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Otce náš 'Our Father'

1901; for four-part choir, tenor soloist, organ and harp
author of text
Lord's Prayer

When, in his 70s, Leoš Janáček composed his Glagolitic Mass, the reaction appalled him. ‘You know what they wrote about me? “The pious old man”. I got angry then, and said, look here young man, firstly I am not old, and as for being a believer, well, I am certainly not that—certainly not! Only when I am convinced.’ Janáček’s childhood Catholic faith had ceased to convince him long before he wrote this setting of the Lord’s Prayer in the summer of 1901. What did convince him was faith as an expression of the life of a nation, a community; the product of a shared Slavic heritage and spirit.

Otče náš (Our Father) served exactly that purpose. He wrote it not for use in a church but in response to a request from the trustees of a women’s shelter in Brno. The inspiration was a set of religious paintings by the Polish nationalist painter Józef Męcina-Krzesz (1860-1934), which showed Russian peasants in devotional attitudes suggested by the lines of the Lord’s Prayer, and which had been reprinted in an illustrated weekly. The idea was that amateur actors from the Brno theatre club ‘Tyl’ would act out a series of scenes of tableaux-vivants resembling the pictures, while Janáček’s music—scored for the available forces of piano, harmonium, mixed choir and solo tenor—served as an accompaniment. Janáček wrote the piece in little more than a month prior to the fundraising performance at the Brno Theatre on 15 June 1901. But he revised it, rescored it for organ and harp, and authorised a Prague performance in November 1906—to mixed reviews. ‘Perhaps having the pictures in the programme would have helped’ he commented.

The paintings vanished during the Second World War, but even so, this comment hardly seems necessary. This is Janáček responding to the associations and sonorities of the words before him, and speaking directly and frankly to his community. The six sections flow together, linked by instrumental interludes to allow time for the necessary rearrangements on stage. The choir intones the opening lines in a gentle canon, before the tenor’s heroic entry on ‘Thy kingdom come’ (it’s possible to read patriotic symbolism into Janáček’s vaulting lines) and the chorus’s stirring response. The tenor leads off again, on ‘Thy will be done’; Janáček repeats the verse, and a pensive interlude suddenly bursts into a boisterous choral plea ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ before, to dolcissimo chords, the tenor sings ‘And forgive us our trespasses’. The tempo leaps to energico moderato and a bustling ostinato for ‘And lead us not into temptation’, as this non-devotional devotional work by a fiercely spiritual agnostic speeds to a decisive ‘Amen’.

from notes by Richard Bratby © 2017


Poulenc, Kodály & Janáček: Kyrie
Studio Master: SIGCD489Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Janáček: Choral Music


Track 28 on CDH55398 [14'33]
Part 1: Otče náš
Track 14 on SIGCD489 [4'39] Download only
Part 2: Buď vůle tvá
Track 15 on SIGCD489 [3'25] Download only
Part 3: Chléb náš
Track 16 on SIGCD489 [1'42] Download only
Part 4: A odpusť nám
Track 17 on SIGCD489 [3'19] Download only
Part 5: Neuvoď nás
Track 18 on SIGCD489 [1'55] Download only

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