Sir Charles Mackerras: a life-long passion for Janacek

Charles Mackerras, photo: CTK

Not only is Sir Charles Mackerras one of the world's great conductors, but he has also done more than anyone else to draw international attention to Czech music. Leos Janacek, who was born 150 years ago this year, is Sir Charles's great musical passion, and it was rather apt that a major festival of Janacek's music in the composer's home town of Brno should have culminated in an honorary doctorate being awarded to Sir Charles by the city's Janacek Academy of Musical Arts. Radio Prague's Jaromir Marek was there, and took the opportunity to talk to Sir Charles about his love for Janacek and the mixed feelings of many Czechs towards one of the country's great musical sons.

Charles Mackerras,  photo: CTK
"The first time I met Janacek's great operas, which are really his greatest work, was in Prague, when I came in 1947 on a British Council scholarship, and I heard Vaclav Talich conducting Katya Kabanova. That really changed my life because I became a great studier of Janacek's music and everything about him."

It's always said that Janacek's work is more popular abroad than in the Czech Republic. What is the reason for it?

Leos Janacek
"I do not know the reason for it. I can't explain it at all, but it is true that Janacek's operas are extremely popular in Britain, Germany, France and America. I have often tried to find the reason for this, why the works of Janacek don't seem to be very popular in the Czech Republic. The only explanation I can ever find is that during the communist times, Janacek was a very popular composer with the communists, and I think maybe the Czech public was forced very often to accept the ideology of communist music. Janacek was - in theory - near to that ideology. So now that communism not popular in this country, this is possibly the reason why they prefer the international repertoire, Verdi, Puccini, Wagner, Strauss and all that. I can understand that, because they never had that during the communist time. This festival that is going on at the moment is a bit of an exception, because it's a Janacek festival and it celebrates the 150th anniversary of his birth, but normally it's not as popular as you would expect."