(‘The 70,000’) is the finest of Janácek’s pre-war compositions for Ferdinand Vach and the Moravian Teachers’ Male Chorus. This 1909 adaptation of the poem by Petr Bezruc recalls another time of despair in the face of a ruthless enemy; ‘Seventy thousand are there of us before Tešín … only seventy thousand of us remaining, are we allowed to live? … A crowd, we look on vacantly just as one calf watches the slaughter of another …’ The lines, from Bezruc’s Silesian Songs
, undoubtedly assumed deeply personal patriotic import for the composer. To educated patriots these poems were a rallying call to arms against the German and Polish oppressors, and the social and nationalistic impact of these writings would be difficult to minimize. Indeed, the trilogy of Bezruc settings composed in between 1906 and 1909 (the other two are Kantor Halfar
and Marycka Magdónova
) mark the culmination of Janácek’s attainments in a genre which he had first exploited in his choruses for the Svatopluk vocal ensemble.
from notes by Michael Jameson © 1997