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The Sinfonietta (subtitled “Military Sinfonietta” or “Sokol Festival”) is a very expressive and festive, late work for large orchestra (of which 25 are brass players) by the Czech composer Leoš Janáček. It is dedicated “To the Czechoslovak Armed Forces” and Janáček said it was intended to express “contemporary free man, his spiritual beauty and joy, his strength, courage and determination to fight for victory.” It started by Janáček listening to a brass band, becoming inspired to write some fanfares of his own. When the organisers of the Sokol Gymnastic Festival approached him for a commission, he developed the material into the Sinfonietta. He later dropped the word military. The first performance was in Prague on 26 June 1926 under Václav Talich. Typical performance duration is 20–25 minutes.
The score calls for the following orchestra with expanded brass section:
*) The nine C trumpets, the bass trumpets, and tenor tubas are heard only in the first and last movements.
The piece is in five movements, all of which have descriptive subtitles:
- I. Allegretto — Allegro maestoso (Fanfare)
- II. Andante — Allegretto (The Castle, Brno)
- III. Moderato (The Queen's Monastery, Brno)
- IV. Allegretto (The Street Leading to the Castle)
- V. Andante con moto (The Town Hall, Brno)
The work is typical of Janáček's tight construction, the material of each movement deriving from the opening motif. It features several variants based on Janáček's original fanfare. The first movement is scored only for brass and percussion. The second movement begins with a rapid ostinato from the wind, but later has a more lyrical episode. The third begins quietly in the strings, but is interrupted by a stern figure in the trombones, leading to another fast dance-like passage. In the fourth movement, Janáček celebrates the newly liberated Czechoslovakia with a joyous trumpet fanfare. The finale begins in the key of E-flat minor with a calm retrograde version of the opening melody. However, this quickly moves into a triumphant finale, the return of the opening fanfare decorated with swirling figures in the strings and wind.
The work was transcribed for symphonic wind ensemble by Don Patterson in 1994.
- Břetislav Bakala/Czech Philharmonic: Supraphon 1203-V (1950)
- George Szell/Cleveland Orchestra: Sony 88697 58952 2
- Karel Ančerl/Czech Philharmonic: Supraphon 3684
- Simon Rattle/Philharmonia Orchestra: EMI 5-66980-2
- Sir Charles Mackerras/Vienna Philharmonic: London 410138-2
- André Previn/Los Angeles Philharmonic: Telarc CD-80174
- František Jílek/Brno Philharmonic Orchestra: Supraphon 110282-2
- Libor Pešek/Philharmonia Orchestra: Virgin VC791506-2
- Jose Serebrier/Brno Philharmonic Orchestra: Reference Recordings HCDC
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Appearances and references in other work
The opening of the allegretto (usually no more than about 40 seconds of it) was used as the theme tune for the UK Granada Television series Crown Court during the 1970s and 1980s, although it was never heard in full in any episode. It would be during this opening that the court reporter, Peter Wheeler, would, as a voice-over, either set the scene for a new fictional, yet legally accurate case (in terms of the laws of England and Wales) or else describe the proceedings that had occurred in previous episodes.
Haruki Murakami's novel 1Q84 begins with the Sinfonietta playing on a taxi's radio. The work then appears several times later in the novel as a recurring theme connecting the two main characters. The popularity of the novel has led to an increase in sales of recordings of the Sinfonietta in Japan.
- Morales, Daniel. "The knock-on effect of Murakami’s "1Q84" series". The Japan Times presents Japan Pulse. The Japan Times. Retrieved 18 April 2013.