New Classical Tracks: Diving into Janacek's piano works

by Julie Amacher
January 8, 2014

Listen New Classical Tracks: Cathy Krier plays Janacek

Cathy Krier - Leoš Janáček: The Piano - Cavi Music 8553290

Pianist Cathy Krier is from one of the smallest European nations, Luxembourg. According to Krier, size doesn't matter, in part because of the country's close proximity to Germany, France and Belgium. "Luxembourg is a great country for music and for artistic development because there is a lot that's going on in culture," she says, "and you have a lot of support because we are such a small country."

This past year, Cathy Krier gained support through an artistic residency in Paris that is helping her put Luxembourg on the map. She researched more than 100 piano works by a 19th-century Czech composer she has long admired, and one who is difficult to categorize: Leoš Janáček. Those carefully chosen pieces are now featured on her second recording simply titled, Leoš Janáček: The Piano.

It reflects two very different sides of this composer. "He was kind of a strange guy, to be honest," Krier says. "Because he was not at all recognized in his early years and everybody felt that he was just a strange composer somewhere in the middle of nowhere, doing his own thing that nobody understood. And he had a lot of really bad situations in his life. His children died and yes, this lack of recognition — I think that you can really hear it in his music.

"And then on the other hand, when he was an old man, he fell madly in love with this young girl and wrote every day some love letters to her, and also these very small sketches that I also decided to record, as a present. So I think he was a really complicated person but very passionate."

Krier says the essence of Janáček's music lies in the rhythm of the Czech language. "And if you listen to the Czech language, you have a lot of consonants," she says. "It's not such a beautiful, smooth language — as, for example, Italian. I'm sure that affected his music a lot.

"[Janáček's] way of composing is really modern, as he uses very small, tiny little things that he's writing again and again and again. And it is that that makes it so intense. And what is also very, very modern in my opinion is that he has very harsh changes of atmosphere. There is no intermission or development from a very brutal moment to a very kind, pure moment. And that's what for me, and for also I think for other people, makes his music so special and different."

Czech folk melodies were also an important source for Janacek's early piano compositions, "And I recorded a lot of these folk songs," Krier explains. "Actually, there are 19. And I decided to record ten of them to show this work. He was really looking and searching for inspiration in this folk music, as Bartok did, too, in the Hungarian folk music."

"On an Overgrown Path" is a cycle of 13 piano pieces by Janáček, which appears on the first disc of this two-CD set. The third part of this suite contains three of my favorite works. "Yes, I really love these pieces, too," Krier admits. "Actually, he threw them away — he didn't like them. But they were kept by one of the pianists who played them, and so that's how we are happy to have them nowadays."

Krier says another set of 10 miniatures creates a snapshot of the composer's entire life in less than ten minutes. "They are really small sketches, ideas that he had and they were all written in a small notebook. So the very early ones, they are from the period when he was studying in Leipzig, and the last ones are from, like, two days before he died. So it's really like his whole life is going on in these sketches. And there are some where you don't have any feeling of tonality anymore, or you really don't know where it's going. And there you see how keen he was and how he wanted to go further than a lot of other composers of this period."

Cathy Krier has immersed herself in the piano music of Leoš Janáček. On her new recording she shares it, along with the story of a composer who wrote authentic music that was ahead of its time.

Video: Cathy Krier discusses the making of the album: