman JW IV/43

for soprano, tenor and baritone solo, and male choir a cappella

Vítězslav Novák (1870–1949): Four Poems by Otokar Březina, Op. 47 – selection (3. Magic Midnights, 4. Thus Sang the Burning Stars)

for mixed choir a cappella

Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971): The Wedding

for solos, mixed choir, four pianos and percussion

The concert offers a cross-section through the essential Czech and Moravian choral works of the first two decades of the 20th century (with some overlap, of course). During this period, which was a hectic time not only for music, the trio of composers Foerster – Novák – Janáček indicated the future direction of choral art. It is clear that Janáček´s work represented a fundamental shift from the then-current way of composing for choirs. This is also shown in other choral compositions featured in the programme for this concert. The second half will feature one of the foremost choral works of the 20th century, Stravinsky´s The Wedding.

For Josef Bohuslav Foerster, the pre-war period was an extremely fruitful and happy one. The author, who lived in Vienna at that time, had his works published by Universal Edition, a publishing house that published many of the major musical achievements of Central Europe at that time. The composition for female choir with piano accompaniment Die Weihe der Nacht dates back to 1910. Foerster wrote it based on the text of a poem by Christian Friedrich Hebbel, and originally provided it with an orchestral accompaniment. It is a kind of nocturne in which both the choir and accompaniment deliver some charming moments of onomatopoeia. The male choral work Abendlied (Evening Song) was composed in 1916 based on a poem by Gustav Kellar, and was again distributed by the prestigious Universal Edition publishing house.

Janáček composed for the female choir briefly at the beginning of 1916, when he created four choral pieces for texts by F. S. Procházka, including Wolf´s Footprints, a poem by Jaroslav Vrchlický. It is not a coincidence that he composed for the female choir during the war period. It was due to the fact that his tried-and-tested Moravian Teacher´s Choir had been so decimated by the loss of men going to the front that it could no longer tour, and so choirmaster Ferdinand Vach thus established the Moravian Female Teacher´s Choir. Wolf´s Footprints also had its premiere the same year. Janáček´s female choral works are rarely performed due to their difficulty, and this is also an opportunity for us to admire the composer´s incomparable invention and unmistakable use of female voices.

The work for male choir with a soprano solo The Wandering Madman was created ten years after Janáček’s trio of choral pieces for Bezruč´s texts. In 1921, Janáček attended a lecture by Rabindranath Tagore, where he noted down the melodies of the poet´s speech before later publishing a column on the subject. The world of this thinker was probably close to that of Janáček, and so shortly afterwards, in 1922, he composed a choral work based on Tagore’s work which is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the choral art. Janáček´s manuscript with a part of the composition decorates the composer´s grave at Brno’s Central Cemetery.

At one point in time, Vítězslav Novák was one of the nation’s most respected artists internationally. As with Foerster, his lucky star rose and shone just before the Great War. Otokar Březina´s poems, which Novák set to music in his mixed a capella choral works from 1912, are a certain philosophical meditation in the context of European symbolism. They are the very first pieces for mixed choir that Novák composed. They are difficult works to perform, and due to their almost mystical nature, they weren´t as well-received as Novák´s previous folk-infused choral composition. The four pieces based on the texts of Otokar Březina´s poems rank among Novák´s most remarkable choral works.

By way of creating a contrast to the featured Czech and Moravian music, one of the world’s top choral works of the 20th century will also be performed – Igor Stravinsky’s The Wedding for solos, mixed choir, four pianos and percussion. The author started working on it in 1913 and finished the score in 1917. He used Russian wedding texts collected by Piotr Kirievsky for his composition. The Wedding was created alongside Stravinsky´s most famous work, The Rite of Spring, and just as it is there, the main motor of The Wedding is the rhythm, harsh and fascinating. The composer dedicated the “Dance scenes with music and voices” (the subtitle) to the Russian Ballet, and it performed this unusual work in 1923 with choreography by Bronislava Nijinska. Even though The Wedding is one of Stravinsky´s most distinctive works, it is performed only exceptionally due to the difficulties involved in performing and staging it.

Author: Jiří Zahrádka