Work: Concertino for Piano, 2 Violins, Viola, Clarinet, Horn and Bassoon
About This Work
Leos Janacek's Concertino for piano, two violins, clarinet, French horn, and bassoon was proximally inspired by the pianist Jan Herman's performance of his Diary of One Who Vanished; the performance instilled in Janacek the desire to write a concerto
for piano, and he would eventually dedicate the score to Herman. The Concertino dates from Janacek's exceptionally fertile last years, and Janacek wrote that "the whole thing comes from the youthful mood of the [wind] sextet Mladi." This would explain why, according to Janacek, the Concertino depicts nature scenes, featuring the young Janacek interacting with talking animals, in each of its four movements. Janacek combines this childlike subject matter with concertante piano writing, references to classical form, and clear-headed programmatic writing to craft a small masterpiece.
The first movement, which suggests sonata form, depicts a hedgehog struggling to get into his lair after Janacek and his friends have blocked off the entrance; the hedgehog is represented by a rising theme with a frustrated closing turn, played on the piano and echoed on the horn. This theme metamorphoses into a kinder theme built on the turn, but the hedgehog still cannot get in, and after a charming development section the movement closes with the first theme.
A squirrel darts from tree branch to tree branch in the second movement, represented by quick piano chords broken by long rests and accompanied by a scampering clarinet; even when Janacek cages the squirrel, it cannot stop running, as is shown by a new theme with two chords jumping down onto a long trill. The third movement, a study of night birds, transforms the three-note descending motif from the second movement into a march-like theme for its outer sections and a lyrical, spring-like theme -- played in arching wind lines and supported by the violins -- for its middle section.
A fourth movement brings all the animals together for a discussion, and features a descending motif, a retort, and a gallop theme in friendly competition with each other. The piano, acting as observer, manages to combine all the themes into a rousing climax which is eventually rejoined by all the woodland creatures. It is impossible not to respond to the 71-year-old Janacek's carefree evocation of youth, particularly with a work as well-crafted as this Concertino.
-- Andrew Lindemann Malone
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