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Concertino for Piano, Two Violins, Viola, Clarinet, Horn and Bassoon

About the Work

Quick Look Composer: Leos Janácek
Program note originally written for the following performance:
National Symphony Orchestra: Christoph Eschenbach, conductor / Music of Dvorák & Janácek Fri., Mar. 23, 2012, 8:00 PM
© Peter Laki

Janácek imagined an elaborate program detailing what he had in mind for his Concertino for piano and seven instruments, originally called Spring. He even published this program in a magazine article, making up little stories about a hedgehog (movement 1), a squirrel (movement 2), various night owls (movement 3) and a whole group of forest animals (movement 4). The nature setting clearly echoed Janácek's opera The Cunning Little Vixen, completed two years earlier in 1923.

In Janácek's late works, a lifelong search for a thoroughly modern idiom, based on elements derived from the folk music of his native Czech-Moravian region, was beginning to yield some startling results. Working with extremely simple melodic building blocks, the composer found some rather unusual ways of putting those blocks together.

The first movement is scored for piano and horn, the second for piano and clarinet; only in the last two movements can the entire ensemble of seven instruments be heard.

The opening movement is dominated by a strikingly harsh unaccompanied melody played by the piano, with a soft three-note response from the horn, which is repeated over and over again. In between recurrences of this theme, the two instruments share some more romantic episodes, but the last word again belongs to that stubborn refrain, even though the last time it sounds a little more subdued.

In the second movement, the solo piano's partner is the piccolo (E-flat) clarinet. The stop-and-go rhythmic motif of the piano is contrasted with a playful folk-like tune in the clarinet.

The three string instruments (two violins and a viola) and the bassoon join the ensemble in the third movement, in which energetic and lyrical moments alternate all the way to the spirited ending.

The lively folk melody of the last movement grows out of a brief, precipitously falling motivic idea; having assumed the form of a dance, it gathers more and more momentum as the exuberant conclusion approaches.