On a sunny day in the mid-1920s, the Czech composer Janáček was in a small town of Písek in Southern Bohemia. There he heard a military band playing a fanfare in an outdoor performing space. The sound of the band was so impressive to Janáček that his patriotism was aroused immensely.
In 1926, the gymnastic organization of the Czech Republic, sokol, asked Janáček to write a new piece for the opening ceremony of their slet, or general exercise. The composer began to write a fanfare, remembering his experience in Písek. In the new fanfare, Janáček attempted to express “contemporary free man, his spiritual beauty and joy, his strength, courage and determination to fight for victory.” He eventually made this fanfare the opening of his five-movement orchestral work titled “Sinfonietta,” a reflection perhaps of his strong sense of patriotism and nationalism. In fact, the piece was initially called Military Sinfonietta or Sokol Festival and was dedicated to the Czechoslovak armed force. The composer, however, ultimately dropped the word “military” and dedicated the work to the British critic and musicologist Rosa Newmach, a specialist on Russian and Czech music.
The first movement, designated “Fanfare” by the composer, is scored for trumpets, (tenor) tubas, and timpani (no strings or woodwinds). The trumpets state a brilliant theme over the three-note motive heard at the beginning. The second movement, “The Castle,” begins with a theme on woodwinds that incorporates some folk dance elements. There is another, more lyrical melody along the way, and a metamorphosed version of the trumpet fanfare from the first movement is heard.
The third movement, written in a rondo form, is titled “Convent.” The atmospheric opening is solemn indeed, but the movement covers a variety of moods. There are amazingly fierce outbursts of the brass and windy flutes in the middle section. The fourth movement, “The Street,” is a scherzo. The polka-like theme insistently appears in trumpets and other instruments. Abrupt key changes and the sound of tubular bells are very effective.
The finale, “The Town Hall,” begins softly with flutes. The movement arguably depicts the history of the composer’s native country, from a state subject to oppressive treatment , to a sovereign nation of the people. The fanfare from the first movement assertively reappears and leads the piece to the compelling end.