Between science and art : The speech melodies of Leoš Janáček


VLKOVÁ Markéta

Year of publication 2021
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description When discussing Leoš Janáček – whether in the field of musicology or among the general public – the topic of speech melodies often arises. What provokes interest is not only the composer’s peculiar activity of listening to human speech and recording its intonation in standard musical notation but also the musical features of such melodies. However, the view of speech melodies has changed over time, and even today, there is no general agreement on how to interpret them. The first generation of Janáček scholars, encouraged by the composer himself, considered these notated extracts to be scientific documents of real sounds which could facilitate the research of spoken language. This view was later criticised by younger musicologists, who emphasized the high level of stylization and subjective qualities of speech melodies, such as the author’s favourite melodic patterns. A third, alternative view has been provided by the writer Milan Kundera. In his essay Můj Janáček, he describes Janáček’s activity as a ritual of everydayness, through which the composer searches for the „vanished present“ and the „melodic truth“. This paper provides an overview of Janáček’s concept of speech melodies against the background of all three abovementioned approaches. Discussing different categories of speech melodies – namely, normal, excited, and lyrical ones – it demonstrates Janáček’s scientific ambitions and striving for precision as well as his artistic creativity and a tendency to stylise. Also, especially in light of Kundera’s concept, speech melodies reveal themselves as tools to capture the elusive present.
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