Parnas Quintet

10:00 am
L. Janáček Memorial
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L. Janáček, P. Haas, G. Ligeti, M. Arnold

Leoš Janáček – Youth

Pavel Haas – Wind Quintet

György Ligeti – Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet

Malcolm Arnold – Three Shanties

Parnas Quintet

Leoš Janáček: Youth


Andante sostenuto, vivace,

Allegro animato

“I thought about it in May 1924; I wrote the music in July 1924.” “I have composed some reminiscences of youth.” Leoš Janáček (1854–1928) spent his childhood at the Old Brno Monastery, lonely and impoverished. However, as a mature septuagenarian, surrounded by international success and honours, he forgot about those hardships and instead fondly recalled happy stories, motifs from nature and the youthful moods which influenced him. While he was staying in Hukvaldy in 1924, he started to compose the refreshingly inventive and joyous wind sextet Youth. It sparkles with wit, colour and wellbeing. Only in the second movement are there more melancholic and brooding tones, soon to be replaced by the joyful and exuberant March of the Bluebirds, which Janáček inserted into the score of Youth. The wind sextet was premiered in Brno on 21 October 1924, though the concert was unfortunately marred by a technical fault with the clarinet. In November, however, Youth was performed in Prague without any mishaps, and this signalled the start of its successful journey to international renown.

Pavel Haas: Wind Quintet op. 10

Preludio. Andante, ma vivace

Preghiera. Misterioso e triste

Balo eccentrico. Ritmo marcato

Epilogo. Maestoso

117 years ago, on 21 June, World Music Day, Pavel Haas (1899–1944) was born into a Jewish family of shoe sellers from Brno. He demonstrated a talent for music even in childhood, and he was fortunate enough to become a pupil of Jan Kunc and Leoš Janáček at the conservatory. His brother Hugo was also musically gifted, but he soon became attracted to theatre and film, which he prioritized over his career as an opera singer. It was mainly thanks to Leoš Janáček that Pavel Haas developed a great respect for folk music, which he skilfully absorbed into his work. His unique musical language was also shaped by his exposure to the jazz and popular music of the time (he also composed music for three of his brother’s films) as well as to the works of the great composers, and especially by his experience of the work of his teacher. The Wind Quintet op. 10 was composed in 1929. It is a fresh piece of work by a thirty-year-old composer, showcasing his exceptional abilities, talent and great future. Sadly, however, Pavel Haas was to live for only another 15 years, meeting his end in a brutal mass murder in the gas chambers of Auschwitz in 1944.

György Ligeti: Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet

Allegro con spirito

Rubato. Lamentoso

Allegro grazioso (attaca)

Presto ruvido

Adagio. Mesto (in memoriam Béla Bartók)

Molto vivace. Capriccioso

“I see a large muddy sewer full of stinking excrement…” is the striking start to the diary entry of 2 March 1955 by the Czech composer and intellectual Jan Rychlík. The hopeless atmosphere of the 1950s in the Hungarian People’s Republic, as it was declared on 15 August 1949, was very familiar to Czechs. György (Sándor) Ligeti was born seven years later than Jan Rychlík, in 1923, into a Jewish family in Transylvania.  Not long afterwards, his family moved to Kolozsvár, where Ligeti began his musical education. At the age of sixteen he had to contend with the first totalitarian government, that of the Nazis, and then shortly after the war ended he was subjected to Stalinist totalitarianism. After the bloody suppression of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956, the composer went into exile, and until his death in 2006 he was never to return to Hungary for any length of time. In the context of music history, György Ligeti’s music is associated with the trends of the second avant-garde and with the emergence and establishment of New Music. Due to his strong personality and as a result of his unfortunate experiences in life, Ligeti was always against an authoritative definition of progress, and so his musical style, with its inclination towards distinctive timbres and interest in tonal qualities as a vehicle for musical ideas, deviated somewhat eccentrically from the main currents of modernism. Under pressure from the Stalinist dictatorship, Ligeti’s main public role in the early 1950s was that of an arranger of folk songs for choirs, an activity which was encouraged – as in Czechoslovakia – as part of the development of folk art. In private, however, he was working with a far more sophisticated musical language, which can be heard in his Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet from 1953. Bagatelles are short, simple instrumental pieces, mainly for piano (almost everybody knows the famous Für Elise), and Ligeti’s bagatelles also have their basis in piano music. Ligeti developed the Bagatelles for Wind Quintet from an earlier collection of eleven short pieces for solo piano entitled Musica Ricercata (1951–1953). They are basically transcriptions of parts III, V, VII, VIII, IX and X. The composition is structured around fairly strict limits, based mainly on a significant reduction of tonal material, from two tones (A, D) in the first part to twelve in the eleventh part. Because of this, greater emphasis is placed on rhythm, tone and other elements. Unfortunately, the premiere of this wonderful work Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet had to wait, quite understandably, until 1969.

Malcolm Arnold: Three Shanties for Wind Quintet

Allegro con brio - Allegretto semplice - Allegro vivace

The work of the British composer Sir Malcolm Arnold (1921–2006) is not characterized by striking compositional progression. The composer was always inclined towards tonality and romanticism, following on from the tradition of Hector Berlioz. His and Berlioz’s work are also linked by a refined skill for instrumentation. However, Arnold’s greatness lies in his almost cynically ironic treatment of art and music, be it “highbrow” and “classical” or “lowbrow”, “folk” or popular. As a respected composer of film music, he was familiar with all of the subtleties of illustration through sound, and he enjoyed employing numerous clichés and trivializing their heightened tension. The very popular Three Shanties for Wind Quintet from 1943 are a fine example of the wonderfully light touch he brought to composition. A drunken sailor is drinking himself into a stupor and we hear the confused steps of a tango on the coast of South America and worsening articulation, accentuated by hiccups on the minor third. Essentially, “What shall we do with the drunken sailor?”. The second part, the allegretto semplice, is then set up as a contrasting paraphrase to the traditional “Boney was a warrior”. In the closing section we return to sailors in a tavern, and the merry, even boisterous atmosphere of the exuberant drunkards is illustrated by quotations from the song “Johnny came down to Hilo”.

The Parnas Quintet is a wind group made up of top players from the ensembles of the National Theatre in Brno and the Brno Philarmonic. Its repertoire focuses mainly on music by Czech composers, and one of the first works ever performed by the group was today’s quintet by Pavel Haas. However, they also skilfully juxtapose masterworks by Czech composers with hits and perennial favourites from the international core repertoire for quintets.

Viktor Pantůček

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+420 542 158 120


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