“Only the note with something essential to say is entitled to exist”

In a 1983 interview with The Paris Review, Milan Kundera hits at the essence of Janacek:

His determination to strip music to its essentials was revolutionary. Of course, every musical composition involves a great deal of technique: exposition of the themes, their development, variations, polyphonic work (often very automatic), filling in the orchestration, the transitions, et cetera. Today one can compose music with a computer, but the computer always existed in composers’ heads—if they had to, composers could write sonatas without a single original idea, just by “cybernetically” expanding on the rules of composition. Janá?ek’s purpose was to destroy this computer! Brutal juxtaposition instead of transitions; repetition instead of variation—and always straight to the heart of things: only the note with something essential to say is entitled to exist. It is nearly the same with the novel; it too is encumbered by “technique,” by rules that do the author’s work for him: present a character, describe a milieu, bring the action into its historical setting, fill up the lifetime of the characters with useless episodes. Every change of scene requires new expositions, descriptions, explanations.


Having just performed Janacek’s String Quartet “Intimate Letters” for the first time last week, I am full-on obsessed with his colors, his sounds, the raw emotion of his chamber music. Naturally this is what i’m most familiar with, the String Quartets and peripherally the piano music. The Quartets are so precise in their feeling, yet grand and orchestral in gesture; i’m inspired and eager to get to know the rest of his works.