Work: Quartet for Strings no 2 "Intimate letters"
About This Work
"I consider the last decade of his life: his country independent, his music at last applauded, himself loved by a young woman," Milan Kundera wrote of Janácek, "his works become more and more bold, free, merry. A Picasso-like
old age." The woman was Kamila Stösslová, wife of an antiques dealer encountered during the first World War, 38 years his junior. And while she may have loved him in a general way of being flattered, tolerant, amused, uncomprehending, his passion seems to have been largely unrequited (recent research has shown that Janácek's "love" was, in this case, returned. - Ed.) Thus, a measure of teasing irritant stimulated Janácek's final years, provoking his last and greatest works. One catches glimpses of Kamila in the adulterous heroine of Kát'a Kabanová, the wily wisdom of the The Cunning Little Vixen, and the charismatic but distant allure of the deathless Emilia Marty, heroine of The Makropulos Case, while the virile directness of the Sinfonietta and the barbaric splendors of the Glagolitic Mass are immediate responses to a fascination becoming increasingly obsessive. Though he may have drawn upon an early, now lost, piano trio, the completion of the String Quartet No. 1 -- inspired by The Kreutzer Sonata, Tolstoy's tale of adultery and jealous murder given wing by music -- in just a little over a week (October 30-November 7, 1923) is testimony to an erotic frenzy. By the time of its composition, Janácek was writing to Kamila nearly every day, and in his last year kept a journal devoted to her. Nevertheless, he seems to have attempted to free himself from the tyranny she held over his imagination with the male-dominated From the House of the Dead -- which Kundera rated, with Berg's Wozzeck, as "the truest, the greatest opera of our dark century" -- though it is indicative that he interrupted that work's composition between January 29 and February 19, 1928, to give voice to the String Quartet No. 2, originally titled "Love Letters" but, for discretion's sake was re-christened "Intimate Letters." Its four movements are a drama of volatile, fluctuating emotion, from the opening rush of excited expectation through brusque turns of impetuosity, questioning, and caressing tenderness. The second movement is a passionate meditation veering from doubt to joy, while the third expands the mood of questioning to confront it with a passionate declaration. The final movement is a rondo in which the returns of a frenzied dance enclose shifts from ecstasy to despair, ending with triumphant assertion. Janácek died the following August 12.
-- Adrian Corleonis
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