“Fleeting” #8: I. Andante, from V mlhách

This post is about another piece that depicts a fleeting landscape. (You can see the entire program here.)

Leoš Janáček, I. Andante, V mlhách (1912)

Born in 1854 before the last wave of Romantic composers such as Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss, Leoš Janáček is mostly known for incorporating elements of folk music from his native region of Moravia into his compositions.[1]The Czech composer was a late bloomer; his major compositions were written in the last thirty years of his life, and he was not widely known until his sixties.[2]

Andante is the first movement of V mlhách (In the mists), a collection of four pieces for solo piano. When Janáček wrote this work, he was already fifty-eight years old, still little known as a composer, and trapped in an unhappy marriage.[3]Some of Janáček’s biographers seem to suggest that V mlhách was a reflection of the composer’s state of mind at that time; he was feeling lost in the mist as a composer.[4]Unfortunately there is no evidence that confirms this suggestion as a fact. 

Andante employs the A-B-A’ ternary form; while the A section presents a serene and melancholic mood, the B section offers a contrasting material. Janáček conveys the atmosphere of being in the mists through two types of ambiguity: rhythmic and tonal ambiguity. The rhythmic ambiguity used in this piece is a device similar to that of Schumann’s Des Abends; although Janáček assigned 2/4 as the time signature, the music actually feels like 3/2, given the structure based on three-measure units. Unlike the widely used four-measure unit consisting of symmetrically-divided two parts which provides a steady feel, this three-measure unit infuses imbalance, resulting in a sense of uncertainty equivalent to the experience of being in the mists.

The composer also utilizes the tonal ambiguity to communicate uncertainty. Within the first three measures, the music sways between the minor and major modes. Combined with the unstable three-measure units, this tonal ambiguity emphasizes the transient nature of mists.

Another device that the composer adopts to communicate mists is the descending cascade. While the descending cascade in the A section suggests a hint of D-flat minor, the one in the A’ section toward the end of the piece is unmistakably in D-flat major, which results in creating a sense that the mists are slowly fading away, perhaps even hinting at a sign of sunlight.   

If you are interested in reading the full program notes with more detailed analyses, you can access them here:

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[1]John Tyrrell, “Janáček, Leoš [Leo Eugen],” on Grove Music Online (accessed June 3 2018), http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.; Barbara Russano Hanning, Concise History of Western Music (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2014), 527-528.

[2]Max Wade-Matthews and Wendy Thompson, The Encyclopedia of Music: Instruments of the Orchestra and the Great Composers (New York: Hermes House, 2002), 446-447.; Eric Bromberger, “Program Notes: Hélène Grimaud, piano,” on La Jolla Music Society (accessed June 21 2018), http://ljms.org

[3]Bromberger, “Program Notes: Hélène Grimaud, piano,” on La Jolla Music Society


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