“Tangible infinity”

It is clear from this year’s Klosters Music programme that the world of music and the developments within the musical universe inhabit almost infinite dimensions. Just how tangible this infinity is is described by the musician and composer František Janoska, who, along with his virtuoso ensemble, we will have the honour of welcoming on 1 August. In the following interview he gives a fascinating in-depth insight into the musical roots of the Janoska Ensemble and into the position of folk music influences, both past and present. Informative and entertaining, this interview is well worth reading. František Janoska’s reflections on Bohemian music, his arrangements and his own compositions are the ideal aperitif to whet your appetite for the “Bohemian Rhapsodies”.

To what extent does music mean home to the Janoskas? Especially given their intense relationship with the music of their homeland.

In the context of music we associate the term folk music most closely with the word “homeland”. By this we mean the melodies that we heard as children, that our mothers sung to us, that we somehow picked up and hummed along to – we still have all these songs, tunes and melodies in our heads and pass them on – consciously or subconsciously – to our own children. In our geographical homeland, the one where we grew up, Slovakian and Hungarian were spoken and of course there were and are musical similarities as well as clashes. For example, we know of folk songs that were originally Hungarian and were translated into the other language and were then, so to speak, no longer seen as adaptations but as their “own” songs, and of course the reverse was also true. But both – as Kodály said – took root and were absorbed with our “mother’s milk”. It is also important to say that we grew up in a family heavily influenced by music and were exposed from a very early age to a wide variety of music styles. We all have a particular passion for composers who lived and worked in our region and were therefore akin to role models for us. Composers such as Franz Liszt, Bela Bartók, W. A. Mozart and Joseph Haydn. For us these composers live on in this world and are always here for us, always present. For the Janoska Ensemble, the word “home” also means the place where we make music, which for us is primarily the stage. The important thing in this respect is that we are inspired by music at any time and in any place. We are mainly interested in local folk music and its rhythms and seek it out, listen to it, play it and ultimately like to incorporate what we have heard into our improvisation.

To what extent does music give you a sense of identity? At home as well as abroad.

Rhythm and dance are important hallmarks of music. They are felt and experienced most intensively throughout childhood and through children’s songs, rhymes and folk tunes, they become “rooted”. It is much the same as learning a language. The rhythm, the beat and the intonation are the building blocks and always remain with us, through childhood and beyond, regardless of where we settle or move to later.

How does František Janoska approach his work as composer in terms of the interplay between tradition and the present day?

The Slovakian, Hungarian and Austrian origin is deeply rooted in František’s compositional works and is one of the key themes. This is reflected, for example, in his “Janoska Symphony No. 1” in three movements known as “Bratislava”, “Vienna” and “Budapest”. František explains: “The work represents a journey in three scenes through countries and cities in the Danube region, whose long musical tradition has influenced me musically since childhood. The themes are completely independent, new compositions and in each movement I have incorporated a musical quotation as a miniature as a small musical nod to my childhood; that is to say a few seconds of a melody that is typical of and familiar to the country in question. And in each movement an instrument appears that is typical of the country in question.” In the first movement this is the Slovakian shepherd’s flute, the Fujara. This is certainly the first time this has been heard in a “classical” symphonic work. For Vienna the zither is used and in the third movement the exotic tárogató makes its appearance. This “wooden saxophone” is an old Hungarian folk instrument and has a uniquely soft sound.

What challenges and aims does this involve?

As described in the example of “Janoska Symphony No.1“, not only can this musical “DNA“ not be denied, it literally bursts forth in the context of a new composition, comes to life again and presents itself and a refined form. The important thing here is to find one’s own “authentic” formula and stay true to it, i.e. to one’s own style.

Every composer has their own way of writing and František writes in a very harmonious world, best explained in his own words as follows: “I am a 21st century composer but I was and am a romantic. That’s to say I write beautiful, harmonic melodies but allow the musicians a lot of freedom to bring their own musical interpretation to the pieces, not only for compositions for the Janoska Ensemble, but also for symphonic pieces. In each of my compositions there are improvisation sections that give entirely free reign for interpretation. This personal touch puts its own stamp on each interpretation and performance and so gives the piece something very individual, even unique. But for me it is very important that something new emerges from each piece. I am, as it were, open to ‘experiments’ and always want to see a development. On the whole I think that constant development is an important factor.”  

What is the Janoska Ensemble looking forward to in Klosters?

Klosters is wonderful. We’ve been here before and are especially looking forward to the surroundings, the impression of unspoiled nature, the magnificent landscape, the green meadows, the incredible panorama with its imposing mountains. We can especially remember the space, the incredible vastness that you experience here, truly a gift from Nature. We reflect this “space” in the concert in free improvisations and simply enjoy the good vibes from this as well as interacting with the very international audience. And then of course there is the cuisine and the fantastic hospitality.

How does the ensemble see the future for music in terms of being rooted in the folk music tradition?

As I said earlier, folk music always has a firm anchor. For example, multicultural Vienna is a mix of many cultures, styles and ultimately traditions. Folk music has a future if composers incorporate it into their works and by doing so bring it to the attention of the wider public. For example, it is because of Astor Piazzolla that we know about the tango and because of Carlos Jobim that we have come to love the samba. But even the classical composers have all been inspired by folklore. Would the whole world know about Hungarian rhapsodies if Liszt or Brahms had not written them? I very much doubt it!

Many composers, from Schubert, Beethoven or Haydn to Dvořák, Liszt and Brahms to Bartok, Pärt or Lutoslawski dedicated a considerable part of their work to folklore and incorporated traditional melodies in their works.

The Janoska Ensemble is also committed to folklore, clearly acknowledges the language of folk in its compositions and with virtuoso improvisations in the “Janoska style” puts its multicultural stamp on works from all countries of origin.

The “Janoska style“ cannot be explained in a single sentence, because it would take a long time to list all the biological and artistic ingredients that make up this style, but it can perhaps be summed up as follows: The “Janoska style” is a new, jointly created musical vision, a mix of classical, jazz, pop and other stylistic elements. Perhaps the most important ingredient of this musical collaboration is the forgotten art of improvisation in classical music.

Will it continue to evolve to keep pace with time?

So far it has stood the test of time, after all, the musical universe is infinite, tangibly so, which is to say that music is constantly developing in all its parameters including instrumentation, sound editing and playback, harmony and interaction with other media. Folk music as well as our own roots or “musical home” will always play an important individual role in this regard, because it keeps reinventing itself. It evolves in a kind of “contemporary balance” and – in our case – the “Janoska style” described earlier.

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