Manchester's Halle Choir performs Janacek's Glagolitic Mass

Leos Janacek

Leos Janacek's Glagolitic Mass was composed in 1926. One of the great choral works of the 20th century, it is sung on special occasions and is a big challenge even for a Czech choir. However the Manchester Halle choir passed the test with flying colours on Sunday, after weeks of gruelling work and coaching from Karel Janovicky, a well known Czech composer residing in London. We asked Mr. Janovicky what difficulties the choir faced in the process of tackling this choral masterpiece.

"The features of the old Slavonic, the language of the Glagolitic Mass, are quite similar to those of modern Czech. Modern Czech has not got as many vowels as English. So, one of the difficulties is to make the singers sing in these simple vowels. The thing with English choirs in general is that they are very good phoneticists. They have sung repertoire in French and in German, and Italian and particularly the similarity with Italian and Czech vowels is a great help to them. One has got to start with the phonetics and then when the singers and the chorus have managed that one has got to consider the accentuation and the phrasing as well."

Are there many events relating to Czech music going on in Britain or London at the present time? You are a member of the Dvorak Society of Great Britain for Czech and Slovak Music...

"There is quite a lot going on this year because of the two significant anniversaries - the Janacek and the Dvorak anniversaries. The prom season that is organised by the BBC at Albert Hall in London, contains a couple of dozen Dvorak works and there are two more performances of the Glagolitic Mass and various other things. Next Sunday, BBC Radio 3, which is devoted to classical music, will spend a whole day broadcasting Janacek. So, yes there is quite a lot going on."

When there is an event relating to Czech music, do you get a full house? Are people interested?

"Yes. Dvorak, next to Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, is still the most often played composer, not just in Britain but all over the world, and Janacek is one of the most popular opera composers in this country, in Britain. Practically, every opera house has done virtually all of Janacek's operas over the years, they are part of the repertoire. They always get a full house."