It may well have been the successful Prague performance of Amarus
that served as the impetus for Janácek to compose his choral-orchestral work. The Eternal Gospel
, a ‘Legend’ for soprano and tenor soloists, mixed chorus and orchestra, was written in 1913, straight after The Fiddler’s Child
. The text is by Jaroslav Vrchlický and had been published in his collection Frescoes and Tapestries
in 1891. The title is borrowed from The Book of Revelation (14:6): ‘Then I saw an angel flying from mid-heaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those on earth, to every race, tribe, language and nation.’ Subsequently, the title The Eternal Gospel
was given to the commentary on Revelation by the medieval mystic Joachim of Fiore, the most important apocalyptic thinker of his age who was consulted by the likes of Richard the Lionheart (at Messina during the winter of 1190–91), and who died around 1201. It is Joachim of Fiore who is the central figure of Vrchlický’s poem, and his part is taken by the solo tenor in Janácek’s cantata. The solo violin and solo soprano represent the angel and his gospel of love.
This may seem an unlikely choice of subject for the resolutely agnostic Janácek, but the composer himself gave a clue to its appeal when he described the cantata’s opening theme as representing ‘open arms longing to embrace the whole world’. In short, what drew Janácek to the text was its visionary humanity rather than Joachim’s biblical exegesis. The result is a score that is full of memorable and surgingly lyrical musical ideas, ending with a joyful proclamation of the Kingdom of Love. The first performance was at the Smetana Hall in Prague on 5 September 1917. The conductor on this occasion was Jaroslav Kricka, and the soprano soloist was Gabriela Horvátová who had triumphed as the Kostelnicka in the Prague premiere of Jenufa the previous year, and who was, at the time, involved in a torrid and passionate correspondence with Janácek.
from notes by Nigel Simeone © 2005