The soprano Martina Janková, the baritone Tomáš Král and the pianist Ivo Kahánek talk about inspirations and the coming into being of their joint album featuring Leoš Janáček’s Moravian songs (SU 4183–2), set to be released by Supraphon on 18 September 2015.
What was it like working together on the new CD?
MARTINA JANKOVÁ: I really enjoyed working with Ivo Kahánek and Tomáš Král. I could share with them the sheer delight which I myself experience when I return to my musical roots, as they feel it in a similar way, and so I know what I sing about.
TOMÁŠ KRÁL: Getting together with Martina and Ivo was immensely inspiring and refreshing. This was the first time we had worked together and I was pleasantly surprised by how rapidly we were able to get along as people and musicians.
IVO KAHÁNEK: Working with both of them was absolutely fabulous, we understood each other both in human and musical terms. I personally deem it extremely important that artists like each other and are also able to communicate together at the levels transcending the score, thus inspiring each other, which enhances the final result. That is precisely what I experienced with Martina and Tomáš, and I am very grateful to them for it!
What is your relationship to Janáček’s folk-based music?
MARTINA JANKOVÁ: Janáček’s songs are very delicate and sensitive arrangements of the original folk songs, which he enthusiastically collected. When pursuing his passion, he also visited Frýdlant nad Ostravicí, my home town, where I myself, at the age of four, had the opportunity to get to know and learn plenty of these beautiful songs from the Kotek family, superb musicians and dulcimer players. Janáček wrote about his encounter with Ignác Kotek (from whose tradition I myself draw) in one of his essays on the major sources of inspiration, mentioning the Koteks in first place. I am really glad that this singular musical beauty has been preserved up to the present day, even though the folk song tradition is not as attractive as it used to be. Thanks to these very songs, I actually began devoting to music professionally. I was enchanted when I was little and have never ceased to be.
TOMÁŠ KRÁL: In spite of being a native of Brno, Janáček’s city, and although I studied at the local Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts, I have only seldom performed Janáček’s music. Yet fortunately it was his “folksy” songs. As a singer, I would consider my portrayal of the role of Harašta the poacher in The Cunning Little Vixen more a process of becoming somewhat acquainted with Janáček’s opera music than a turning point in my career. But as a listener, I am very familiar with Janáček’s other operas, Jenufa in particular, as well as his orchestral works. I simply love his Sinfonietta.
IVO KAHÁNEK: I am not as great a connoisseur of Janáček’s folk-based music as Martina, who actually grew up surrounded by dulcimer music. But I myself too was nurtured by Janáček – especially his piano works, which my grandma played to me when I was little. His music, however, is so characteristic of and firmly rooted in the region from which both of us hail that it simply cannot leave me indifferent. The power and the musical wealth and profundity of Moravian songs, congenially augmented by Janáček, is up there with any other of the world’s music.
What most surprised you when recording the album?
MARTINA JANKOVÁ: I keep being surprised and astonished by how this short, simple folk song form is capable of encompassing the depth of entire lives, how unsentimentally and directly this music and these texts are able to tell of such great themes as death, war and love, requited and unrequited. For me it is like the essence or elixir of life. I have been singing a lot of “art” music, and it is beautiful to suddenly find oneself back in the simple, original musical world. It is immensely powerful and charming.
TOMÁŠ KRÁL: Perhaps I am not too audacious in saying that I too take my bearings in Janáček’s music and style… His folk-based works concern a specific musical stylisation, in which Martina, Ivo and I influenced and inspired each other, and I optimistically believe that we have got as close as possible to Janáček’s notion of performance. Hence, that which surprised me most was the promptitude and devotion with which all four of us, including Janáček, were able to inspire and supplement one another.
IVO KAHÁNEK: I was basically surprised by two things. Firstly, it was Tomáš, who within an incredibly short time perfectly transformed from a top-class early-music performer into a folk singer, while retaining all his professional qualities. When it comes to Martina, I have experienced it on several occasions and, with regard to her origin, I counted with it, but I did not expect such a rapid and perfect metamorphosis with Tomáš. And then I will never cease to be surprised and amazed by the imagination and versatility of Janáček’s accompaniments to the individual songs, wedding his boundless talent as a composer and his experience as a folklorist with his Moravian sensibility. Jiří Gemrot, the music director of our CD, himself a superlative composer and teacher of composition at the Prague Conservatory, confessed to me that he uses these songs as educational material when teaching accompaniment and harmonisation.