Na Soláni Čarták for male chorus and orchestra (1911, revised 1920)
(b. Hukvaldy, Moravia, 3 July 1854 — d. Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, 12 August 1928)
Na Soláni Čarták
For male chorus and orchestra (1911, revised 1920)
Leoš Janáček spent virtually his entire life in Moravia, a region that currently forms the eastern part of the Czech Republic. He studied piano, organ, and composition in Prague, Leipzig, and Vienna. His earliest professional efforts focused on teaching music in Brno and exploring the folk music of Moravia and neighboring Silesia. While he wrote music from an early age, it was only later in life that composing became a fulltime occupation for him.
The style of his music can be seen as growing out of the nationalistic movement that pervaded so much of European art in the second half of the nineteenth century. Like his compatriots Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884) and Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904), Janáček was able to glean much from the folk music of his homeland, including melodies, harmonies, and rhythms. However, he gradually developed a compositional style that was very unique and easily identifiable as his own, and which is evidenced in his instrumental and vocal music. Many scholars consider that he didn’t develop his distinctive, mature style until around 1900, making it logical to consider him a twentieth-century composer stylistically.
During much of his lifetime, Janáček’s music was little known outside of Moravia; at the time, it was seldom performed beyond the region. It wasn’t until his opera Její pastorkyňa (more commonly known as Jenůfa) was produced in Prague, in 1916, that awareness of his works began to grow nationally and beyond. Today, his international reputation rests largely on his later compositions. Several operas are frequently performed, such as Kát’a Kabanová (1921), Příhody Lišky Bystroušky (The Cunning Little Vixen, 1924), and Věc Makropulos (The Makropulos Affair, 1926). His Mša glagolskaja (Glagolitic Mass, 1928) is also well known as is much of his later instrumental music for piano and chamber ensemble.
The same cannot be said for most of Janáček’s choral music. He wrote a great deal of secular and sacred music for a variety of accompanied and unaccompanied choruses, showing a predilection for male voices. Unfortunately, this portion of his creative output is not performed nearly as much as the operas and instrumental music. The most likely reason for this is the language of the texts, which are almost exclusively in Czech. Modern choral ensembles are often used to singing in Latin, French, German, perhaps Italian or Spanish, and their native tongue, but rarely in Czech. Even Janáček’s operas sometimes get produced in other languages due to singers’ unfamiliarity with the Czech language.
The current work is no exception. The original Czech title is Na Soláni Čarták. It has been performed, published, and recorded under many other titles, including Čarták sur Soláň, Droben auf der Höhe, Die Schenke in den Bergen, and There Upon the Mountain. Čarták is the name of an inn found on the slopes of Soláň, a hill in the Beskid Mountains, which form part of the Carpathian Mountain Range. It is a short, secular cantata for men’s chorus and orchestra, with an extended tenor solo. The work was commissioned for the 50th anniversary of the group Orlice, a male choir based in Prostějov, Moravia; it was originally completed in 1911 and premiered in 1912.
For the text, Janáček chose a poem by Martin Kurt, a pseudonym used by Dr. Maximilián Kunert for his creative output. It was taken from a collection of poems that had been issued in Ostrava in 1908. The narrative is in first person, told from the perspective of a man who is missing his sweetheart. In the course of the poem, he comes across a lodge on the side of a mountain (hence the title Na Soláni Čarták). There he discovers and becomes intimate with a farmer’s daughter, all of which helps him stop pining for his former girlfriend. Janáček gives the more descriptive passages of the verse to the men’s chorus, while the solo tenor sings the more emotional portions.
Though the cantata only lasts for seven to eight minutes, Janáček has imbued the music with some of his strongest themes, including a vivid depiction of nature and the never-ending sense of longing; these ideas both recur throughout his mature music. The frequently alternating meter and extended use of polyrhythms provide a fluidity and ongoing sense of instability. Vocal lines are shaped to reflect the patterns of speech; and an unresolving, modal harmonic scheme contributes to the unsettled feeling that permeates the music.
Janáček provided extensive revisions for a planned performance in 1920, and while there are some indications that he might have made further changes in 1923, there is no known evidence of what they might have been. The 1920 version has been recast from triple meter to duple meter, with major changes in barring. Occasional alterations have been made to the orchestration, and some of the instrumental passages have been trimmed, yielding a heightened dramatic intensity.
Na Soláni Čarták was originally published in Prague by Státní nakladatelstvi krásné literatury, hudby a umĕné in 1958, in both full score and vocal score. A critical edition, which is republished here, was issued jointly by Supraphon and Bärenreiter in 1981. Performance materials are available for hire from Bärenreiter Praha. A recording of the cantata was made in October 1965 by the Prague Philharmonic Choir and Prague Symphony Orchestra, with Beno Blachut singing the solo, and Jiří Pinkas conducting; it has been reissued numerous times.
In the classic biography of Janáček, Jaroslav Vogel provides historical background and offers a short analysis of the work.1 More recently, in the first volume of an extensive chronological exploration of Janáček’s life, John Tyrrell presents additional historical information about Na Soláni Čarták.2 As an example of Janáček’s mature vocal music, this is a characteristic work that is well worth exploring.
David Procházka, The University of Akron, October 2016
1 Vogel, Jaroslav. Leoš Janáček: A biography. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1981), 201-204.
2 Tyrrell, John. Janáček: Years of a life. (London: Faber and Faber, 2006), v. 1, 770-773.
For performance material please contact Bärenreiter, Prague. Reprint of a copy from the Musikbibliothek der Münchner Stadtbibliothek, Munich.