Kamila was the inspiration for most of Janácek’s operatic heroines, and one sunny day in 1925 the improbable couple sat in a park in the town of Pisek, where Kamila lived with her husband. Spellbound, they listened to a performance by a military band marching in full uniform. This overt sense of patriotism and nationalism, particularly in the aftermath of the declaration of Czech independence in October 1918, had always appealed to Janáček. And when he was asked to compose music for the gymnastic “Sokol festival”—a movement that celebrated youth, sport and an independent nationhood—Janáček readily gave expression to his notion of national identity.
Initially, the work was titled “Military Sinfonietta” and dedicated to the “Czechoslovak Armed Forces.” According to the composer, “it embodied the ideals of contemporary free man, his spiritual beauty and joy, his strength, courage and determination to fight for victory.” Eventually he dropped the “Military” designation, and the work became simply known as the Sinfonietta.
Depicting various scenes and locations associated with the city Brno after the 1918 declaration of independence, Janáček writes, “I saw the town undergo a miraculous change. I lost my dislike for the gloomy Town Hall, my hatred of the hill from whose depths so much pain was screaming, my distaste for the street and its throng. As if by a miracle, liberty was conjured up, glowing over the town. I saw myself in it. I belonged to it. And the blare of the victorious trumpets, the holy peace of the Queen’s Monastery, the shadows of the night, the breath of the green hill and the vision of the growing greatness of the town, of my Brno, were all giving birth to my Sinfonietta.” The work premiered in Prague on 26 June 1926, with the exceptional Czech conductor, violinist and pedagogue Václav Talich leading the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra in a rousing performance.
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