František Janoska, born in Bratislava in 1986, is known as a much-sought-after and widely respected musician. He is the pianist and often the arranger of the virtuosic Janoska Ensemble, and for many years he has also shown off his pianistic skills with noted artists and in high-profile music shows and festivals. His great ability is proved by the frequent invitations he receives from international stars of the music scene to join them in new projects. As a composer, František now builds on his acclaimed arrangements of Janoska numbers for ensemble and orchestra in presenting his first major orchestral work, “Janoska Symphony No. 1”. It is a musical journey in four movements, which illustrate aspects of the family biography and take their musical inspiration from various countries and regions bordering the Danube.
For František Janoska to be at work on a “Symphony”, in this year of 2018, is a source of curiosity on the music scene and the result of interesting personal circumstances. Endowed with a gold CD in 2017, blessed with international success, the Janoska Ensemble has given its young pianist a career boost. As a composer and versatile arranger, meanwhile, he is now working on a new “concord”, which he finds in a creative, personally motivated analysis. Owing much to his own contribution, the innovative “Janoska Style” of the ensemble’s repertoire already achieves a well-balanced musical synthesis of contrasting musical approaches. František Janoska’s “Symphony No. 1” goes further, giving a musical focus to the culture and geography of a particular region. This is evident from the very sub-title “Impressions along the Danube”, which promises a kaleidoscope of musical colours and images. These “Impressions” are drawn from a cradle of culture stretching along almost three thousand kilometres of the Danube and dating back centuries. This is an environment in which traditions and forms of music cross-fertilize one another, their age and intrinsic worth enriching the populations of these regions as they are handed down from one generation to another.
Born in Bratislava in Slovakia, František Janoska himself is a native of one of these lands rich in history and music. He and his music-making brothers are simply the youngest of six consecutive generations of musicians in the Janoska family. Indeed, his first completed movement of “Symphony No. 1” is significantly entitled “Bratislava”. It is dedicated to the city in which the three musically gifted brothers absorbed the musical tradition of their lands at an early age, the city in which their excellent classical training in musicianship began when they were very young.
František Janoska addresses this issue directly when asked about the background to his firsr major orchestral composition and the stylistic elements and musical influences contained in it:
“Some of the Danube countries and cities are very close to me and my brothers because we were born in Bratislava, while also having family in Budapest, and because we went on after graduating in Bratislava to advanced studies in Vienna, where we now mostly live. My personal impressions of these individual countries will stand out clearly in my four-part ‘Janoska Symphony No. 1’. The Janoska Ensemble will tend to assume the role of a soloist in my composition, but members of the orchestra will also be given many solo appearances.”
The composer has this to say about the concept underlying the individual movements of his “Symphony No. 1”: “Each of the four movements quotes a traditional folk song from the country to which that movement is dedicated. In addition, each land will feature an instrument typical of that country’s tradition – whether the Cymbalom, the Tarogato or the Fujara.
“In describing the music of the first movement, ‘Bratislava’, I should like to point out that Bratislava is not only our birthplace but was also a centre of the arts and a place where Habsburg monarchs were crowned – and that finds expression at once in the Introduction. At some prominent points I introduce a very old Slovak national instrument, the shepherd’s flute known as the Fujara, because that is the instrument that can give the piece its specific Slovak sound! The story then continues with a pronounced main theme, a new composition of mine, but one that closely observes the style of the typical Slovak folk songs. This part will also mark the opening of a ball – with a waltz, of course!
“The second, fast part of the movement is written in the spirit of the Odzemok, a typical Slovak dance in the rhythm of which I have written another new theme of my own. ‘Od zeme’ means something like ‘leap from the ground’. Even a composer like Antonín Dvořák wrote such dances. For instance, the first of his Slovaki Dances opus 72 is such an Odzemok.
“Shortly before the Grand Finale comes a quotation with variations on a folk song very well known in Slovakia called ‘Tanzuj, tanzuj, vykrucaj, vykrucaj!’ – ‘dance, dance, twirl right round!’.”
František Janoska confesses: “This movement also has a four-bar Spanish motif – why just here I simply cannot explain, it occurred to me quite spontaneously. The same thing happened to me with another four-bar phrase, Oriental, maybe Turkish in character. But perhaps someone is going to find a key to it somewhere? After all, ‘Turquerie’ was in fashion in Mozart’s time, as he proved to great effect in the colourful music of his audience-pleasing ‘Abduction from the Seraglio’. In any case I expect this piece of music to be played with as much passion and joy as I have had in writing it!”
The oft-cited concept of a cultural and linguistic “Danube basin melting-pot” ties in with the personal artistic profile of František Janoska – and of his brothers, for he goes on to say: “Before we ever began our classical studies, in my case in piano and composition, my brothers and I were exposed to all the musical influences of the Danube region from a very early age; we heard them and we ‘learnt’ them. We grew up with any number of folk songs from Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Serbia. We were hearing the traditional music of the Balkans when we were very small, and what is more, we were playing it over and over even before we started school.”
The musical harvest of this early sowing from many lands along the Danube is evidently well worth waiting for.