Leos Janacek (1854 - 1928)
Capriccio for Piano and Wind Ensemble
Janacek wrote this work in 1926 after being approached the year before by the left-handed pianist Otakar Hollmann. After his right arm became paralyzed as a result of a war wound, Hollmann was trying to develop a repertoire of works that suited his specific needs. Initially Janacek declined to write a work for him, but eventually changed his mind. The resulting work, whilst called a Cappriccio, is in all effects, a Piano concerto for the left-hand.
A brass sextet and a flute accompany the piano, and the instrumentation also reflects the struggles that Janacek felt Hollmann must experience. The sextet is frequently used to create dark and foreboding moods, whilst the flute may be seen to be symbolic of the optimism in Hollmann's life.
The work opens with an allegro movement, the brass introducing an oom-pah-pah idea that appears on and off throughout the movement. In contrast, the second theme is much more lyrical, but the menacing sounds of the brass are still maintained below this line. A rippling semiquaver idea on piano returns at intervals, the brass eventually joining in, the movement ending with whimsical trills that fade to nothing.
The Adagio has a beautifully simple melody, which Janacek alternates with a darker brass idea. A dance-inspired motif follows, the flute making its first appearance in dialogue with the piano. The movement has a cyclical feel, as the opening idea returns to bring the movement to a close.
The third movement has a scherzo-like character, and a muted trumpet carries the main theme. The piano takes on an accompanimental role with rapid scales running below the melody. The various melodic ideas are tossed around canonically by flute, piano and trumpet, and the texture gradually builds and thickens. After a brief climax, the lighter opening idea returns, and this movement, as in the previous, ends as it began.
After its belated appearance in the Adagio, the flute opens the final movement with a smooth Impressionistic-like melody. The accompaniment is provided by rippling semiquavers in the piano, whilst the brass create a murky lower layer. At the center-point of the movement, the instruments combine, as a repeated rhythmic and harmonic idea in the brass attempts to overthrow the optimistic flute theme. The piano has a brief cadenza that rises from its lowest register, aspects of its melody being accentuated by the tuba and flute. As if a distant thought and echo from the afar, a muted trumpet sounds. Strident chords in the brass threaten this seemingly tenuous thought, and as the work nears completion, a repeated triplet idea increases the momentum, building to a final major chord - optimism has triumphed.