The Moravian city of Brno continues to celebrate the music of its most famous resident, Leoš Janáček, with performances of his masterpieces and the opportunity to follow in his footsteps
Marking 165 years since the birth of Leoš Janáček in July, the picturesque city of Brno took delivery of a newly painted tram. It was decorated by local artist Vendulka Chalánková, who wrapped its wagons with evocative images of characters from the composer’s operas. In the century since Janáček’s death, those operas have become some of the most-performed in the world.
Were he around today, it’s unlikely Janáček would have been persuaded to climb aboard the special tram. A proud Moravian, the composer refused to use the electric trams new to Brno in his day, given their German provenance. He preferred to travel the city by foot. We would recommend you do the same, with Janáček as your personal guide.
They say Brno is to Janáček what Salzburg is to Mozart. In fact, the links are far stronger. The composer was born in Hukvaldy but travelled the 160km west to Brno at the age of 11. He remained here for the rest of his life.
After the establishment of Czechoslovakia in 1918, when Janáček was almost 70, Brno was transformed. As Moravia’s new administrative centre, the city underwent a construction boom. Its picturesque streets were complemented by some of the finest 20th-century architecture in Europe. A new school of design emerged: Brno Functionalism. This spirit of creative innovation, with a high regard for beauty and elegance, characterises Brno to this day.
But the city is most proud of its illustrious musical son. Janáček wrote all his major works in Brno. He frequented its bars, restaurants and shops and was Principal of the famous Brno Organ School (now the Conservatory). Every two years, Brno resounds to the composer’s music during the international Janáček Brno festival (September-October 2020).
The breadth of music on offer in the Moravian capital stretches far and wide, with a sacred music festival at Easter, a jazz festival in the spring, the Brno Music Marathon every August, the Moravian Autumn music festival and a year-round cycle of concerts, opera and ballet (the city is also famous for its atmospheric Christmas Market, unrivalled in Eastern Europe). In 2017 Brno became a part of UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a Music Friendly City.
According to Lonely Planet, as a destination Brno ‘just keeps getting better and better’. The best way to experience it, for music lovers, is to follow in the famous composer’s footsteps courtesy of the system of recently installed panels and plaques. A varied Janáček tour might take in the Vegetable Market (Zelný trh), where the composer made recordings of the calls of the market traders to aid his musical settings of the Czech language. It might involve a refreshing beer in one of his favorite haunts: the cozy Stopka’s Pilsner Pub, decorated with art nouveau frescoes by the composer’s friend Ladislav Novák.
And where better to stay than at the historic Hotel Slavia, where the composer attended the regular meetings of his own Russian Circle? From here, you’re perfectly positioned to take in a performance at the Janáček Theatre (the seat of the opera and ballet ensemble of the National Theatre Brno) or visit the Janáček Memorial in the composer’s erstwhile home – the cute cottage built for him in the grounds of Organ School where he lived for the last 18 years of his life, and wrote many of his masterpieces. No other city contains as many vital physical links to the career of a major opera composer.
Now you can begin your journey even before you’ve even left home. For basic Brno essentials, visit gotobrno.cz. The refreshed website leosjanacek.eu hosts an inventory of Janáček’s life and works, an online boutique featuring artisan gifts and a series of charming new animated films charting the composer’s career in three minutes (are you confident enough to try your hand at the Janáček quiz?). After that, Brno and Janáček welcome you – whenever you choose to come.
Booking for the 2020 Janáček Brno festival opens in December: janacek-brno.cz
Leoš Janáček in three minutes...
TIC BRNO presents a video animation created in cooperation with the artist Vendula Chalánková. Watch on leosjanacek.eu and play a musical memory game online.