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The Janáček Brno Festival: an immersion in the music of the Czech Lands this autumn – by Jan Smaczny

posted on 26/03/24


Bohemia’s woods and fields are well known not least in musical guise as part of Smetana’s great cycle of symphonic poems, My Country. Looking eastward, beyond the attractions of Prague and Bohemia, Moravia and its lovely capital, Brno, offer a fascinating and warm-hearted introduction to many other aspects of Czech culture.

South Moravia has a rich legacy both historically and musically; its rolling landscape and craggy hills produce the Czech Republic’s finest wines. Indeed, in some of its villages and small towns almost every other house seems to own a vineyard and, in due season, offers the new wine to passers-by for a small sum.


A view of Brno, taken by MRT's Fred Gold.

As with Bohemia, Moravia has a wealth of castles and great houses, among them the former Liechtenstein mansions of Lednice and Valtice. One of the most impressive Baroque buildings in the region, Valtice has superb interiors, marble-lined stables, a vast winter riding hall and a painstakingly accurate reconstruction of an eighteenth-century theatre complete with authentic stage machinery.

Brno’s abundant cultural heritage is evident throughout its historic centre. Descending in attractive terraces from the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul on Petrov hill, the city is, above all, human in scale. Evidence of the city’s more cosmopolitan nature and prosperity in the inter-war years is the Villa Tugendhat designed by Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich. Enjoying one of Brno’s many urban valley views, the Villa has an interior which makes functionalism both comfortable and beguiling.

The importance of music in Brno’s life is charmingly evident in the Leoš Janáček House, built for him in the grounds of the Organ School and now a museum to his memory. But his music comes alive, of course, on stage. The Janáček Theatre is quite different from any of the theatres the composer would have known, including the attractive Mahen Theatre of 1882. Dating from 1965, and refurbished in 2018, the Janáček Theatre is modernist and brilliantly designed with generous foyer space for promenading and the auditorium has seductively comfortable seating. The Brno company, with its superb chorus and long experience in native repertoire, has been responsible for some of the best productions of Czech opera I have seen, including Rusalka and Jenůfa, and should prove the ideal interpreters of Janáček’s rarely seen Excursions of Mr Brouček.  Nicky Spence, one of today’s finest Janáček singers, as the rebarbative Brouček leads a vast cast in this huge operatic canvas ranging from hilarious satire on the moon to grand pageant and high seriousness in fifteenth-century Prague.


Villa Tugendhat, Tamas Meszaros ©

Our tour Music of the Czech Lands is led by Professor Jan Smaczny, 31 October–5 November 2024.